Joe Biden and Barack Obama in February 2009, one month after arriving at the White House [Pete Souza].
COMMENTARY / Emili J. Blasco
This article was previously published, in a somewhat abbreviated form, in the newspaper 'Expansión'.
One of the great mistakes revealed by the US presidential election is to have underestimated the figure of Donald Trump, believing him to be a mere anecdote, and to have disregarded much of his politics as whimsical. In reality, the Trump phenomenon is a manifestation, if not a consequence, of the current American moment, and some of his major decisions, especially in the international arena, have more to do with domestic imperatives than with fickle whimsy. The latter suggests that there are aspects of foreign policy, manners aside, in which Joe Biden as president may be closer to Trump than to Barack Obama, simply because the world of 2021 is already somewhat different from that of the first half of the previous decade.
First, Biden will have to confront Beijing. Obama began to do so, but the more assertive character of Xi Jinping's China has been accelerating in recent years. In the superpower tug-of-war, especially over the dominance of the new technological age, the US has everything at stake vis-à-vis China. It is true that Biden has referred to the Chinese not as enemies but as competitors, but the trade war was already begun by the administration of which he was vice-president and now the objective rivalry is greater.
Nor is the US's withdrawal the result of Trump's madness. Basically it has to do, to simplify somewhat, with the energy independence achieved by the Americans: they no longer need oil from the Middle East and no longer have to be in all the oceans to ensure the free navigation of tankers. America First' has in a way already been started by Obama and Biden will not go in the opposite direction. So, for example, no major involvement in EU affairs and no firm negotiations for a free trade agreement between the two Atlantic markets can be expected.
On the two major achievements of the Obama era - the agreement nuclear deal with Iran sealed by the US, the EU and Russia, and the restoration of diplomatic relations between Washington and Havana - Biden will find it difficult to tread the path then defined. There may be attempts at a new rapprochement with Tehran, but there would be greater coordination against it on the part of Israel and the Sunni world, which are now more convergent. Biden may find that less pressure on the ayatollahs pushes Saudi Arabia towards the atom bomb.
As for Cuba, a return to dissent will be more in the hands of the Cuban government than of Biden himself, who in his electoral loss in Florida has been able to read a rejection of any condescension towards Castroism. Some of the new restrictions imposed by Trump on Cuba may be dismantled, but if Havana continues to show no real willingness to change and open up, the White House will no longer have to continue betting on political concessions to credit .
In the case of Venezuela, Biden is likely to roll back a good part of the sanctions, but there is no longer room for a policy of inaction like Obama's. That administration did not confront Chavismo for two reasons. That Administration did not confront Chavismo for two reasons: because it did not want to upset Cuba, given the secret negotiations it was holding with that country to reopen its embassies, and because the regime's level of lethality had not yet become unbearable. Today, international human rights reports are unanimous on the repression and torture of Maduro's government, and the arrival of millions of Venezuelan refugees in the different countries of the region means that it is necessary to take action on the matter. Here it is to be hoped that Biden will be able to act less unilaterally and, while maintaining pressure, seek coordination with the European Union.
It is often the case that those who come to the White House deal with domestic affairs in their first years and then later, especially in a second term, focus on leaving an international bequest . Due to age and health, the new occupant may only serve a four-year term. Without Obama's idealism of wanting to 'bend the arc of history' - Biden is a pragmatist, a product of the US political establishment - or businessman Trump's rush for immediate gain, it is hard to imagine that his administration will take serious risks on the international stage.
Biden has confirmed his commitment to begin his presidency in January by reversing some of Trump's decisions, notably on climate change and the Paris agreement ; on some tariff fronts, such as the outgoing administration's unnecessary punishment of European countries; and on various immigration issues, especially concerning Central America.
In any case, even if the Democratic left wants to push Biden to the margins, believing that they have an ally in Vice President Kamala Harris, the president-elect can make use of his staff moderation: the fact that in the elections he obtained a better result than the party itself gives him, for the moment, sufficient internal authority. The Republicans have also held their own quite well in the Senate and the House of Representatives, so that Biden comes to the White House with less support on Capitol Hill than his predecessors. That, in any case, may help to reinforce one of the Delaware politician's generally most valued traits today: predictability, something that the economies and foreign ministries of many of the world's countries are eagerly awaiting.