Wednesday, November 18, 2020

Will Biden Restore American Leadership?

Financial Times columnist Gideon Rachman is certainly sympathetic to the incoming Biden administration. And yet, when he examines a Foreign Affairs that Biden wrote last January, he finds it sorely lacking. Long on platitudes; short on solutions; out of touch with reality. Three strikes....

Apparently, Biden believes that America has abdicated world leadership because President Trump renounced certain international agreements-- like the Paris climate accord, the Iran nuclear deal and membership in the World Trade Organization and the World Health Organization.

One might note that if Biden thinks that the Obama-era deals were so good, he could submit them to the United States Senate for ratification. He will never do it. Obama did not do it, because the Senate would never accept them. Thus, these deals were, in some sense, extra-constitutional. If Trump had done them, the cries of fascist dictator would have drowned out all dissenting voices.

Rachman sees Biden’s ideas as high-minded empty bluster-- time to get used to it. 

But it is much easier for the president-elect to talk about re-establishing American leadership than actually to deliver. The US is not as powerful as it once was. Simply rejoining international groups — the World Health Organization or the Paris climate accord — does not put America “at the head of the table”. The cost of participating in international negotiations may be accepting compromise outcomes that are unpopular in Washington. Whether that is a price that US politicians and voters will accept is not clear.

He continues, pointing out Biden’s defective sense of reality:

Donald Trump came to power in 2016, claiming that international bodies such as the World Trade Organization no longer worked for America. The US had been hoodwinked and “globalists” were impoverishing ordinary Americans, he said. Strip away the Trumpian hyperbole and paranoia and there was a real point underneath the rhetoric. In a world in which power is more evenly distributed, a rules-based order and a US-led world are not the same thing.

But, Biden wants to take the lead on climate change. If Francis Menton is correct, as noted in yesterday’s post, the Paris climate accords will damage America without having any real effect on carbon emissions. Obviously, many nations will be happy to see America leading the way to its own self-destruction.

That unresolved tension runs through the Biden approach to international affairs. In his Foreign Affairs article, Mr Biden asserts that “the US must lead the world” on climate change and promises that America will “convene a summit of the world’s major carbon emitters”. The single largest emitter is China. It seems highly unlikely that Beijing will meekly agree to show up at a US-convened summit — at which Mr Biden promises to “lock in enforceable commitments that will reduce emissions”.

Realistically, China and many others, will insist that the only proper forum for climate negotiations are UN-sponsored talks. Fortunately for the Biden administration, the next UN climate conference, COP26, will be chaired by a friendly country — the UK. Even so, the president-elect’s promise of enforceable commitments on emission-reduction may not be deliverable — not least in the US itself. America’s negotiating partners will know that Congress is likely to have the final say over any US promises. With the Republicans probably still in control of the Senate, the Biden administration would struggle to deliver.

Perhaps more significantly, Rachman notes, the world that Biden sees is a fiction, not a reality. As a response to the trade tensions between America and China, the Asia-Pacific region last weekend crafted one of the largest free trade agreements ever.

Meanwhile, the world is moving on. This past weekend leaders from 15 Asia-Pacific nations — including Japan, China and South Korea — signed one of the largest free-trade deals in history. Mr Biden and his team talk a good game about rallying America’s friends to push back against China. But new facts are already being created on the ground.

As for our so-called European allies, I have often noted my own view-- namely that if they want to be treated like allies, they should act like allies. Blaming it all on Trump is hardly constructive and is wildly disconnected from reality.

Rachman remarks:

But a more friendly American attitude is no guarantee of success — even in Europe.

The EU is pressing ahead with plans to increase regulation and taxation of US tech groups, such as Google and Amazon. The Biden administration, like the Trump administration, is likely to oppose many of these efforts. An early row over tech taxes or regulation could deflate hopes that a new age of transatlantic comity is at hand — or that “American leadership” is an easy answer to difficult problems of global governance.

Rachman finds something to cheer in the new administration. But, as of now, we know that Joe Biden is incapable of thinking about much of anything. So we do not know who will be in charge of American foreign policy under his presumptive administration.


trigger warning said...

Pasty Man Confused, Lunchbox Joe, is the late-stage Captain Christopher Pike of the Democrat Party. Our first (and historic) differently-abled President-elect!!

ga6 said...

No, he won't be around long enough. Hail the first multi racial, female sex addict President.

370H55V said...

"But, as of now, we know that Joe Biden is incapable of thinking about much of anything."

Which makes me wonder who wrote that article for him anyway.

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