As Joe Biden takes over as the 46th President of the United States of America, the world is breathing a sigh of relief. For four years, now former president Donald Trump ripped into the global order, followed a highly schizophrenic foreign policy, undermined America’s alliances and scuttled the US’s leadership role in the world. The hope is that the Biden presidency will begin the process of repairing the damage. Which means rolling back the ruthless realist view of foreign policy that the Trump administration pursued and pushing back the parochial, racist tendencies that were allowed to flourish in America itself.
As I have said before, Trump was a bad remedy for America’s problems. Those problems included growing income inequality, rapid decline of manufacturing jobs, and the inability to come to terms with changing demographics. In that sense, Trump represented white America’s fears about losing its erstwhile privileges and No.1 position in the world. So Trump was the anguished cry of an America that was on its way out. Biden promises to usher in a new America that lives up to its promise of equal opportunities and diversity. But even as the new administration gets down to work, there are a couple of things it will do well to bear in mind.
First, America is not going to be No.1 forever. This is precisely why Trump’s ‘America First’ approach was so delusional. Nations rise and fall with the natural rhythm of time. This has always been the case. After all, the US wasn’t always a superpower. That only happened after World War II. Therefore, America can’t expect to be on the top perch for perpetuity. Realisation of this fact is important because a sense had come to pervade the international order that America’s championing of democratic principles, rules and multilateralism was nothing but a ruse to maintain American hegemony and dominance.
What lends credence to this view is the fact that the US did everything from invading nations and toppling governments to arm-twisting countries over trade and even getting them to pay for its wars, all in the name of upholding democracy and the liberal order. This is precisely the reason that when Trump came along he was able to call out the hypocrisy of past administrations on foreign policy. But instead of fixing the US approach, he took recourse to the outdated realist approach that defined his presidency.
Which brings me to the second point that the Biden administration must take to heart. It would do well for America’s standing in the world if Washington sincerely promotes democratic values and a genuine multilateral order without hegemonic intentions. Again, the US must realise that it can’t be No.1 forever. But it can help shape the countries that rise to equal it by serving as a beacon for democracy, rule of law and human rights. Seen from this perspective, China’s rise itself is not problematic. What is problematic is China’s rise in its present form. There’s a crucial difference. Thus, the Biden administration can help set standards on basic human freedoms, international cooperation – particularly on issues such as climate change, healthcare and poverty eradication – and stick to them and set an example for others. That way a strong bottomline can be established for countries like China, encouraging and compelling them to reform.
Perhaps all of this is wishful thinking. But one must remember that it was the hypocrisy of the Washington elite and the growing inequality that unleashed Trump on America and the world. Biden would do well to take that lesson to heart, recognise the changing times, and refashion America’s role in the world based on genuine democratic, liberal and multilateral principles.
Views expressed above are the author’s own.
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