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What Might A Democratic Party-Dominated U.S. Foreign Policy Do?

Written By: - Date published: 1:02 pm, August 19th, 2020 - 24 comments
Categories: climate change, covid-19, Donald Trump, health, Joe Biden, uncategorized, us politics - Tags:

Inasmuch as tiny, distant New Zealand need worry about the foreign policy of the United States, it’s worth a drill into what a Democratic Party dominated United States foreign policy might look like.

If elected, Joe Biden will inherit a United States that has abdicated its leadership role in the world and lost its moral authority. He will take the reins of a country in the throes of a pandemic, which is economically reeling, and with a highly polarised society. It’s a wreckage far exceeding that which President Obama inherited of the Global Financial Crisis the United States caused, and two foundering wars which the United States made far worse.

It won’t be easy.

The rest of the world has moved on from the United States and the kind of voters that put Donald Trump in the leadership seat. We get the necessity of global co-operation now.

Biden will first have to avoid making things worse. That itself in international diplomacy is a massive ask. Under President Trump’s statecraft, North Korea is enlarging its nuclear arsenal, Iran has resumed its nuclear program, Venezuelan President Nicolas Maduro has tightened his grip on power, the E.U. is barely on speaking terms with the U.S., and China has not altered any of its ambition that Trump’s trade war was supposed to check.

Trump has turbocharged American decline – with his last year spent mismanaging the United States Covid-19 response into a new world disorder the likes of which we have not seen for 80 years. Each of those failures have driven nails into the coffin of American exceptionalism: there is no return to 2016.

In foreign affairs, Joe Biden will spend most of his term rebuilding extremely damaged international relationships.

The dangerous chasm Biden will walk is between the expectations of on the one hand those voters who ohave raged their protest on the streets and grieved at the graves of the dead, and on the other hand the foreign policy and military establishment and their media friends who will clamour for a United States that acts like a hegemonic power once more.

So in just one term there are four interconnected fields a President Biden will need for an effective foreign policy.

1. Global Co-Operation About Covid-19

The world would collectively sigh in relief if the United States government immediately re-joined the World Health Organisation and be part of the world wide effort to mitigate and eradicate Covid-19. Its companies have most of the leading medical research capacity, and outstanding research hospitals. Success will assist in reviving the travel industry (which the U.S. leads) and global supply chains. That will take two years minimum, but would send the signal that not all globalisation is bad and that multilateral diplomatic and logistical efforts for the sake of public health can only be achieved with global co-operation.

New Zealand would be able to provide a useful contribution to this Covid-19 narrative – as both previous Prime Minister Clark and current Prime Minister Ardern are already doing – if the stage is set for us to do so.

2. Withdrawing From U.S. Military Mistakes

An intermediate set of steps he could take through this is to decrease U.S. military aggression, and support of despots. He could signal an end to the United States’ permanent war by repealing the 2001 Authorisation of the Use of Military Force. He could terminate U.S. support for the moral and strategic catastrophe of Yemen. He could put some much harder diplomatic controls around engaging with Saudi Arabia. Not make things worse in short.

More boldly, if he gets a marginal Senate majority he could redirect and shrink the extraordinary US$700 billion Defence budget. It’s too big to redirect in short and fluid order, but some parts such as the U.S. Marine Corp could be redirected from building anti-immigration walls to building highways and other depleted infrastructure.

Just as Presidents past did in Europe by slowly drawing down troops and weapons, Biden would do well to review whether the United States really still needs to occupy its troops in the western Pacific in Guam, Palau, the Marshall Islands, and other bases that are holdovers from World War 2 and long since proven unnecessary. That could start the necessary process of decolonisation of much of the western Pacific. The New Zealand concept of a “realm” of microstates is something we could offer to that.

3. Regaining Democracy

By end 2022 he will need to find clear, productive opportunities for foreign policy that his citizens, his military and security establishment, and the leaders of other large countries can credibly accept.

He does have the reinvigorated Democratic Party on his side to assist, if he will let them. The extraordinary mobilisation against structural racism and injustice offers an opportunity to renew the United States’ sense of purpose. Black Lives Matter is a global story. Much of the democratic world now wants to see the United States show open repentance for the degradation it has caused African Americans – just as many smaller states (including ourselves) have already done. The United States could start to rebuild global trust by using the Beyonce’s of this world to do their diplomacy more than the Tillerson’s and Rice’s.

At a time when the world has lost confidence in the U.S. government, the global demonstrations in support of the Black Lives Matter movement have shown that there is still a United States that the rest of the world wants to identify with. American protests are of a piece with other mass mobilizations in recent years: climate strikes, demonstrations against economic inequality, and the protests in defense of Hong Kong’s autonomy and civil liberties.

To my mind the issue of slippery and entrenched institutional racism is New Zealand’s deepest domestic challenge – just as it is in the United States. That’s a worthy conversation we have something useful to contribute to, and learn from.

Despite its flaws, democracy is the only form of government that can take the necessary corrective action to address such challenges on behalf of citizens. If Biden wins, his defeat of Trump could offer a pivotal opportunity to renew American democracy at home, and then abroad.

Biden also needs to draw the remaining strong democracies into a global summit that revives the idea of democracy itself, with all its attendant vices and virtues. Make no mistake democracy itself is in accelerated decline. Perhaps the summit’s a job for his last year in the term.

4. Rebuilding the Climate Change Coalition

Biden will need to commit early to rejoining the Paris agreement and set to work developing the most ambitious contribution to emissions reductions possible. The second part of that will need some serious arm-twisting in the Senate. It will need climate and energy legislation in its first year. It’s all there in the OAC-Markey bill, but a Green New Deal will be a mighty fight with its energy utilities, automobile companies and unions, affected state Governors and Mayors, and all the rest. Biden will need the force of an LBJ to make that happen and not go down the route of Carter facing queues of cars at the pump.

Combating climate change must also become a centerpiece of U.S. foreign policy for the world to have a chance at decarbonizing the global economy. After all, climate change is the leading security threat that the United States faces – and so it is for most of our Pacific friends.

As it should be for New Zealand – and in the middle of next year we will face a massive generator and transmission issue as Tiwai Point comes off but the dividend of 100% clean electricity generation lies behind it, if we get the policy and price signals right. Again, it’s a strong global story to tell if we get the chance.

So those are the animating themes I would expect to see out of Biden’s Democratic Party-led foreign affairs:

Reviving international co-operation, decreasing its military stupidity and redirecting it, regaining the democracy story, and rebuilding the global environment for all. And for each, New Zealand has a little part to positively play, if it wants to.

Progress on all these fronts— global cooperation, democracy, security, and the climate—is fundamentally interconnected. If Washington doesn’t fortify democracy and push back against authoritarian nationalism, then increased global disorder will continue.

If Joe Biden can be driven by the winds of a revived Democratic Party in the Senate and on the streets, he has a chance to rebuild the damage …

… should he be elected President in 88 days.

24 comments on “What Might A Democratic Party-Dominated U.S. Foreign Policy Do? ”

  1. Wayne 1

    There is absolutely zero prospect the US will reduce its military presence in the West Pacific. Guam and the Northern Mariannas are actually US sovereign territory. There is almost complete unanimity in the US that China is their key challenge. NZ needs to be careful not to be drawn in, but it is clear US China tensions could continue to increase. For the same reason US military spending will remain very high, especially in expensive naval and air capability, which is directly related to China.

    The US will reduce its Middle East presence, which is already happening.

    The key thing Biden will do is repair the US EU relationship, and will be much more active in climate change, arms control and international institutions.

    • SPC 1.1

      Is it realistic to expect the USA, Russia and China to begin talks let alone agree agree on arms control?

      • Draco T Bastard 1.1.1

        Arms control treaties have a long history of failure.

        Enforcement of arms control agreements has proven difficult over time. Most agreements rely on the continued desire of the participants to abide by the terms to remain effective. Usually, when a nation no longer desires to abide by the terms, they usually will seek to either covertly circumvent the terms or to simply end their participation in the treaty. This was seen in Washington Naval Treaty[3] (and the subsequent London Naval Treaty[4]), where most participants sought to work around the limitations, some more legitimately than others.[5] The United States developed better technology to get better performance from their ships while still working within the weight limits, the United Kingdom exploited a loop-hole in the terms, the Italians misrepresented the weight of their vessels, and when up against the limits, Japan simply left the treaty. The nations which violated the terms of the treaty did not suffer great consequences for their actions.

        Simple fact of the matter is that a nation will do what it thinks it must to defend itself and will simply break any treaty if it stands in its way.

    • Ad 1.2

      Yes I knew I was trying it on with the Pacific Islands bases para.

  2. Draco T Bastard 2

    Under President Trump’s statecraft, North Korea is enlarging its nuclear arsenal, Iran has resumed its nuclear program, Venezuelan President Nicolas Maduro has tightened his grip on power, the E.U. is barely on speaking terms with the U.S., and China has not altered any of its ambition that Trump’s trade war was supposed to check.

    • As long as one nation has nuclear arms then it behoves other nations to also have nuclear arms.
    • Iran, under the NPT, is quite entitled, and even encouraged, to have its own nuclear program. I find it interesting how many people think that international law should not apply to some nations.
    • A country's politics are up to that country – not the US or us.
    • The EU not speaking to the US is a direct result of the USians electing Trump. As I said, a nations politics is up to them.
    • China is a problem as it imposes its own world view upon everyone else.

    Trump has turbocharged American decline

    The standard path of capitalism is the destruction of the society that it arises in. I doubt if Biden, or anyone, can change that.

    Withdrawing From U.S. Military Mistakes

    Yeah, not gonna happen. Military spending props up many states economies but especially the bit about getting rid of bases that are strategically placed around China.

    Regaining Democracy

    The USA never really had a democracy. The Founding Fathers didn't want a democracy and so they designed one that would prevent it. They may let slip a few socialist policies every now and then but the people in power are going to try and keep their plutocracy.

    Rebuilding the Climate Change Coalition

    See, this is the world's biggest problem. They think that we need the US to do anything and we don't.

    All that needs to happen is that the Rest of the World gets together and does what's needed to reign in climate change. If the US doesn't follow suit then we place sanctions on them. No imports, no exports and no visas. Just as they do to nations that they don't like.

  3. SPC 3

    My thoughts about a Biden leadership on foreign policy

    Not being being Trump is a low bar.

    Not trying destroy the WTO, rejoining WHO, funding the UN on time, not cozying up to strongman types and rejoining the Paris Accord is not as much as the world needs. But it's what he can be expected to do.

    What else can be done would derive from the USA working with others on global security matters a little more.

  4. RedBaronCV 4

    There is one thing we could do. Stop selling local visa's, citizenship, property and assets to overseas citizens who may be hiding ill gotten gains. No more "rich people visa's and investments". If poor actors in states can't transfer their ill gotten gains to some where safe then there is more of an incentive to behave well. London for one is awash with Russian rich cash.

  5. RedLogix 5

    A pretty good summary Ad. It hit’s the major points well. Without wanting to be contradictory, my thoughts in response are:

    1. Global COVID cooperation is definitely achievable; this alone would be highly worthwhile. But something tells me that the US relationship with the UN is permanently damaged. I hope to be wrong, but I’d be surprised if I was.

    2. While the US operates by far the largest blue water navy, Japan has the second or third most capable and will remain a close ally. Also there remain the question of Taiwan's defense. As long as these three factors are in play the USN will not relinquish the Western Pacific bases.

    On the other hand I do agree the US will continue down the path of shrinking it's strategic footprint in most places in the world. The three NAFTA nations and the western hemisphere will be defined as their 'sphere of interest' and will be strongly defended from all comers. But everywhere else will be optional and new resources will only be committed when the US interest is extremely clear.

    Saudi is already hanging in the wind, they just haven’t quite figured out what to do about it just yet. Look to the recent deal between Israel and the UAE for a clue.

    3. As the flagship 'democracy' the USA is heading for a decade of turbulence, and this will undermine the moral credibility of the 30 or so liberal democracies. Xi Xinping and Putin's totalitarian instincts will seek to move aggressively into the vacuum, picking off smaller and weaker states.

    I've pointed to the CANZUK option earlier; Canada, Australia, NZ and the UK all share a strong common interest in this respect. A political alignment of these four nations is one tool to bridge the next few decades of global uncertainty.

    Personally I think a Biden Presidency would be far too absorbed with it's own internal divisions to provide any kind of global leadership in this respect. Biden offers nothing to heal the urban / rural social divide that brought Trump to power; the conflict will merely switch modes and continue unabated.

    4. In terms of energy development I think a left oriented Biden Presidency will only stall US progress, backing further down the dead end of solar and wind renewables and killing off a nascent revival of new nuclear technology. The US Federal system no longer has the capacity to deliver innovation and leadership; it's become too hidebound by myriad layers of over-regulation and arcane policy. In the end they'll carry on burning natural gas for at least another 3 -5 decades and call it green enough.

    On balance a Biden Presidency will not be a bad thing, but I believe the important changes in energy systems will happen elsewhere.

    • Ad 5.1

      Cheers Red.

      I avoided the topic of immigration entirely for now, but that can't be left hanging in international relations either.

    • Dennis Frank 5.2

      I've pointed to the CANZUK option earlier; Canada, Australia, NZ and the UK all share a strong common interest in this respect. A political alignment of these four nations is one tool to bridge the next few decades of global uncertainty… I think a Biden Presidency would be far too absorbed with it's own internal divisions to provide any kind of global leadership in this respect.

      I agreed with that framing last time you suggested it and a regional framing was advocated then also, which provides us with a two-pronged strategy (in accord with both/and logic), but I would incorporate a proactive diplomatic stance to include the USA as an option. This is implementing the principle of extending consensus – once that has been achieved using both frames.

      Being progressive and conservative simultaneously makes political sense: conserve western solidarity as a basis upon which to proceed, then build for the future on a mutual-interest basis via diplomacy to make progress.

      Biden's inherent timidity could be strengthened via an inspired choice of his Secretary of State, eh? That's a situation in which banal unproductive globalism could morph into something intelligent & helpful.

    • SPC 5.3

      Well the 4 plus the USA are in Five Eyes and the UK sans EU is looking to network in the wider world, at least in trade.

      And one way forward is trade with NAFTA and CER, and a merger of the two including the UK is one option.

      That's an option now.

      And given NATO may not last the decade (Germany won't spend 2% on defence and might be given up for rapproachment with Russia), it might evolve in a political grouping.

      However, for mine the UK should network within the Commonwealth for now (East Africa/India/Singapore/Malaysia/Pacific/Caribbean/West Africa) – it has this global connection. Leverage its .7% foreign aid.

      What the world currently lacks is a coalition of the democracies, the UN can be easily hamstrung, but the security of the democratic nations should not be put at risk because of this.

  6. Byd0nz 6

    The foreign policy under the Democrats?

    Worse than Trumps, he hasn't put the military into a new war, he justs yaks about it, but the Dems track record on starting new adventures is as poor as past Republican ones. If Clinton was in, America would be at war with Iran and the other Countries on the Pentagon hit list. So not much difference, it's a two party, one system state, same warmonger advisers to advise. Na, better to keep Trump in as he is polarising, and more likely to bring America as a world power down in a heap of dung of it's own arse making.

    • Andre 6.1

      If Clinton was in, America would be at war with Iran

      Errm, who was it that put together a deal with Iran to manage Iran's nuclear future and started steps to bring Iran in from being an international pariah state?

      Then who was it that totally trashed that deal, and for good measure, went and cold-bloodedly gratuitiously murdered one of Iran's top leaders, so it was only by the grace of astonishing forbearance by Iran's leaders that it didn't erupt into war?

      And I get it that stopping totalitarian dictators from committing genocide doesn’t rate high on some loonier lefties priorities, but the situations in Libya and Syria were “well-involved” long before any US military actions started in those places.

      • Byd0nz 6.1.1

        situations in Libya and Syria were “well-involved” long before any US military actions started in those places.
        BS. The warmongers in the Pentagon had those Countries in their sites and embeded agents. What a mess Libyia is, a Country that had no debt and a bigger number of people, (that's the ones that have perished). Christopher Colombas done no favours in discovering America. Plus you missed my point about Trump.

        • joe90

          Columbus thought he was en route to the East Indies. He landed somewhere in the Caribbean and visited South America on a later voyage and despite claiming the continent for Spain, he never discovered nor set foot in North America.

        • Andre

          I got your point about Hair Twitler, that you're so consumed by malice towards the US that you're happy to see the harm he is doing to the country and its people, as well as the damage to the international order the US was a large part of maintaining.

          That's just not something another reader might get misled about from reading your comment, so no need to address it.

  7. Thanks Ad for something to actually think about.

    [Please stick to one user name here, thanks]

  8. Tiger Mountain 8

    Unless the multi trillion Military/Industrial war machine budget is up for a massive trim little will change. The obscene military spending also has the spin off of popular items such as pensions, which keep a number of dots on the map functioning. A Biden Presidency will likely be run on a committee basis–left wingers need not apply!

    US Imperialism will probably increase its activity internationally under a Biden Admin, because Trumps bizarre semi isolationist foreign “policy” approach actually has likely saved a few innocent lives with fewer invasions and attacks than might have been expected.

  9. The Lone Haranguer 9

    I would suggest that the past 40 years (or longer) of US politics interference in world affairs, and their imperialist ambitions has been a huge failure both for the citizens of the US, and for the citizens of the countries which they have messed with.

    I would also suggest that the Trump administrations greatest achievements have been to move the US away from being the "Worlds Policeman" and its move away from prior imperialist ambitions. Sure, its been chaos, but its a better path than the one of the past 40 years.

    If Biden wins in November, we will see a rapid return to the old failed model.

    Theres also merit in the "America First" concept of looking after you own citizens, their jobs and their hopes and aspirations ahead of exporting their jobs and hopes to the lowest wage economy that can be found.

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