V.P. Biden has shared a comprehensive foreign policy agenda. First the good news; even a casual reading of the to do list on the agenda clearly sends the message that if Joe Biden becomes president then there will be a significant departure from the current policy that conflates our national interest and the President’s self-interest. Now the bad news; Biden’s foreign policy agenda reads more like a laundry list of all good things that most people would like. It has catchy slogans such as – dignified leadership at home and respected leadership on the world stage — but it is not a plan.
President Trump’s America First strategy has made America alone, less influential, less inspiring and behind on many key issues. In order to engender a day-one foreign policy course correction Joe Biden needs a well-crafted and crystal-clear grand strategy. Unlike run of the mill foreign policy agendas, grand strategies are visions that match values and capacity with goals and means. Here I outline a grand strategy that is within the broad parameters of Biden’s agenda. I do so by prioritizing the following five goals:
#1. Values First: V.P Biden in his agenda promises that “he will advance the security, prosperity, and values of the United States”. I recommend that he place values first. He can than call it The Values First approach to U.S. global engagement. Our security is threatened not by states but by pandemics and climate change and our economy though dented by neglect, tax cuts, inequity and the pandemic is still fundamentally strong producing 23% of the global GDP. What the Trump administration has weakened most is the relationship between our foreign policy and values such as democracy, rule of law, sense of justice, international cooperation and faith in diplomacy. While the Biden agenda does touch upon the idea of restoring moral leadership, it does so mostly in the context of our immigration policy. Our values should constitute the heart and soul of our grand strategy, not just an item on the list. Biden must send the message to the world in his inauguration speech that there is a new dealmaker in town and no values will be compromised in future transactions.
#2. Rebuild Department of State: We must restore the institutions that in the past served America’s diplomatic needs. The Biden agenda claims that “use of force shall be our last resort” and that too only to protect vital interests and only with informed consent of Americans. Fantastic. But if force is the last option then our capacity for diplomacy must be strengthened. William Burns article in the Foreign Affairs, “The Demolition of U.S. Diplomacy”, outlines how much damage needs to be repaired in our diplomatic capabilities. Unless the State Department and its adjuncts, such as the US Institute of Peace, grants for public diplomacy and centers for research in the areas of peace, peace building and conflict resolution are infused with talent and cash no immediate progress will be possible. Ramping up diplomatic capacity sends the signal to the world that the old America is back and diplomacy is in currency again.
#3. Restore our Soft Power: Joe Nye recently argued in The New York Times that rather than making America great, the Trump foreign policy had seriously eroded our soft power. According to the index Soft Power 30, the U.S. currently ranked fifth amongst the top 30 countries whose soft power it tracks. Under President Obama by 2016 the U.S. had regained the numero uno position. The Biden agenda touches on this issue when it promises that “the United States must lead not just with the example of power, but the power of our example”. When soft power declines, we are compelled to use hard power. Soft power is an indirect measure of hegemony and when that is eroded ugly brute domination is the only means to achieving our goals. No one likes a bully and nations will begin to align against us if we use hard power all the time. One can see how China and Russia, China and Iran are already cozying up.
#4. Re-engage and rebuild the international order: The biggest victim of the Trump foreign policy has been the international order. U.S. has withdrawn from international treaties like the Paris climate accord, the Iran nuclear deal, and international organizations like the World Health Organization, UN Human Rights Council and UNESCO. Under President Trump, the U.S. has turned its back on multilateralism and on its allies; weakening the international order and drastically diminishing U.S. global leadership. Look at the world today dealing with the biggest current challenge, the Covid19 pandemic, it is doing so without the U.S. This is neither good for the world nor for the U.S. Only China benefits from this. More and more nations are now turning to China for guidance and assistance during the current crises.
One way in which US leadership as well as international cooperation can be rebooted is by giving the climate crisis its due. The climate change crisis is an existential threat to all of humanity. Shift the global security conversation from national security to planetary security. Biden’s plan places it in the last paragraph of a long manifesto. He does have a separate plan for it, but it needs to be integrated into the grand strategy. Making the security of all an American agenda, will not only refocus US energies to address the crisis but also restore our global preeminence.
5. China Policy: Any articulation of a U.S. grand strategy must recognize that China with much enhanced military capabilities and a strong economy is now competing with the US for global leadership. It is also providing an alternate model of governance and development, a model based on political authoritarianism combined with mercantilist capitalism. It presents a challenge not just to US global preeminence but also to the values of democracy and human rights. The Biden agenda on China is neither clear nor compelling. Joe Biden foreign policy agenda needs to be more assertive with regards to China. This is not the time to be coy.
A firm approach towards China will also allow Biden to highlight the value gap between the US and China. A Values First foreign policy can help Biden stand apart from both President Trump and China.
Prospects for U.S.-China Relations in the Biden Era
The U.S. presidential election which will be held on November 3 is drawing ever closer. As the Trump administration performs poorly in response to the COVID-19 pandemic, where the death toll in the U.S. exceeded 210,000, the election trend appears to be very unfavorable for Donald Trump.
According to a recent poll conducted by NBC News and the Wall Street Journal, Joe Biden led Trump by 14 percentage points in the national elections. It is worth noting that retired American generals, who have traditionally been extremely low-key in politics, publicly supported Biden this year, something that is quite rare. On September 24, 489 retired generals and admirals, former national security officials and diplomats signed a joint letter in support of Biden. Among them are Republicans, Democrats, and non-partisans, showing that they have crossed the affiliation, and jointly support Biden to replace Trump. Although the opinion polls do not represent the final election, with the election only being one month away, the widening of the opinion gap is enough to predict the direction of the election.
For the whole world, especially for China, it is necessary to prepare for the advent of a possible Biden era of the United States. During Trump’s tenure, U.S.-China relations have taken a turn for the worse, and China has been listed as the foremost “long-term strategic competitor” of the United States.
There is a general view in China that after the Democratic Party comes to power, U.S.-China relations may worsen. The reason is that the Democratic Party places more emphasis on values such as human rights and ideology and is accustomed to using values such as human rights, democracy, and freedom in foreign policies against China. However, as far as U.S.-China relations are concerned, it is too vague to use the simple dichotomic “good” or “bad” to summarize the relationship of the two countries.
However, it is certain that after Biden takes office, his policies will be different from Trump’s. An important difference between Biden and Trump is that Biden will follow a certain order and geopolitical discipline to implement his own policies, and he will also seek cooperation with China in certain bottom-line principled arrangements. It should be stressed that it is crucial for China and the United States to reach some principled arrangements in their relations.
From an economic point of view, should Biden become the next President, the United States will likely ease its trade policy, which will alleviate China’s trade pressure. It can be expected that the Biden administration may quell the U.S.-China tariff war and adjust punitive tariff policies that lead to “lose-lose” policies. If Biden takes office, he might be more concerned about politics and U.S.-China balance. In terms of trade, although he would continue to stick to the general direction of the past, this would not be the main direction of his governance. Therefore, the U.S.-China trade war could see certain respite and may even stop. In that scenario, China as the largest trading partner of the United States, could hope for the pressures in the trade with the U.S. being reduced.
China must also realize that even if Biden takes power, some key areas of U.S.-China relations will not change, such as the strategic positioning of China as the “long-term strategic competitor” of the United States. This is not something that is decided by the U.S. President but by the strategic judgment of the U.S. decision-making class on the direction of its relations with China. This strategic positioning destined that the future U.S.-China relations will be based on the pattern dominated by geopolitical confrontation. Biden sees that by expanding global influence, promoting its political model, and investing in future technologies, China is engaging a long-term competition with the U.S, and that is the challenge that the United States faces.
On the whole, if and when Biden takes office, the U.S. government’s domestic and diplomatic practices will be different from those of the Trump administration, although the strategic positioning of China will not change, and neither will it change the U.S.’ general direction of long-term suppression of China’s rise. However, in terms of specific practices, the Biden administration will have its own approaches, and will seek a certain order and geopolitical discipline to implement its policies. He may also seek to reach some bottom-line principled arrangements with China. Under the basic framework, the future U.S.-China relations will undergo changes in many aspects. Instead of the crude “an eye for an eye” rivalry, we will see the return to the traditional systemic competition based on values, alliance interests, and rules. Facing the inevitable changes in U.S.-China relations, the world needs to adapt to the new situation.
Third world needs ideological shift
As nations across the world have been pooling their efforts to contain the COVID-19 spread, the looming economic crisis has caught the attention of global intelligentsia. In the light of health emergency, The policy makers of Asia, Africa and Latin America have been struggling to steer the economic vehicle back to normalcy. Although, the reason for the economic slump could be attributed to the pandemic, it is also important to cast light on the economics of these tricontinental nations. Been as colonies for more than two centuries, these players had adopted the style of economics which is a mix of market economics and socialism. The imperial powers of the then Europe had colonised these nations and had subjugated them with their military and political maneuvers. Under the banner of White man’s burden, the Imperial masters had subverted the political, economical, social and cultural spheres of the colonies and had transformed these self-reliant societies into the ones which depend on Europe for finished products. The onslaught on the economical systems of colonies was done through one way trade. Though, the western powers brought the modern values to the third world during colonial era, they were twisted to their advantage. The European industrial machines were depended on the blood, sweat and tears of the people of colonies. It is clear that the reason for the backwardness of these players is the force behind the imperial powers which had eventually pushed them towards these regions in search of raw materials and markets i.e., Capitalism. Needless to say, the competition for resources and disaccord over the distribution of wealth of colonies led to twin world wars. Capitalism, as an economic idea, cannot survive in an environment of a limited market and resources. It needs borderless access, restless labour and timeless profit. While the European imperial powers had expanded their influence over Asia and Africa, the US had exerted its influence over Latin America. Earlier, at the dawn of modern-day Europe, The capitalist liberal order had challenged the old feudal system and the authority of church. Subsequently, the sovereign power was shifted to monarchial king. With the rise of ideas like democracy and liberty, complemented by the rapid takeoff of industrialization, the conditions were set for the creation of new class i.e., capitalist class. On the one hand, Liberalism, a polical facet of capitalism, restricts the role of state(political) in economical matters but on the other hand it provides enough room for the elite class and those who have access to power corridors to persuade the authority(state) to design the policies to their advantage. Inequality is an inescapable feature of liberal economics.
The powerful nations cannot colonise these nations as once done. The Watchwords like interconnectedness, interdependency and free trade are being used to continue their domination on these players. As soon as the third world nations were freed from the shackles of colonialism, they were forced to integrate their economies into the global economical chain. Characterized by the imbalance, the globalization has been used as a weapon by the Western powers to conquer the markets of developing nations.
The Carrot and stick policy of the US is an integral part of its strategy to dominate global economical domain. The sorry state of affairs in the Middle East and Latin America could be attributed to the US lust for resources. In the name of democracy, the US has been meddling in the internal affairs of nations across the developing world. Countries like Iran, Cuba, Venezuela, Libya, Iraq and Syria have challenged the US,a global policeman. Back in the day,soon after assuming the power, the Left leadership in Latin American countries had adopted socialist schemes and had nationalised the wealth creating assets, which were previously in the hands of the US capitalists. Irked by the actions of these nations, the US had devised a series of stratagems to destabilize the regimes and to install its puppets through the imposition of cruel sanctions and by dubbing them as terrorist nations on the pretext of exporting violent communist revolution. With the exception of the regimes of Fidel castro in Cuba and Hugo Chavez in Venezuela, the US is largely successful in its agenda of destabilizing anti-American governments in the region. The US has a long history of mobilising anti-left forces in Latin America, the region which US sees as its backyard, in an attempt to oust socialist leaders. At present, by hook or by crook, the trump administration has been trying to depose Nicolas Maduro, the president of Venezuela, a socialist.
In addition,The US has been colonising the minds of the third world citizens psychologically with its cultural hegemony and anti-left indoctrination. It is important to understand that the reason for the neo-fascism, which is unfurling across the developing and developed world alike, is rooted in capitalism.The third world citizenry is disgruntled and the ultra-nationalist right wing forces in these countries have been channeling the distress amongst the working class to solidify their position. Growing inequalities, Falling living standards, Joblessness and Insecurity are exposing the incompetence of capitalism and have been pushing a large chunk of workforce in the developing countries into a state of despair.Adding to their woes, the Covid-19 has hit them hard.
The US, with the help of IMF and the world bank, had coerced the developing countries to shun welfare economics.The term “Development” is highly contested in the economic domain.Capitalists argue that the true development of an individual and the society depends upon economic progress and the free market is a panacea for all problems.Given the monopolistic tendencies in the economical systems across the developing world, the free market is a myth, especially in a societies where a few of business families, who have cronies in policy making circles, dominates the economical and social scene.The time has come for the governments of these nations to address these issues and ensure that the wealth would be distributed in a more equitable manner.
The Election Circus and an Event in the Cosmos
The election in the US is held on the Tuesday after the first Monday in November. A Tuesday was chosen to allow people enough time to drive to the election site after Sunday, reserved for religious services and rest. Those were the horse and buggy days and it took a while. The people clearly had greater ardor for democracy then considering we get a less than 50 percent turnout now when voting sites are usually less than a five-minute drive.
Most states are either heavily Republican or Democrat so the results there are a foregone conclusion. The winners get the electors assigned to the state on a basis of population. The electors then vote for the nominees receiving the most votes in the state when the electoral college meets.
There are about a dozen battleground or swing states; among them Pennsylvania and Florida are prized for their high electoral votes — hence the repeated visits by the candidates. Trump won both in 2016. Will he this time?
Meanwhile two New York papers are busy running negative stories on candidates they oppose. The New York Times offers tidbits against Trump. The latest this week is that Trump has a Chinese bank account. The fact is not new since the information was filed with his tax returns — one has to report foreign bank accounts over $10,000 — but the news is intended as an example of Trump’s hypocrisy for he has been speaking out against doing business in China. The accounts in the name of Trump International Hotels have been moribund since 2015.
The New York Post, much less distinguished than the Times, is after Hunter Biden and through him his father, candidate Joe Biden. Last week the Post unearthed a dubious email purporting to show then Vice President Biden possibly meeting with Hunter’s potential business partner. This week there is a photograph of the Bidens, father and son, flanked by a Kazakh oligarch on one side and a former president of Kazakhstan on the other. The latest on the email issue has a certain Tony Bobulinski, one of the recipients, confirming the Post email adding that Hunter sought Dad’s advice on deals. There is also a proposed equity split referring to ’20’ for ‘H’ and ’10 held by H for the big guy.’
New York State may be a secure prize for Democrats but news stories these days are picked up on the internet and spread nationally and internationally. Surely the two newspapers have something really big up their sleeves for the week before the election.
Charges and counter-charges in the final presidential debate. Biden repeatedly blamed Trump for deaths from the Covid 19 epidemic. On almost everything Biden promised, Trump’s rejoinder was why he had not done it in the 47 years he was in public office including 8 years as vice president. This included mimicking Biden’s previously successful tactic of talking directly to the public. The same interests fund both major parties and they generally get what they want except that Trump mostly funded his campaign himself.
From all the ridiculousness to the sublime. Images of M87 are the first of any black hole swallowing whatever is within range. We are told of the discovery of a black hole in the center of our own Milky Way, presumably the eventual destination of everything in our galaxy. From this perspective the Trump-Biden debate, although quite important for our immediate future, seems to diminish to nothing in significance.
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