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Biden Won: What’s next?

Official White House Photo by Tia Dufour

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The moment many awaited with bated breath finally arrived, Vice President Joe Biden has been declared as the new elect 46th President of United States of America. Since November 3, the close margin of votes for the Democratic Party candidate and President Donald Trump in key swing states created an anxious atmosphere across the nation. With the final vote count emerging from Pennsylvania and confirming the state turning blue, it thwarted the Republican Party’s dream of four more years in the White House.

As Trump trailed behind in many states, he voiced his concerns and promised taking the issue to the Supreme Court. According to President Trump, there has been voter fraud and media conspiracy in many states that led to losing critical electoral votes. Consequently, his legal team has filed for lawsuits in states like Michigan, Nevada, Georgia, Wisconsin, Pennsylvania and Arizona. But this is an uphill battle for his campaign staff. For starters, unlike the electoral crisis of 2000 when the recount issue was raised solely in the state of Florida, this election year’s recount matter involves multiple states. Trump’s legal team would not only have to fight these cases in various states individually, but also present concrete proof of voter fraud which the President claims. Even as some courts have accepted these strings of litigation from the Trump campaign, most legal experts are viewing these cases with skepticism. In Michigan and Georgia, Trump’s case was given a short hearing due to lack of evidence, even though the latter is heading for vote recount. The Trump campaign staff would not only have to envisage a multi-state legal battle plan, but also reserve funds from their donors to proceed. For President Trump to successfully win these various litigations, the election result has to be extremely close. But Joe Biden has electorally surpassed the President in almost all the critical swing states, therefore weakening his case and debatable chances for a second term. 

For Biden, the immediate task at hand is twofold: carefully selecting a qualified, diverse cabinet and preparing policy agendas that will be prioritized the moment he is sworn in as the President. The Biden administration is expected to be an eclectic mix of moderates, progressives and possibly even Republicans to present a united front. Building the cabinet would be Biden’s first challenge. The left side of the Democratic Party would expect one of the most progressive cabinet in the history of United States, whereas the corporate backers who invested money in the campaign would have a completely different economic agenda. Apart from people who have worked with Biden for years, one can expect to see new faces, especially of those people who have worked hard for this win in their respective states. According to reports, the President elect would rigorously assess the potential candidates in the coming months, sliming the possibility of such announcements any time soon.

In terms of policy, Covid 19 and social healthcare measures would be Biden administration’s immediate concern. Biden has promised to launch a Covid 19 task force comprising of scientists and medical experts to get grips with the pandemic escalating coast to coast. A wave of investments in protective gear & equipments, loans to various types of businesses, stern federal public health guidelines and consistent dialogue with state governments can be expected from the Biden government in the first few days of his presidency. The administration would also take steps to assist the medical, nursing and essential workers at the frontlines on various levels. Apart from Covid 19, the administration’s urgent attention would be on rebuilding the economy. Moving ahead his campaign’s economic vision of “Made in all of America”, the elect President would focus on revitalizing the domestic manufacturing while bringing public and private entities together. Fulfilling his campaign promise of increasing minimum wage to 15 dollars, creating 5 million new jobs, investing billions of dollars in renewing American manufacturing hubs, strengthening R&D for science & technology, supporting overtime pay for workers and so on would be addressed within the first few months.

Apart from Covid 19 and economy, focusing on systematic racial inequality in the society and climate change would be in President elect’s top concern list. For racial inequality the campaign promise of providing loans of hundred billion dollars at low interest rate to people of color, providing capital for startups by people of color from economically disadvantaged parts of the country and investing in black and minority colleges/universities would be pushed ahead. Similarly, the long term goal of producing zero carbon emissions by 2050 would be laid into action step by step by the administration. Apart from these plans, the Biden campaign has also expressed their plans for taxes, student loans, housing and healthcare infrastructure.

All these campaign promises are not only ambitious in nature but would also require highest form of political skill for pitching them in the Congress. Even though the President elect would try to push these ahead through multitude of Executive Orders, many promises involving finances would require Senate’s support. Due to Republican Party leading the Senate race, Sen. Mitch McConnell would likely to continue being the Senate Majority leader. It is highly plausible that the White House and the Congress would be at loggerheads due to this development, but there is still hope for the Democrats. Biden’s years of experience at Capitol Hill would be of great leverage for sealing deals with the Senate. During the Obama years, he played a critical role in bridging the gap between conservatives and liberals. Despite differing politically, Biden and McConnell have not only known each other for years but have also formed a respectable personal relationship. This relationship can prove to be a real asset for President Biden and his administration’s plans in heralding the country in a new post-Covid 19 era.

In terms of foreign policy, the Biden administration would attempt at “normalizing” American relations abroad. Firstly, the President will focus towards mending broken bridges in the multilateral settings like admitting America back in WHO, the Paris Agreement, UNHCR etc. He would be utilizing traditional diplomatic channels and his years of foreign policy experience/contacts in sending across a reaffirming message to these organizations. Biden administration’s second task at hand would be reassuring American allies especially in Europe and Asia. As the faith in American leadership has dwindled during the Trump years, Biden administration would upscale America’s charm offensive. Thirdly, on all matters associated to China, the Biden administration would most probably continue Trump’s policies, but with heightened diplomatic maneuvering. Trump’s lasting legacy is his China policy and hence, tensed Sino-America relationship would continue to prevail for the two countries in the coming years. Fourthly, Biden would be critical in shaping the future of America’s Indo-Pacific policy, especially the Quad arrangement. The decisions during his term would solidify Quad’s characteristics as a grouping and eventually America’s role in the Indo Pacific as China expands its influence in the region. And lastly, Biden’s biggest foreign policy challenge would be Iran Nuclear deal. Finding ways to reconnect with the Iranian policymakers, winning their faith, finding means to strike a deal with Tehran and European allies while keeping the concerns raised by JCPOA critics at home would be a job of herculean propotion.

It is important to note that even though President Trump has lost the election, he has electorally surpassed expectations. Irrespective of a global pandemic that claimed thousands of American lives, social unrest due to deepening racial tensions, eroding faith in law & order, wildfires at an unprecedented scale, frequent shootouts and escalation in hate crimes, President Trump was able to garner vast support. This year his voting base not only included traditional white voters, but also saw an increase of voters from Hispanic communities, especially in the state of Texas and Florida. Traditionally, the Hispanic communities from the 1990s began shifting towards the Democratic Party, but this election the President was able to make headway in winning their crucial votes. Ultimately, the election map signals that the “Trump Ideology” would continue to attract millions of people in America even though the president has lost his second bid. In the books of political history, he will always be remembered as a political maverick who revolutionized the Republican Party, for better or worse. Trump’s post presidency years could see him legally defending against slew of lawsuits and attempting to be politically relevant. With time, the conservative force in the American politics would search for a leader who espouses similar ideas and gives voice to the other half of the population. But until then, Joe Biden will be the President of a divided country that is on the quest of soul search.

Aakriti Sethi is a doctoral candidate at US Studies Program (USSP), Center for Canadian, US & Latin American Studies (CCUS&LAS), School of International Studies (SIS), Jawaharlal Nehru University (JNU), New Delhi. She has an Mphil degree in US Studies from the same and a postgraduate degree in Geopolitics and International Relations from Manipal Academy of Higher Education, Karnataka. Previously, she worked at the US division of Manohar Parrikar Institute for Defense Studies and Analysis (MP-IDSA), New Delhi. Her area of interest includes US foreign policy, American domestic politics, Northeast Asia (primarily Japan, China and North Korea), Indo Pacific and India's foreign policy. Her work has been featured in various websites, journals and newsletters.

Americas

Afghanistan and Beginning of the Decline of American Power

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Has America’s disgraceful withdrawal from Afghanistan spoiled its global standing? The pictures of retreating American soldiers at Kabul International Airport have certainly reinforced the notion that the United States had lost control of the situation in Afghanistan. The Taliban takeover of the capital has also led many around the world to question America’s basic competence as a great military power.

At the end of the WW2 victory, the US became the dominant power in the international system. The new era was heralded as the harbinger of the ‘American Century’. The fall of communism in eastern Europe and the rest of the world allowed the West— and particularly its leaders, the United States, to go in any direction that it wanted.

After twenty years of war, the image, clout and confidence of the sole superpower go down in history, buried in the debris of destruction of Afghan war, which has lived up to its reputation as the ‘graveyard of empires’, Britain and Soviet Union were earlier in the 19th and 20th century.

The cost of Afghan war brings nothing for its future. Brown University’s cost of war report says that, “since invading Afghanistan in 2001, the United States has spent $ 2.313 trillion on the war, executing expenditure on life time care for American veterans of the war and future interest payments on money borrowed to fund the war”. CNBC writes, “yet it takes just nine days for the Taliban to seize every provincial capital, dissolve the army and overthrow the US backed government”.

Since the beginning of the 21th century, American’s contributions to global GDP have been decreased from 30% to 15% in 2020. A new power has emerged on the world stage to challenge American supremacy—China— with a weapon the Soviet Union never possessed.  The Formal Bilateral Influence Capacity (FBIC) index, a quantitative measure of multidimensional influence between pairs of states. Its report shows the erosion of US influence relative to Chinese influence across nearly every global region. Chinese influence outweighs US influence across much of Africa and Southeast Asia and has increased in former Soviet states. Chinese influence has also eroded the US advantages in South America, West Europe and East Asia.

 US has also become more inward-looking country. Biden has made clear that US foreign policy should serve only US interests. Even its military involvement will be scaled down even more.

The last two decade have brought significant shifts in global geopolitical dynamics. As Indian-American political commentator Fareed Zakariya argued in his 2008 book The Post-American World, “the fact that new powers are more strongly asserting their interests in the reality of the post-American world”.

As the US came to dominate the globe, the order it was morally underpinned by its belief in Manifested Destiny and economically underpinned by the US dollar as the reserve currency. The global order has unraveled mostly at the hands of the US itself. Its moral dimension started to come apart, when the US invaded Iraq in 2003, not only disregarding the UN but also propagating lies about Saddam Hussain regime possessing weapons of mass destruction. The credibility of the economic order was damaged by the great recession of 2008, when major US financial institutions collapsed one after the other.

All of this coincides with the resurgence of Asia and emergence of China as the global economic power house. The rise of Trump, the glowing racial injustice the triggered the Black Lives Matter Movement and the near collapse of the health system amid the Covid-19 pandemic.

America’s competitors like Russia and China now hold the space in Afghanistan. Another bar for the American influence in the region. The lost military credibility in Afghanistan has global ramifications for the U.S.

American intelligence agencies even could not assess the capability of Afghan National Army. The Special Inspector General for Afghanistan Reconstruction 2016 report noted massive corruption and ‘ghost soldiers’ in Afghan army.

Back to the question: Does the return of the Taliban in Afghanistan represent the end of the American era? It can certainly be said that the international image of the United States has been damaged. The U.S. retreat from Afghanistan represents part of a larger inward turn, or the U.S. may soon reassert itself somewhere else to show the world that it still has muscle. Right now, it feels as if the American era isn’t quite over, but it isn’t what it once was, either.

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Early Elections in Canada: Will the Fourth Wave Get in the Way?

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On August 15, Justin Trudeau, the Prime Minister of Canada and leader of the Liberal Party, announced an early parliamentary election and scheduled it for September 20, 2021. Canadian legislation allows the federal government to be in power up to 5 years, so normally, the elections should have been held in 2023. However, the government has the right to call early elections at any time. This year, there will be 36 days for the pre-election campaigns.

At the centre of the Liberals’ election campaign is the fight against the COVID-19 epidemic in Canada and the economic recovery. The coronavirus has also become a motivator for early elections. In his statement, Justin Trudeau emphasised that “Canadians need to choose how we finish the fight against COVID-19 and build back better. Canadians deserve their say, and that’s exactly what we are going to give them.” Thus, the main declared goal of the Liberals is to get a vote of confidence from the public for the continuation of the measures taken by the government.

The goal, which the prime minister did not voice, is the desire of the Liberal Party to win an absolute majority in the Parliament. In the 2019 elections, the Liberals won 157 seats, which allowed them to form a minority government, which is forced to seek the support of opposition parties when making decisions.

The somewhat risky move of the Liberals can be explained. The Liberals decided to take advantage of the high ratings of the ruling party and the prime minister at the moment, associated with a fairly successful anti-COVID policy, hoping that a high level of vaccination (according to official data, 71% of the Canadian population, who have no contraindications, are fully vaccinated and the emerging post-pandemic economic recovery will help it win a parliamentary majority.

Opinion polls show that the majority of Canadians approve Trudeau’s strategy to overcome the coronavirus pandemic. Between the 2019 elections and the onset of the COVID-19 pandemic, Trudeau’s government was unpopular, with ratings below 30%. Unlike Donald Trump, Trudeau’s approval rating soared after the outbreak of the pandemic to 55%. During the election campaign, the rating of the Liberal Party decreased and was 31.6% on September 16, which reduces the chances of a landslide victory.

Trudeau left unanswered the question of whether he’d resign if his party fails to win an absolute majority in the elections.

Leaders of opposition parties—the Conservative Party, the New Democratic Party, Bloc Québécois, and the Green Party—criticised Trudeau’s decision to call early elections, considering the decision inappropriate for the timing and situation with regard to the risk of the fourth wave of the coronavirus epidemic. They stressed that the government’s primary task should be taking measures to combat the pandemic and restore the economy, rather than trying to hold onto power.

The on-going pandemic will change the electoral process. In the event of a fourth wave, priority will be given to postal voting. Liberal analysts are concerned that the registration process to submit ballots by mail could stop their supporters from voting, thereby undermining Trudeau’s drive to reclaim a majority government. However, postal voting is the least popular among voters of the Conservative Party, and slightly more popular among voters of the Liberal and New Democratic parties. The timeframe for vote-counting will be increased. While ballots are usually counted on the morning after election day, it can take up to five days for postal voting.

One of the key and most attractive campaign messages of the Liberal Party is the reduction of the average cost of childcare services. Liberals have promised to resolve this issue for many years, but no active action has been taken. Justin Trudeau noted that the pandemic has highlighted the importance of this issue.

As in the 2019 elections, the Liberal Party’s key rival will be the Conservative Party, led by new leader Erin O’Toole. The Conservative Party’s rating a five days before the election was 31.3%. Conservatives suggest a different approach to childcare—providing a refundable child tax subsidy that covers up to 75% of the cost of kindergarten for low-income families. Trudeau has been harshly criticised by the Conservatives in connection with the scale of spending under his leadership, especially during the pandemic, and because of billion-dollar promises. In general, the race will not be easy for the conservative O’Toole. This is the first time he is running for the post of prime minister, in contrast to Justin Trudeau. Moreover, the Conservative Party of Canada is split from within, and the candidate is faced with the task of consolidating the party. The Conservative will have to argue against the billion-dollar promises which were made by the ruling Liberals before the elections.

The leaders of the other parties have chances to increase their seats in Parliament compared to the results of the 2019 elections, but they can hardly expect to receive the necessary number of votes to form a government. At the same time, the personal popularity of Jagmeet Singh, the candidate from the New Democratic Party, is growing, especially among young people. The level of his popularity at the end of August was 19.8%. Singh intends to do everything possible to steal progressive voters from the Liberal Party and prevent the formation of a Liberal-majority government. Singh will emphasise the significant role of the NDP under the minority government in the context of the COVID-19 pandemic and highlight that it was the New Democratic Party that was able to influence government decisions and measures to support the population during the pandemic.

Bloc Québécois leader Yves-François Blanchet, whose popularity level was 6.6%, intends to increase the Bloc’s presence in Parliament and prevent the loss of votes in the province of Quebec in favour of the Liberal Party. According to him, it is fundamentally important to protect the French language and the ideas of secularism. The Bloc Québécois is also not interested in the formation of a majority government by the Liberals.

Green Party leader Annamie Paul is in a difficult position due to internal party battles. Moreover, her rating is low: 3.5%. Higher party officials have even tried to pass a no-confidence vote against her. Annamie Paul’s goal is, in principle, to get a seat in Parliament in order to be able to take part in voting on important political issues. The Greens are focused on climate change problems, the principles of social justice, assistance to the most needy segments of the population, and the fight against various types of discrimination.

Traditionally, foreign policy remains a peripheral topic of the election campaign in Canada. This year, the focus will be on combating the COVID-19 epidemic, developing the social sphere, and economic recovery, which will push foreign policy issues aside even further.

The outcome of the elections will not have a significant impact on Russian-Canadian relations. An all-party anti-Russian consensus has developed in Canada; none of the parties have expressed any intention of developing a dialogue with Russia.

From our partner RIAC

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Interpreting the Biden Doctrine: The View From Moscow

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Official White House Photo by Carlos Fyfe

It is the success or failure of remaking America, not Afghanistan, that will determine not just the legacy of the Biden administration, but the future of the United States itself.

The newly unveiled Biden doctrine, which renounces the United States’ post-9/11 policies of remaking other societies and building nations abroad, is a foreign policy landmark. Coming on the heels of the U.S. withdrawal from Afghanistan, it exudes credibility. Indeed, President Biden’s moves essentially formalize and finalize processes that have been under way for over a decade. It was Barack Obama who first pledged to end America’s twin wars—in Iraq and Afghanistan—started under George W. Bush. It was Donald Trump who reached an agreement with the Taliban on a full U.S. military withdrawal from Afghanistan in 2021. Both Obama and Trump also sought, albeit in strikingly different ways, to redirect Washington’s attention to shoring up the home base.

It is important for the rest of the world to treat the change in U.S. foreign policy correctly. Leaving Afghanistan was the correct strategic decision, if grossly overdue and bungled in the final phases of its implementation. Afghanistan certainly does not mean the end of the United States as a global superpower; it simply continues to be in relative and slow decline. Nor does it spell the demise of American alliances and partnerships. Events in Afghanistan are unlikely to produce a political earthquake within the United States that would topple President Biden. No soul searching of the kind that Americans experienced during the Vietnam War is likely to emerge. Rather, Washington is busy recalibrating its global involvement. It is focusing even more on strengthening the home base. Overseas, the United States is moving from a global crusade in the name of democracy to an active defense of liberal values at home and Western positions abroad.

Afghanistan has been the most vivid in a long series of arguments that persuaded Biden’s White House that a global triumph of liberal democracy is not achievable in the foreseeable future. Thus, remaking problematic countries—“draining the swamp” that breeds terrorism, in the language of the Bush administration—is futile. U.S. military force is a potent weapon, but no longer the means of first resort. The war on terror as an effort to keep the United States safe has been won: in the last twenty years, no major terrorist attacks occurred on U.S. soil. Meantime, the geopolitical, geoeconomic, ideological, and strategic focus of U.S. foreign policy has shifted. China is the main—some say, existential—challenger, and Russia the principal disrupter. Iran, North Korea, and an assortment of radical or extremist groups complete the list of adversaries. Climate change and the pandemic have risen to the top of U.S. security concerns. Hence, the most important foreign policy task is to strengthen the collective West under strong U.S. leadership.

The global economic recession that originated in the United States in 2007 dealt a blow to the U.S.-created economic and financial model; the severe domestic political crisis of 2016–2021 undermined confidence in the U.S. political system and its underlying values; and the COVID-19 disaster that hit the United States particularly hard have all exposed serious political, economic, and cultural issues and fissures within American society and polity. Neglecting the home base while engaging in costly nation-building exercises abroad came at a price. Now the Biden administration has set out to correct that with huge infrastructure development projects and support for the American middle class.

America’s domestic crises, some of the similar problems in European countries, and the growing gap between the United States and its allies during the Trump presidency have produced widespread fears that China and Russia could exploit those issues to finally end U.S. dominance and even undermine the United States and other Western societies from within. This perception is behind the strategy reversal from spreading democracy as far and wide as Russia and China to defending the U.S.-led global system and the political regimes around the West, including in the United States, from Beijing and Moscow.

That said, what are the implications of the Biden doctrine? The United States remains a superpower with enormous resources which is now trying to use those resources to make itself stronger. America has reinvented itself before and may well be able to do so again. In foreign policy, Washington has stepped back from styling itself as the world’s benign hegemon to assume the combat posture of the leader of the West under attack.

Within the collective West, U.S. dominance is not in danger. None of the Western countries are capable of going it alone or forming a bloc with others to present an alternative to U.S. leadership. Western and associated elites remain fully beholden to the United States. What they desire is firm U.S. leadership; what they fear is the United States withdrawing into itself. As for Washington’s partners in the regions that are not deemed vital to U.S. interests, they should know that American support is conditional on those interests and various circumstances. Nothing new there, really: just ask some leaders in the Middle East. For now, however, Washington vows to support and assist exposed partners like Ukraine and Taiwan.

Embracing isolationism is not on the cards in the United States. For all the focus on domestic issues, global dominance or at least primacy has firmly become an integral part of U.S. national identity. Nor will liberal and democratic ideology be retired as a major driver of U.S. foreign policy. The United States will not become a “normal” country that only follows the rules of realpolitik. Rather, Washington will use values as a glue to further consolidate its allies and as a weapon to attack its adversaries. It helps the White House that China and Russia are viewed as malign both across the U.S. political spectrum and among U.S. allies and partners, most of whom have fears or grudges against either Moscow or Beijing.

In sum, the Biden doctrine does away with engagements that are no longer considered promising or even sustainable by Washington; funnels more resources to address pressing domestic issues; seeks to consolidate the collective West around the United States; and sharpens the focus on China and Russia as America’s main adversaries. Of all these, the most important element is domestic. It is the success or failure of remaking America, not Afghanistan, that will determine not just the legacy of the Biden administration, but the future of the United States itself.

From our partner RIAC

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