The importance of US elections

If Joe Biden wins the polls US would in all probability assume conventional leadership role with some caveats

Talat Masood July 14, 2020
The writer is a retired lieutenant general of the Pakistan Army and a former federal secretary. He has also served as chairman of the Pakistan Ordnance Factories Board

It is only natural that the world would be closely watching the outcome of the forthcoming US Presidential elections scheduled for November 3, 2020. This time the interest would be not only because the US is a superpower and the policies and actions of its President have global consequences, but also because President Trump has been a highly controversial figure. He has pursued policies that have not only disrupted the world order but created sharp divisions within US polity itself.

President Trump has deliberately weakened global institutions so that he does not remain bound by international treaties and the obligations and limits that these carry. His abrupt announcement of US withdrawal from the membership of the World Health Organization (WHO) at a time when the world is in the worst grip of the coronavirus pandemic is literally a deathblow to the organisation. The US is the major contributor of funds, and the expertise of its doctors and specialists is invaluable. There are other serious viruses such as polio and Congo fever where expertise and coordinated effort of WHO is critical.

Similarly, unilateral US renunciation of the Iran nuclear framework agreement reached between Iran and the P5+1(Germany) has created a serious vacuum and ambiguity about Iran’s nuclear programme. Not only President Trump walked out of the international commitment but encouraged Israel to strike at its nuclear facilities disabling the uranium enrichment plant. It would take two to three years for Iran to rebuild the facility. These policies are a harbinger for creating anarchy in the world order.

Furthermore, President Trump may not extend the New Strategic Arms Reduction Treaty, the only remaining US-Russia arms control pact. This could have serious consequences, and a new arms race would become a distinct possibility. His argument that China which has relatively a small inventory of nuclear weapons and delivery systems be included in the treaty otherwise the US will not participate is not logical and merely an attempt to build pressure on Beijing and a ploy for not revalidating the treaty.

President Trump during his tenure has stepped up defence spending. This strategy is meant to maintain US dominance and to woo one of his important vote bank the defence industrial complex. Despite obvious weaknesses of his Presidency President Trump would still be the favorite of hawks but that might not take him far. It is likely that Democrats would be interested in renegotiating the treaty and having a stable global regime.

President Trump’s anti-immigration policy is meant to promote his white supremacist vote bank. His ambitious plan of building a structure to prevent influx of refugees from Mexico and other countries reflects his state of mind.

President Trump has been accused of using presidential powers to improve his chances of re-election. This policy has backfired and is being labeled as anti-democratic, a means to cover up his misdeeds and advance his prospects of reelection.

If Joe Biden, the democratic Presidential nominee, wins the elections, the chances of which are bright as polls suggest, then the US would in all probability assume the conventional leadership role with some caveats. It is possible as The Washington Post observes, “Biden’s vision comes into view, and it’s much more liberal than it was.” Flowing with the current mood of the nation, Biden also remarked, “It’s an idea that goes back to our founding principle that all men are created equal. It’s an idea that’s stronger than any army, bigger than any ocean, more powerful….” These remarks indicate a more progressive and cooperative approach.

It is expected that Biden would promote adherence to global treaties and take a more conciliatory approach on international forums.

President Trump apart from building strong personal relations with PM Modi has promoted long-term policies that aim at strengthening ties with India at the economic and strategic level, and build India to counter growing Chinese influence at the regional level.

It is expected that the Democratic nominee would pursue a strong and close relationship with India but cautioning it on human rights violations and its anti-Muslim and Kashmir policy.

Relations with Pakistan did improve during President Trump tenure, but essentially at the tactical level. President Trump and the US administration have realised the importance of Pakistan in seeking a political solution for Afghanistan. Washington eyes with suspicion the CPEC project and is wary of the growing Pakistan-China ties.

Pakistan has its own interest in maintaining good relations with the US. It maintains that its close relations with China are not to counter the US but to promote its economic and political objectives and deter India’s aggressive designs.

For most Pakistani students, US universities and colleges are an ideal destination. The drop in the rupee value, low foreign exchange reserves and bureaucratic procedures, however, pose impediments.

During Trump’s Presidency, there has been a marked deterioration in the values of the nation. For the administration, narrow and immediate interests have defined preferences as opposed to larger goals and objectives. This is reflected in the overall drop in quality of leadership in the House of Representatives and Senate.

If this weakness continues, it could in the long-term result in US losing its global leadership role. And this factor would weigh during the forthcoming elections and rebound giving Biden a clear edge as a better and more effective leader.

During the election debate, questions will be raised. To what extent will countries like Russia with weak economies and strong strategic and military capability combined with a powerful President continue to wield global influence?

Is the type of political system prevalent in China and Russia sustainable in the long term or would it give in to internal democratic and other forces? To what extent would the US exploit it for economic and political gains? Does the world really require a global hegemon for stability? Can multiple major power centers coexist in relative peace and harmony or is it a recipe for constant conflict?

These are pertinent factors that will influence the future stability of the world order.

Published in The Express Tribune, July 15th, 2020.

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