More than half of America and in all probability most of the world would be taking a sigh of relief that President Trump relinquishes his presidency on January 20, 2021. History would certainly rate him as one of the most controversial, egoistic and divisive American presidents. He leaves behind one of the worst legacies of the presidential office. His incitement of a criminal mob by his irresponsible rhetoric and their occupation of the Capitol was a disgraceful act that showed to what extent he could go to disrupt the transfer of power. The support that he received from many of the Congressmen and Senators in the commission of these reprehensible acts is a clear manifestation of how steep the American decline of values has been. It is for the Americans to figure out how they strayed that far.
From President-elect Joe Biden one expects that his first and foremost priority would be to bring back normality to the country and lift it to the position the majority of its own people and the world expects from America. He would have to heal the present great American divide that Trump deliberately created. But Speaker Nancy Pelosi is considering the possibility of impeaching President Trump which may not be very helpful as it would further polarise America and keep President Trump in the news.
An important area which the incoming administration is likely to prioritise is providing clean energy that will set a model for the world to emulate. Improving infrastructure and health and educational facilities would equally be Biden’s priorities. And the President-elect is expected to deal with the spread of coronavirus far more seriously than his predecessor.
Biden will have to address several foreign and security issues that threaten the peace and stability of the world and are of particular interest to us. Most likely, he would push Beijing on human rights issues and raise concern on the plight of Uighurs and Tibetans and its treatment of dissidents in Hong Kong. Trade issues will be a source of friction as China’s trade practices have invited the President-elect criticism on previous occasions. On global economic and security issues where interests converge the two global powers are likely to cooperate. Broadly, the expectation is that the incoming administration would be less confrontational toward China and cooperate with it in areas of mutual benefit.
President Trump showed deep contempt and disregard for international organisations. He downplayed the role of the UN and the UNSC, and was averse to supporting the IMF, World Bank and its affiliates. He reduced the financial share of the United States in the IMF, withdrew from WHO and threatened to cut its funding which is substantial to 18% of its budget, by blaming that its director-general was pro-Chinese and not harsh on their handling of Covid-19. In sharp contrast, Biden will restore the leading role of the US in formulation and implementation of global policies within these organisations.
Biden is likely to follow Trump’s policy of withdrawing from Afghanistan with a caveat that he may like to keep enough forces that could protect US interests in the region; and ensure that Daesh and its affiliates do not make a comeback. Pakistan will remain important in the context of bringing peace to Afghanistan.
There will be relatively greater vigilance on nuclear issues. North Korea’s nuclear and missile programme would be closely monitored along with tightening of sanctions. The US will continue to keep a discreet eye on our conventional and nuclear capabilities while in sharp contrast, overlooking India’s buildup.
The US intelligence would continue carefully, monitoring Iran’s nuclear and missile programme in close collaboration with Israel. Furthermore, Biden would back groups opposed to Iran in Syria, Iraq and other Middle Eastern countries.
It is possible that the US may work toward reviving the P-5 nuclear agreement with additional safeguards provided Iran is willing to cooperate. Although the recent stepping up to 20% enrichment by Iran indicates that it is in no mood to restrain itself.
India’s relations with the US are bipartisan. Modi had developed a close relationship with Trump. With the Biden administration it is also likely to further strengthen its traditional close ties with India. For US, India is a major ally and strategic partner that can, in the future, counter the increasing influence of China at the regional level. Equally important is that it is a huge market for US goods that will continue to grow as the Indian economy improves. Indian diaspora, which is the second largest after Israel, already exercises considerable influence in US policy circles and in Congress. The election of Kamala Harris is likely to give this relationship a fresh impetus. Biden is expected to raise human rights issues in Kashmir and some US Congressmen in their individual capacity may express concern over the growing Hindu nationalism which is a threat to minorities — Muslims, Christians and Sikhs. To what extent it would influence the BJP government’s policies is yet to be seen.
The prospects are India-Pakistan relations would be closely monitored lest they conflate into a serious conflict. The US would prefer India to focus on China and build its military capabilities rather than remain embroiled with Pakistan. Washington’s supply of high technology military equipment to India is primarily in the context of China but the Indian military has been using it against Pakistan as well — that the US conveniently overlooks.
Realistically, with the incoming US administration, our expectations should be modest as there will only be a marginal difference in their attitude towards us. What matters most is how we strengthen the country’s economy, are able to stabilise politics and portray an image of a mature nation that is not all about taking but also has something to offer. The present state of affairs will only invite concern and at best indifference of the US and other major powers.
In fact, Joe Biden would be dealing with a dangerous world and an equally broken America. Only the next four years will determine America’s contribution to making the world a more peaceful place.
Published in The Express Tribune, January 13th, 2021.