Joe Biden’s incoming administration will usher in a distinct shift in the United States’ approach to diplomacy and world affairs, analysts said, just days before the president-elect’s inauguration.
Biden has long supported multilateralism and has vowed to restore key political, security, and trade alliances when he takes office, while strengthening U.S. engagement with international treaties and organizations.
It will be a departure from the “America First” policy of President Donald Trump, who avoided multilateralism from his early days in the White House and withdrew from a series of multilateral agreements, including the Paris Agreement on the Climate, the Trans-Pacific Partnership and the Iran Nuclear Accord.
Trump’s approach to foreign policy “was a bit like the president [Richard] Nixon, ”said Hillary Mann Leverett, who served on the White House National Security Council in the former Republican and Democratic administrations.
The underlying ethic shared by the two leaders, she told Al Jazeera, “is that countries are not friends with each other. Countries have interests; they don’t have friends.
“I think Trump had this feeling that he could follow Nixon’s playbook, that he could be a staunch realist, and that he could get some important deals like opening Nixon to China,” said Leverett, who currently heads the political risk consultancy Stratega. .
During his four years in office, Trump has portrayed himself as a chief trader, an international real estate developer who is unafraid to shake up the status quo and advance American interests.
“At the end of the day, if he didn’t have the intellectual depth, he didn’t have the people around him that he needed, or he just couldn’t keep an eye on the goal – he just wasn’t able to deliver any of those things, ”Leverett said.
Biden is expected to seek to strengthen ties with many Western European leaders, particularly German Chancellor Angela Merkel, with whom he had close ties during his vice-presidency – but whose relations with the United States was strained during the Trump years.
Biden’s relationship with British Prime Minister Boris Johnson, who courted Trump as the UK withdrew from the European Union, remains more uncertain.
Nonetheless, Biden, who served as a senior Democrat on the Senate Foreign Relations Committee from 1997 to 2009, has portrayed himself as a leader who builds personal relationships with his counterparts.
Drawing on nearly five decades of political experience, Biden also said he was not afraid to speak up when needed.
His former boss, former President Barack Obama, praised Biden’s ability to pursue distinct goals without getting drawn into “broader ideological debates that too often result in overshoot or lack of precision in our mission.” .
Meanwhile, Biden quickly moved to fill his administration of eminent diplomats in key positions, including nomination a second-place Iranian nuclear deal negotiator in the US State Department.
He also vowed to take a tougher line on the perpetrators of human rights violations, signaling a likely severance of Trump’s close ties with Saudi Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman, Brazilian far-right President Jair Bolsonaro and President of Egypt. Abdel Fattah el-Sisi, whom Trump called. his “favorite dictator” at the G7 summit in 2019.
While Trump “clearly felt an affinity for autocrats,” Biden “defines himself in terms of building relationships with little Democrats, those with whom he shares interests and values,” PJ Crowley, former US Assistant Secretary of State in public affairs under Obama, told Al Jazeera.
However, that doesn’t mean Biden won’t work with autocratic-leaning leaders if it fits into a larger goal, Leverett said, highlighting the 2011 Biden controversy. declaration that Egyptian President Hosni Mubarak, soon to be overthrown, who supported peace with Israel, was “not a dictator”.
Crowley said Trump had also taken a “transactional” approach with many leaders, including Israeli leader Benjamin Netanyahu, who welcomed Trump’s decisions to move the US embassy to Jerusalem and recognize Israeli sovereignty over the Plateau. Syrian Golan.
This approach has contributed to what many Trump supporters see as his greatest foreign policy achievements: normalization agreements between Israel and the United Arab Emirates, Bahrain, Sudan, and Morocco.
“Joe Biden is a tactical politician and I think he will be able to work the crowd in a way that Barack Obama did not,” Crowley said.
‘Proud to be unpredictable’
In Biden, leaders can also expect a return to a more predictable U.S. foreign policy after Trump, who was inclined to surprise unilateral decisions and use social media as a chair of tyrants laden with disinformation that could leave its own. negotiators and officials in shock.
In a notable example of this on-the-fly strategy, Trump abruptly withdrew US troops from Syria’s Turkish border in October 2019, de facto giving Turkey the green light to advance militarily and leaving the Kurdish allies of the United States vulnerable.
In a tweet a few days later, Trump warned Turkish President Recep Erdogan that he would “totally destroy and wipe out Turkey’s economy” if the military does anything he considers “prohibited.”
Trump “took pride in being unpredictable and acting drama, which owes his experience as a television personality,” Crowley said.
“In diplomacy, there can be suspense, but predictability is valued. If you say you’re going to do something, if you follow through, you are building a track record that you can trust. “
‘Not much that will influence him’
But such predictability also has its downsides, Leverett said, with Biden’s long career meaning “in many ways he’s already made up his mind about how he sees countries, the people in those countries and the issues.” .
“There’s not much that’s going to influence him,” she says.
This could leave Biden falling into outdated patterns with leaders such as Russian President Vladimir Putin. Biden said he once bluntly Told the Russian leader, “I don’t think you have a soul.”
Biden’s relationship with Chinese President Xi Jinping will also be closely watched following rising tensions between the two countries over the past four years. Biden has spent a lot of time with Xi in his role as US vice president, but he recently called the Chinese leader a “thug.”
His approach to Iran, which he and the European parties hope to bring back to the multilateral nuclear deal, will also come under close scrutiny.
Others have argued that Biden’s comprehensive diplomatic approach is out of step with the current era of “great power competition,” in which emerging powers struggle to establish their own networks of influence.
“We live in a realistic world, where power really, really matters. And countries that seek to be safe, free and prosperous in this world, they will base their political judgments and geopolitical judgments on power relations, ”James Carafano, national security and foreign policy specialist at curator Heritage Foundation, told Al Jazeera.
“I thought [Trump’s] foreign policy was largely based on realism – and I think people mistake that for something like creeping self-interest or isolationism, ”he said.
Still, supporters have argued that Biden has the experience – and the staff around him – to more pragmatic and effective promotion of American interests.
“I think what you’re going to see in Biden is a backbone on issues and ideas,” Joel Rubin, Assistant Under Secretary of State for Legislative Affairs under Obama and volunteer policy adviser for the United Nations, told Al Jazeera. Biden campaign.
“A recognition that diplomacy is a powerful tool in the arsenal of American engagement abroad.”