Well, at least it’s familiar to us, this world that Joe Biden wants the United States to re-enter come Jan. 20. In fact, it represents a way of thinking known to us as recently as 2016, when the unthinkable happened. The people voted in an alternative to the long-held and deeply embedded conventional wisdom of the U.S. foreign policy establishment.
But after Donald Trump plunged us headlong into a brave new world, challenging instead of appeasing everyone from North Korea and China and our NATO allies to global behemoths like the World Health Organization, the former vice president promises to pull us out of the deep water and back to the safe shores of the new old world order.
Trump may have been the first president in decades to actually ramp down instead of build up our foreign entanglements, but Biden has openly, and unsurprisingly, ignored or minimized the peace that has broken out over the last four years while unilaterally opposing Trump’s foreign policy.
While calling your opponent reckless and irresponsible on the world stage is a typical campaign narrative, things change overnight when you assume power over the nuclear codes and the world’s greatest military. And if he actually gets to be president, Biden would have a mighty hard act to follow. For starters, he would face a dilemma not encountered by any of his predecessors: actively returning the nation to standard-issue, globally focused foreign policy rather than simply inheriting it from the previous president. Every commander in chief since Ronald Reagan has been, in one form or another and to varying degrees, a globalist or internationalist. America First has been the opposite. So, instead of simply staying the basic course of his predecessors in our relationships with China, North Korea, Russia, and other countries swept up in Trump’s nationalist projection, Biden would have to convince Americans that we are better off by returning to the old, globalist way of thinking.
Good luck with that.
It is truly mystifying how this widely unpopular and discredited framework for international relations continues to be supported hook, line, and sinker by the uniparty establishment. The concept of putting America’s interests first in every international transaction and policy should hardly be controversial, and yet most of the ruling class has been comfortably tethered to Bush 41’s new world order, and deference to international opinion, since the fall of the Soviet Union.
But not Trump. As his term draws to a close, the most remarkable result of the many on his watch is no less than four Mideast peace treaties, the first in decades. But it was the way they were achieved that is most revealing of the difference between Trump and the presidents before him. He confounded the Palestinian-centric careerists hellbent on cutting a deal at any cost — and never closing one. Even when President Bill Clinton, in the end stages of his presidency, offered Yasir Arafat more than he demanded, a deal was never consummated. The Palestinians held the on-again, off-again peace process hostage since it commenced but were constantly appeased by successive generations of foreign policy professionals. So Trump engineered an end run around the intransigent Palestinians, leaving them out in the cold by negotiating a series of bilateral agreements between Israel and Palestinian allies. This, after Trump was excoriated by State Department types for finally moving our embassy in Israel to Jerusalem, as promised by the three previous presidents. Would Biden abide by these agreements and build on them, or allow the anti-Israel left to all but shut down the burgeoning peace process?
Trump emphatically rejected the Iran nuclear deal engineered by Biden’s patron Barack Obama, arguing that it offered minimal short-term gain in return for the maximum long-term pain of a strengthened Iranian nuclear program. He pulled out of the globalists’ signature Paris Climate Accord because it places burdensome restrictions on the United States that China and other nations are not required to abide by and that would cause the cost of energy to skyrocket. Will Biden seek a new Obama-style deal with Iran and fulfill his promise to return to the colossal international climate agreement?
After years of failed multilateral negotiations and unfulfilled promises by Kim Jong-Un, the 45th president went 180 degrees in the opposite direction with a campaign of personal, face-to-face diplomacy with the North Korean dictator, avoiding a frightening conflict he was ominously warned about by Obama. Would a President Biden insist on a return to the multinational bargaining table?
Of course, the single biggest issue facing a new president would be China, a nation with which Joe Biden is particularly familiar. Our most dangerous adversary was called out for the first time by Trump — on everything from lopsided tariffs to intellectual property theft. Biden’s approach has always been the opposite: to soft-sell at best, minimize at worst, Chinese influence. And those influence-peddling deals with Chinese firms linked to the Communist Party, engineered by his son and from which he personally profited, now stand as ripe material for blackmail of one sort or another. Will Biden defy predictions and take a hard line against China like Trump?
The president’s tectonic shift in approach to allies and adversaries alike, together with his regime of radical deregulation and the decade-old fracking revolution, has produced the long-sought holy grail: energy independence. This means putting young Americans in the line of fire in Middle East conflicts for the sake of oil will now be indefensible. Would Biden mollify his left flank by reintroducing onerous regulations on the energy industry, limiting if not banning fracking, at the cost of higher energy prices and a restored dependency on unreliable foreign sources of energy? Would his ongoing support for war demonstrated over almost five decades in Washington continue to guide his judgment?
Make no mistake. The world stage is where the contrast between administrations will be most stark and visible. And for a candidate who has seen better days, and conducted a stealth campaign for the presidency in a fortified cocoon, the challenge to return to the days when a global perspective carried the day is heavily complicated by Americans’ knowledge, for the first time, of a successful alternative.
While Trump has proudly worn his MAGA slogan on his sleeve from day one, Biden’s MAGA is not one of which he might boast. But it is every bit as real as Trump’s quest to make America great again. For the prospective 46th president, the mission is to make America global again.
Read more from Tim Donner.