The United States presents an unedifying sight at the moment as gleeful Democrats celebrate the second condemnation of Donald Trump, and the latter’s apparent concession of the United States’ presidential race to Joe Biden. It is difficult for the external observer to see what they have to be glad about.
Certainly, the presidency of Donald Trump has not been a happy experience for the people who really control the United States and its foreign policy. Although the past four years of the Trump presidency have been fraught, replete with threats and much blustering, the fact of the matter is that for four years he has resisted actually physically invading another country.
That may seem a small achievement, but it is unprecedented in post- World War II United States presidencies, where the attacking of third countries was an essential part of United States foreign policy.
That is not to say that the Trump years were full of peace and love for their enemies, real and imagined. Throughout his four years in power Trump has waged war by different means, including against Venezuela, going so far as to recognise the pretender to the Venezuelan presidency as the legitimate holder of that office. In this folly he was joined by a number of western nations, including Australia. That exercise seems to be finally dying a death, but the associated sanctions against Venezuela have caused enormous hardship and suffering for the country and its people. Their crime seems to have been no more than to elect a president unwilling to accept American dominance of his country.
The Trump administration’s treatment of Iran has been even worse. There, the United States abandoned the agreement worked out by his predecessor Barack Obama and some western European nations. The incoming Biden administration seems willing to re-join the Iran deal, but wants improvements to it. The Iranians, quite rightly, have flatly refused and it will be interesting to see how much the Biden administration continues to push for amendments to the original deal. In this, the attitude of the Israeli government, a bitter opponent of any concessions to Iran, will likely be a dominant factor.
It would be extremely unwise to expect any major improvement in United States foreign policy under the incoming Biden government. There are several reasons for this pessimistic view. The first is that Biden has a long history to serve as a guide to what his future policies might be. There is nothing in that history to inspire any confidence.
As Obama’s vice president Biden was at the forefront of that administrations aggressive policies. This included the 2014 coup in Ukraine, the consequences of which still plague those hoping for a peaceful Europe.
A resolution of the Ukrainian situation is unlikely under a Biden administration. The United States and western government in general continue to misrepresent the sequence of events in Crimea, treating it as if Russia had acted aggressively in resolving Crimea’s conflict with Ukraine. In the now more than six-year conflict I have yet to see any acknowledgement in the western media of the circumstances under which Crimea came under Ukrainian control in 1954, or any of its relevant history as an integral part of Russia.
Joe Biden also has a personal link to the Ukrainian government through the activities of his son Hunter Biden, the details of which are another area that the western media prefers to ignore. Biden is unlikely to have a favourable view of Russia as a consequence of these events.
Nor can one expect any significant changes in United States foreign policy in the Middle East. While vice president Biden took no steps to acknowledge the gross error of President George Bush in attacking Iraq, and certainly no steps to reduce United States involvement in the country during his eight years as vice president. It was also under his reign in 2015 that the United States attacked Syria, and again there has been no commitment to end that conflict, or indeed to end United States support for the multiple rebel groups that plague both Iraq and Syria.
Biden has promised to “return” to Europe but the truth of the matter is that the United States never left there. Rearranging the deployment of United States forces is far from a withdrawal, and that is essentially all the Trump administration did. Neither has Biden made any commitment to reducing the interference of the United States in countries such as Belarus where the United States is a current supporter of the former presidential candidate now living in exile.
A question the western media is also unable to confront is the very real issue of Biden’s mental health. There is very convincing evidence that Biden displays symptoms of mental incapacity. Whether he will survive the whole four years is an open question. In the event he is disabled or dies then the character of his vice president Karmela Harris becomes highly relevant.
Quite why she was chosen is unclear. Her record as a top California legal officer is notable for its highly conservative features and relentless pursuit of black persons. She was the first to drop out of the presidential primaries barely registering in voter support. Her main attractions to Biden seem to be her race, her sex and her geographical location. None of those features provides a clue as to her capabilities and nothing she has said or done through the presidential campaign invite any particular confidence.
The dominant feature of Biden’s appointments to his main foreign policy areas is his reliance upon people with whom he was friendly when he last held office. None of them are known for any particular sympathy to either Russia or China, the two countries whose relationship with Biden will define the success or otherwise of his presidency.
While there may well therefore be some changes in the style of the Biden presidency over that of his predecessor, it would be a grave error to expect substantial changes. Coupled with that is Biden’s obvious commitment to a past era. The world has changed in the past four years, and almost none of it to America’s liking. That process is likely to continue. The big question will be the United States’ response to those changes, and in particular its willingness or otherwise to accept that the period of United States hegemony is now well and truly over.
James O’Neill, an Australian-based former Barrister at Law, exclusively for the online magazine “New Eastern Outlook”.