The new President does not have the power nor the inclination to deliver a fundamental resetby Anatol Lieven / November 11, 2020 / Leave a comment
Joe Biden’s greatest contribution to US foreign policy may well be simply to restore some dignity to the tarnished image of the US presidency. We must hope that this will not be his only contribution. But fewer concrete measures may follow than one might think—or hope.
The most important step that his administration will take is rejoining the Paris Agreement on climate change, from which Donald Trump withdrew. Quite apart from the threat of global catastrophe, the future damage to the US itself from unchecked climate change will dwarf anything that China or Russia could do, short of nuclear war.
Yet in itself, signing this agreement does little except restore some US global prestige. Countries around the world have signed the Paris Accords and then failed to meet their commitments. The point is to do something.
Of critical importance will be the question of whether the Democrats can win a majority in the Senate—something that will probably not be clear until the Georgia run-off in January. Otherwise, assuming that Republicans Senators continue their strategy of blocking every single Democratic measure, the Biden administration will be incapable of passing new laws or raising new taxes.
Furthermore, the need to get cabinet appointees through the Senate will strengthen the instincts of the Democratic establishment and its business backers (so disastrously displayed under Obama) to tack towards the centre and appoint moderate Republicans. This strategy has always failed, while helping to prevent the Democrats from adopting much-needed economic reforms. It may well reduce Biden’s wiggle room on foreign policy as well.
If the Democrats fail to win the Senate, then Biden will be reduced to doing what he can through executive orders. As both Obama and Trump showed, it is possible to achieve quite a lot this way; but it will fall very far short indeed of the Democrats’ promised “Green New Deal.” Biden’s affirmation of the Paris Accords may therefore prove simultaneously his most symbolically important and least practically meaningful foreign policy decision.
On other issues of key foreign policy action—as opposed to atmospherics—very little will change under a Biden administration. The figures who are generally tipped for senior positions come from the heart of the Washington foreign policy and security establishment, dubbed “The Blob” by Obama adviser Ben Rhodes for its uncanny ability to ingest…