Many world leaders can be forgiven for breathing a collective sigh of relief at the seeming end of the Trump era. Much of the nationalism and racism that consumed numerous developed nations, while not caused by the Trump presidency, was nevertheless fuelled by the ideological rhetoric emanating everyday from the White House.
So, yes, there is now an emerging hope that the developed world can get back to a place of diplomatic stability, economic opportunity and global cooperation and that optimism is concentrated on Joe Biden, America’s next president.
Alas, it will prove arduous. The political and cultural chaos that gripped much of Europe, Russia, Brazil and, yes, the United States, was already broiling years prior to Donald Trump’s surprise victory in 2016. The global consensus on economics and progress was slowly shredding, its once vaunted agenda undermined by high unemployment, high debt, and high drama. All that money generated by the new investment capitalism had somehow bypassed average citizens around the world and a reckoning of some kind was inevitable.
When Joe Biden finally takes the reins in January, attention will be concentrated on the healing of broken relationships that had once formed the backbone of the global agenda. That’s as it should be, since a recommitment to the global security alliances will be priority number one, to pull back from the edge of international conflict. Much of that architecture, as with NATO for example, was heavily funded and resourced by the United States. Trump hadn’t so much destroyed those constructs as abandoned them and they have suffered from neglect. Biden had that task in mind when he noted recently that, “the world won’t just organize itself.” He’s right, but it’s not necessarily true that old allies will gathered around the American flag any longer.
For one thing, it appears as though the Senate will remain in Republican hands and it is that body that is largely responsible for America’s global commitments. Not only that, but they have hung on to the Trump agenda as a result of a tight election that wasn’t the Democratic blowout pollsters had prophesied. All those years with Biden as the chair of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee won’t necessarily be of service if the Republican leaders in the Senate decide to play hardball with the new president’s determination to heal fractured alliances. Still, his global experience is significant and there is hope of some kind of thaw.
Donald Trump’s announcement yesterday of his intention to “draw down” American troops in Afghanistan prior to Biden’s inauguration is just another indication of the struggle Biden has ahead of him. The foreign policy decisions of the last four years have deteriorated the trust and will of America’s allies. Pulling forces out of Syria, abrogating the Iranian deal, refusal to oppose the sinister policies of leaders like Putin, North Korea’s Kim Jong-un, Turkey’s Erdogan, Hungary’s Viktor Orbán, – these, and more, have made the dealings of America’s global allies immensely more complex. Trump’s successes in activities on Middle East peace negotiations were welcome, but were largely accomplished as a unilateral effort by America as opposed to a joint collaboration with seasoned allies.
And what of the lost confidence of those nations forming the G7 – Canada, Germany, United Kingdom, France, Japan and Italy? None of these partnerships are now solid, although they should prove easier for Biden to mend than others.
It will be difficult for America to lead the world as long as it remains as a worse-case scenario regarding COVID-19. Healing the virus onslaught will take years of dedicated effort to place America back in the vanguard of the global health movement. And when it comes to foreign aid, the United States has walked back a vast array of commitments to places like Africa, Latin America, and the poorer regions of Asia. Trump’s promise last February to cut his country’s foreign aid by 21% sent shutters through the global humanitarian agenda, not to mention ringing the alarm bells at the United Nations.
Again, the damage to America’s global reputation has been years in the making and preceded the Trump era, but the jarring abandonments by the United States in the past half-decade has been unprecedented and will take much longer than Biden’s time to effectively reestablish.
It was no accident that Joe Biden’s first international call of congratulations came from Canada’s Justin Trudeau. Sharing an undefended border of almost 10,000 kilometres – the world’s longest – has its advantages, but, still, the challenges of the last four years will be difficult to rebuild. Partnership in everything from climate change to the car industry, from a shared economy to a meaningful equality, and in areas like foreign aid and guardianship of human rights, will take diligent effort to reestablish and harmonize.
Canada has expertise and friendship to offer a new Biden administration, as the new president seeks to not only rebuild relationships but foster a new global agenda based on a new prosperity for all, healing of the planet, and a more shared load of security responsibilities. It will be needed, since much of the developed world has learned to subtly oppose the American agenda.
“To have an American ally turning its back on us so quickly on strategic issues, nobody would have believed this possible,” noted French president Emmanuel Macron earlier this year. But it happened, almost everywhere, and repairing it could take decades. Joe Biden will be charged with starting that healing, but that road will prove to be a challenge of global proportions.