Sunday, June 26

Joe Biden’s Foray Abroad Has to Do with Underpinning Democracy in the United States | Henry farrell

During his first trip abroad as president of the United States last week, Joe Biden kept saying Europe that “the United States has returned.” Before the G7 meeting, Biden signed a new Atlantic charter with Boris Johnson that agreed to protect democracy and open societies. After Cornwall, he went on to more meetings in Brussels with the European Union, as well as a NATO summit and a face-to-face with Vladimir Putin in Geneva. Previous presidents have viewed the EU as either an irrelevant bureaucracy or a sinister threat. Biden described him as an “incredibly strong and vibrant entity.”

In his press conference with Emmanuel Macron, Biden appeared to promise that the United States was returning to its normal role in international politics. After Donald Trump, some nostalgic politicians might even hope for a revitalization of the so-called rule-based liberal order that has supposedly prevailed since World War II.

Anyone with such hopes will be disappointed. Despite his rhetoric, Biden isn’t really interested in reverting to the status quo or getting the old gang of ocean liners together to tour their greatest hits. The old transatlantic relationship reflected America’s needs after the 1939-45 war. The United States did not create NATO or throw money at shattered European economies out of selfless generosity, but because it wanted to. strengthen allies to better deal with shared threats.

Now America’s needs have changed, as have its actions. Biden genuinely and openly fears that American democracy is in danger. The threats come from abroad, because China offers an attractive alternative model, with an authoritarianism capable of providing reasonable prosperity to its population. But more perniciously, American democracy is threatened from within. Trump did not accept his electoral defeat in November and urged his supporters to attack the United States Capitol on January 6 to overturn the result. At the same time, Republicans are using their control of state legislatures to pass a plethora of laws designed to make it difficult to vote and thus consolidate their own government.

Biden is far less interested in discussing the fact that he is relatively powerless to tackle those insider threats. The meager Democratic majorities in both the Senate and the House of Representatives, combined with the united Republican opposition and the presence of Senate filibuster, make it nearly impossible for legislation to pass.

However, on foreign affairs, one of the few important areas of bipartisan agreement is mistrust in China. That is why the administration and its allies have been able to pass legislation aimed at boosting American research projects, which they can justify as helping the United States compete with China. This shared perspective allows Biden more room to take a strong approach to China and, furthermore, it is much easier for him to act abroad unilaterally than to work on domestic affairs through Congress. Presidents of the United States have a very wide margin to make foreign policy as long as they do not try to sign binding treaties.

The result is an approach that combines competition with China, efforts to protect global democracy, and measures ultimately designed to shore up some of the enormous vulnerabilities in US domestic politics. Other presidents wanted to spread democracy around the world, either through free trade liberalism or by force. The new administration wants to bring democracy home.

This approach will remake the transatlantic relationship. The guiding mantra of his international team is that they are doing “foreign policy for the middle class.” This phrase is not as smooth as it sounds. It implies that the traditional approach to American foreign policy of years past, pushing for free trade agreements to spread international liberalism, actually hurt ordinary Americans and made them more likely to vote for Trump, with all the dangers. for the democracy that this implies.

The Biden administration is likely much less interested in free trade deals than its pre-Trump predecessors, especially when they are costly to American industry. It is notable that the new Atlantic charter with Great Britain has no reference to the World Trade Organization and that it speaks of “open and fair trade” rather than simply “open trade”. Meanwhile, the president wants to use economic measures like rebuilding supply chains to minimize reliance on autocracies and prevent China’s access to key technologies. But those efforts are likely to be uncomfortable with WTO rules.

Despite Biden’s outward kindness, this poses a huge challenge for the EU, which has been somewhat more engaged rules-based multilateral trade than the United States. It may also present difficulties for the UK after Johnson’s Brexit. A world of stable and existing multilateral rules is much more comfortable for a middle power than for a new battle against all. Economies like Germany, which have relied heavily on the Chinese market, will also face some tough decisions.

Biden’s newfound enthusiasm for tougher global tax rules also poses some problems for international partners. Again, the reasons are largely internal: politics echoes Bernie Sanders’ argument, from the Democratic Party left, that tax havens and easy, anonymous money flows harm democracy by allowing corruption. and kleptocracy. That becomes uncomfortable for the UK, which has long turned a blind eye to dirty money inflows and whose overseas territories are among the world’s top tax havens. It is also a problem for EU tax havens like the Republic of Ireland and the Netherlands, and for islands like Cyprus and Malta with banking systems that service Russian and Eurasian oligarchs.

As Biden proclaims that America is back on the world stage, he is really looking home, concerned about a broken domestic political system and how to fix it. By addressing those controversial international issues of China, trade and tax, Biden hopes in turn to help American democracy find its way again. If they really want to remake the transatlantic relationship, the UK and Europe will have to work together with an administration with a very different understanding of American interests than their predecessors.

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