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News Analysis: What will be the Biden doctrine on foreign policy?

  • Published at 11:09 pm January 20th, 2021
US President Joe Biden signs executive orders in the Oval Office of the White House in Washington, after his inauguration as the 46th President of the United States, on January 20, 2021. Reuters

Biden has already said he will make significant changes to US foreign policy

In the four years of Donald Trump's presidency, the United States has moved far away from its traditional foreign policy position. The Trump administration has taken steps that Washington could never have imagined before. 

In this case, the recognition of Jerusalem as the capital of Israel is a clear indication of how far Washington had gone. 

The question is: What will Joe Biden do now that he has taken over the office?

Biden has already said he will make significant changes to US foreign policy. 

Citing people close to Biden and familiar with his work, CNN says he will change US policy on the Iran issue as soon as he takes office. 

At the same time, he will return to the US’ previous position on the Paris Agreement on climate change and the World Health Organization (WHO). These three initiatives will be his starting initiatives.

Also Read - Our long international nightmare is over

According to CNN's analysis, Biden's goal will be to get out of the “let's do it alone” policy as soon as possible. He will adopt a new strategy aimed at rekindling the international relations of the US that weakened over the past four years. 

At the same time, as a part of this, he will develop relations with allies. The new strategy will focus on issues such as tackling climate change and Covid-19. His main focus will be on international cooperation and coordination.

According to Brian McKeon, Biden's foreign policy adviser and former White House and Pentagon adviser during the Obama administration, Trump's “America First” policy has resulted in a “lonely America.” 

Biden will call important allies on the first day and say: “America is back and America is with you.”

This is exactly the main trend of Joe Biden's possible foreign policy. But what will his position be on various important issues? 

Political analysts have spoken to Al Jazeera about what Biden's foreign policy might be. 

Rebuilding relationships

Biden is expected to seek to strengthen ties with many leaders in Western Europe, particularly German Chancellor Angela Merkel, with whom he had close ties during his vice presidency, but whose relationship with the US has been strained during the Trump years.

Biden’s relationship with British Prime Minister Boris Johnson, who wooed Trump as the United Kingdom withdrew from the European Union, remains more uncertain.

Nevertheless, Biden, who served as the ranking Democrat on the Senate Foreign Relations Committee from 1997 to 2009, has portrayed himself as a leader who builds personal relationships with his counterparts.

Also Read - European public optimistic on Biden, concerned about US democracy

 Drawing on almost five decades of political experience, Biden has said he is not afraid to talk straight when needed.

Meanwhile, the newly sworn-in US president has quickly moved to fill his administration with prominent diplomats in key posts, including nominating an Iran nuclear deal negotiator to the number-two position at the US Department of State.

He has also promised to take a harder line on human rights abusers, signalling a likely break from Trump’s close ties to Saudi Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman, Brazil’s far-right President Jair Bolsonaro, and Egyptian President Abdel Fattah el-Sisi, whom Trump called his “favourite dictator” at the G7 summit in 2019.

While Trump “clearly felt an affinity towards autocrats,” Biden “defines himself in terms of building relationships with small ‘d’ democrats, those with whom he shares interests and values,” PJ Crowley, a former US assistant secretary of state for public affairs under Obama, told Al Jazeera.

However, that does not mean Biden will not work with leaders with autocratic tendencies if it fits into a wider objective, said Hillary Mann Leverett, who served on the White House national security council in past Republican and Democratic administrations, pointing to Biden’s controversial 2011 statement that soon-to-be toppled Egyptian president Hosni Mubarak, who upheld peace with Israel, was “not a dictator.”

Also Read - Biden Cabinet: President-elect fills out his team

Crowley said Trump also took a “transactional” approach with many leaders, including Israeli leader Benjamin Netanyahu, who welcomed Trump’s decisions to move the US Embassy to Jerusalem and recognize Israeli sovereignty over the Syrian Golan Heights.

The approach contributed to what many Trump supporters consider to be his biggest foreign policy achievements: normalization agreements between Israel and the United Arab Emirates, Bahrain, Sudan and Morocco.

“Joe Biden is a tactical politician and I think that he will be able to work the crowd in ways that Barack Obama didn’t,” Crowley said.

Return to predictability

In Biden, leaders can also expect a return to a more predictable US foreign policy after Trump, who was prone to surprise with unilateral decisions and to using social media as a misinformation-laden bully pulpit that could leave his own negotiators and officials reeling.

In one notable example of that on-the-fly strategy, Trump abruptly withdrew US troops from the Turkish border of Syria in October 2019, giving Turkey a de facto greenlight to advance with military and leaving the US’ Kurdish allies vulnerable.

Also Read - 'Biden to keep Jerusalem embassy but seek Palestinian state'

In a tweet days later, Trump warned Turkish President Recep Erdogan that he would “totally destroy and obliterate the economy of Turkey” if the military does anything he considers “to be off limits.”

“Trump took pride in being unpredictable and playing up the drama, which owes to his experience as a television personality,” said Crowley.

“In diplomacy, there can be suspense, but predictability is valued. If you say you’re going to do something, if you follow through, you establish a track record that you can be trusted.”

‘Not a lot that’s going to sway him’

But such predictability also has downsides, said Leverett, with Biden’s long career meaning in many ways, he has already made his decisions about how he sees countries, people in those countries and the issues.

“There’s not a lot that’s going to sway him,” she said.

Also Read - Biden leads Covid memorial on eve of inauguration

That could leave Biden falling into stale patterns with leaders such as Russian President Vladimir Putin. Biden has said he once bluntly told the Russian leader: “I don’t think you have a soul.”

Biden’s relationship with Chinese President Xi Jinping will also be closely watched following increased tensions between the two countries during the past four years. Biden spent considerable time with Xi in his role as US vice president, but he recently called the Chinese leader a “thug.”

His approach to Iran, which he and European parties hope to bring back to the multilateral nuclear deal, will also be under close scrutiny.

‘Realist world’

Others have argued that Biden’s overall diplomatic approach is out of step with the current era of “great power competition,” in which emerging powers are jockeying to establish their own networks of influence.

“We live in a realist world, where power really, really matters. And countries that are looking to be safe, free and prosperous in that world, they’re going to base their political judgments and their geopolitical judgements on power relationships,” James Carafano, a national security and foreign policy expert at the conservative Heritage Foundation, told Al Jazeera.

“I did think [Trump’s] foreign policy was largely based on realism – and I think people confuse that with something like rampant self-interest or isolationism,” he said.

Still, supporters have argued Biden has the experience – and the staff around him – for a more pragmatic and effective furthering of US interests.

“I think that what you’re going to see in Biden is a backbone on issues and ideas,” Joel Rubin, deputy assistant secretary of state for legislative affairs under Obama and a volunteer policy adviser to the Biden campaign, told Al Jazeera.

“A recognition that diplomacy is a powerful tool in the arsenal of American engagement overseas.”

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