The beginning of 2021 was like a nightmare for Biden. On January 6, last year, Trump’s supporters stormed Capitol Hill over his "vote-stealing" claims to prevent Biden from being declared president.
This is unprecedented in a country that claims to be the bulwark of democracy and is willing to launch military strikes on foreign soil if necessary. However, Biden was sworn in as president amid this panic and embarked on the new US foreign policy too.
Nevertheless, throughout the year, Biden faced challenges in constituting foreign policy, keeping in mind the views of all parties, including the leftists, the rightists, and the centrists. Despite the hardships, Biden was able to make some alterations to US foreign policy. In particular, Biden withdrew Trump’s "America First" policy at the commencement. The key to Trump’s political strategy was to "Make America Great Again." This brainstorming catchphrase not only overwhelmed internally but also impacted the US diplomatic system, which was also noticeable. Trump, for instance, distanced himself from NATO, contending that only Germany, not the USA, benefited from NATO. He also repeatedly demonstrated the EU as an obsolete one. Too, Trump slammed Obama's Trans-Pacific Free Trade Agreement as soon as he took office and shocked everyone by withdrawing America from the nuclear deal with Iran, the Paris Climate Agreement, and the WHO. Further, there was the Trump’s widely alleged declaration of a trade war against China.
In this way, Trump’s “America First” policy kept the USA at bay. He maintained only diplomatic contacts with his right-wing devotees in Brazil, Hungary, Serbia, Britain and Poland. So before Biden took office, everyone was anticipating a radical transformation in Trump’s policy. It was deemed that Biden would focus on liberal, pluralistic diplomacy instead of Trump’s erratic, conservative policy.
Biden also hinted at a collective approach rather than Trump's policy of walking alone. In this case, he brought the motto "America is back" in a wide campaign to obtain a stable diplomatic circumstance. In his election manifesto, Biden emphasized restoring relations with the global community and reestablishing US leadership. That's why he's been in regular contact with NATO and EU allies since the beginning. He also led America to return to the WHO and the Paris Climate Agreement. He's especially praised for his significant leadership in the global vaccination strategy in 2021. He often assured everyone at the COP26 conference that his administration was willing to work with everyone on climate change. In this way, he endeavours to restore America's position as the major thespian in world politics.
Additionally, there has been intense controversy over how successful Biden has been in that endeavour. In the 2020 election, he pledged to halt Chinese aggression, establish stable relations with Russia, and bring Iran back into the nuclear deal. Biden also vowed to terminate protracted civil wars in many countries and to thwart the influx of refugees from the Mexican border.
However, analysts are debating whether Biden has achieved the promised attainment on major issues at all. Analyzing the context of last year's global politics, we can guess whether Biden was able to deliver on his promise.
In mid-2021, Biden proclaimed the withdrawal of US troops from Afghanistan as his promised manifesto. We know that after 9/11, America launched an operation in Afghanistan to oust al-Qaeda and the Taliban. Billions of dollars have also been devoured over the past two decades to "civilize" Afghans and establish a democracy there. However, Biden realized that staying in Afghanistan was a waste of time and money. That’s why the announcement to depart Afghanistan came from the White House. But soon after the declaration, the Americans faced a huge challenge because there was no pre-planning in the process of evacuating Afghanistan.
On the one hand, the Taliban were capturing Afghanistan with lightning speed thanks to their war strategy. On the flip side, Western forces didn't have enough time to accomplish the evacuation process. As a result, Afghans were seen scrambling to Kabul Airport and crowding onto the same plane to exit Afghanistan. Also, during the rescue operation, IS suicide bombers astonished the world by killing 200 people, including 13 US soldiers. In this way, the Americans terminated their two-decade-long bloody campaign in Afghanistan with a shameful strategic defeat. The resurgence of the Taliban is also a part of it.
Additionally, throughout 2021, Biden appalled China to curtail its aggressive attitude by adopting his predecessor Trump's anti-China policy. Biden relies on the Trump-initiated Indo-Pacific Strategy, or QUAD, to counter the Chinese specter in the Indo-Pacific region. For years, China has been asserting the Chinese Monroe Doctrine to claim the region as exclusively China. China has repeatedly warned that American interference in this region wouldn't be condoned. Also, China's aggression poses a security risk to America's regional allies. So Biden is committed to tackling China along with Australia, Japan, and India by executing QUAD. To do this, Biden announced plans to enlarge the defense budget, which have been applauded by both Democrats and Republicans.
Furthermore, Biden initiated the AUKUS pact with the UK and Australia. In this pact, America and Britain pledge to nuclearize Australia by providing necessary equipment. This deal's main aim is to curb China's potential security threats. However, soon after the agreement was disclosed, France sharply denounced it. As a result of signing the pact, Australia abandoned a billion-dollar contract with France that caused France a huge loss. That's why French President Macron indicated AUKUS as a "backstab". This led to diplomatic tensions between the US and its ally France.
Although AUKUS shaped some anxieties between France and the United States, Biden was vocal against China throughout 2021. He cautioned China on the issues of the debt trap, Taiwan and Uyghur oppression. Needless to say, Biden will be more hawkish against China in the future.
Additionally, Biden initially prioritized stable relations with Russia. But the reality is quite different. The presence of Russian troops on the Ukrainian border has alarmed Ukraine and NATO's Eastern European members at the end of 2021. Russia and Ukraine have also been at loggerheads over the Crimean peninsula, which has raised Biden's concern about the security of America's military associate, Ukraine. Russia has already warned NATO and America not to intervene in the Crimea issue. So, dealing with Russia on the Crimea issue will be quite challenging for Biden in the future. Also, Biden will have to tread carefully on the nuclear disarmament deal with Putin.
Nonetheless, Biden's Middle East policy was also widely discussed in 2021. He surprised everyone by publishing a report on Jamal Khashoggi's death that cites Saudi Crown Prince Salman bin Mohammed as the main culprit behind Khashoggi's death.
Biden also spoke out against the Abraham Accords, which were mediated by Trump. This deal calls for the supply of WMDs to Bahrain and the UAE on the condition that they recognize Israel. But Biden realized that if the two countries were supplied with WMDs, they could misuse them. That's why Biden bypassed this deal.
Besides, Biden's been seen to be neutral on the Israel and Palestine issues. Although Biden backed Israel when a closed border broke out between Israel and Palestine in mid-2021, he was compelled to act neutrally on the issue under pressure from Democrats.
Furthermore, returning Iran to the nuclear deal was also on Biden's priority list. But there are also questions about whether Iran has that goodwill, as its predecessor, Trump, arrogantly rejected the agreement with Iran. That's why Iran still considers America suspiciously. Therefore, it's difficult for Biden to withdraw Iran from the deal.
Notwithstanding, Biden's Latin American policy also gained significance in 2021. He even sent Secretary Blinken to Colombia and Ecuador to enhance relations with South American allies in October. Blinken mainly talked about COVID-19, climate change, and the refugee crisis in this region, and also appalled China's excessive trade dominance.
However, Biden concluded the year by hosting a Summit for Democracy to bring all the democracies of the world under one roof. Its main purpose was to alarm authoritarian-led states like Russia, Belarus, China, and North Korea. Biden also applauded Cuba, Iran, and Venezuela for human rights abuses. According to some critics, Biden is seeking to shape the "us" versus "them" dichotomy. Furthermore, experts have raised questions about the guest list invited to the summit. Also, there are ambiguities in the agendas of this conference.
In conclusion, Biden's still far from promising to turn world politics upside down. The Afghan issue is a great instance of that. It's also certain that China, Russia, and Iran will take Biden's big test. In particular, the polarization of world politics has molded such challenges for Biden. However, thanks to Biden for adopting a multilateral strategy instead of Trump's unilateralism. Maybe it'll be the key to Biden's success in the future.
The writer is a student of International Relations, the University of Dhaka. E-mail: [email protected]