Among the subjects that have been the source of speculation regarding the incoming Biden/Harris administration is the matter of foreign policy. Trump went much further than previous presidents, including George W. Bush, in advancing a unilateralist approach towards the role of the United States overseas. What should we expect under Biden/Harris?
The first thing to be clear on is, ironically, the essence of Trump’s foreign policy. Trump has been repeatedly called an isolationist, leading many people to believe that he wanted the U.S.A. to withdraw from the world. Nothing could have been further from the truth. What he wanted was for the U.S.A. to not be constrained by any international agreements such that it could do whatever it wanted, whenever it wanted. This, by the way, is the essence of ‘isolationism’ in the U.S.A.
Biden is cut from a different cloth. Much like Obama, he has been very consistent in supporting the expansion of global capitalism and particularly what came to be known as economic ‘neo-liberalism.’ But his approach prioritized a working relationship with other major capitalist powers, though with the operating assumption that the U.S. would serve as ‘chairperson of the board’ among the global powers. But this approach certainly did not advance peace. In fact, various wars were either initiated or continued under this banner. But it was more predictable.
Biden ran for the presidency under the banner of restoring sanity and respectability within the U.S. While most of us are in favor of both, the Biden/Harris tendency will be to see sanity and respectability as a return to past foreign policies. This will, more than likely, include uncritical support of Israel (by politely ignoring the Palestinians); continued contention with China and Russia; a possible restoration of U.S. participation in the Iran nuclear accord; an insistence on the U.S. as the gate keeper of the Western Hemisphere; and more reliable international agreements. It may also involve a renewal of free trade agreements. In other words, a very mixed bag. Overall it will not be one that, on its own, will strengthen a tendency towards justice—even where there are positive elements.
There is much more, of course, but the long and the short of it is that a peaceful and just future cannot be found in the past. It cannot be found in more subtle and ‘rational’ attempts at U.S. global dominance, nor with the U.S. being part of the global oligarchy dominating the planet. A radical reshaping of our foreign policy must be undertaken not only for the future of the U.S.A., but also the future of the planet. We live in a world where the slightest mistake can set off regional conflicts—not to mention thermo-nuclear war.
For these reasons, we cannot afford to remain passive about matters of foreign policy. We must take an active approach by pressing Biden/Harris for something dramatically different. We need, in a nutshell, a foreign policy that de-militarizes; that abandons spheres of influence; that repudiates free trade agreements that undermine the ability of countries in the global South to economically develop; and that emphasizes international cooperation in order to address the environmental catastrophe.
I realize that many of us think that discussions of foreign policy are a luxury. I think that is dead wrong. It is a necessity if humanity wishes to survive the 21st century.
(Bill Fletcher, Jr. is the executive editor of <globalafricanworker.com> and a past president of TransAfrica Forum.)