The initial euphoria of Biden’s Presidency seems to be dying down. For Democrats, Biden’s rise to power was comparable to Obama’s ascendancy in 2009. The Democrats were just as enthusiastic. Biden came in with a lot of vigour. He wanted to reverse Trump’s policies in the Korean Peninsula, the Indo-Pacific, China, the Middle East, Iran, Afghanistan and Latin America.
But now, Biden’s initial enthusiasm is dying down. He is slowly coming to terms with how Trump left office after planting several landmines, which would explode if Biden tries to deviate too much from the broad spirit of Trumpism. To put it very bluntly, Trump has done a big favour to the US and even the world at large, by reining in Biden. Had Trump not tied Biden’s hands, things would have panned out quite differently.
Let’s start with the world’s biggest rogue- China. It is well-known that Biden didn’t like Trump’s aggressive China policy. He even wanted to drop Trump’s tariffs war against the paper dragon. Had that happened, Beijing would have got emboldened all over again. But Trump has shaped China narrative in such a way that Biden can’t go soft on Beijing even if he wants to.
In fact, the White House expects to keep tariffs on China left by the Trump administration in place, though it will evaluate what is appropriate going forward, according to what Treasury Secretary Janet Yellen said in an interview.
Even apart from tariffs, Biden wants to do things like rescinding the ‘genocide’ tag on China, for doing what the Communist State does to Uighur Muslims. Yet, Biden will have to hold his horses because his own administration’s Secretary of State, Antony Blinken had endorsed Trump’s China policy, saying, “Trump was right to take a tougher stance against China.”
After China, the next important issues in American foreign policy are Iran and the Middle East. This is where Trumpism truly dominates Biden’s foreign policy calculus. Trump managed to nurture a close friendship between the Arabs and Jews, by brokering peace agreements dubbed “Abraham Accords” between the Arab States like the UAE, Bahrain and Sudan, and Israel.
Trump left a world in which Israelis and Arabs started behaving like old friends. Biden used to claim that he supports the Abraham Accords. But once in power, he tried to end the Arab-Jew bonhomie. The US President tried to punish both the Arabs and Israelis. But now we realise that Biden would most certainly fail in reversing the gains that Trump made in the Middle East.
As for Iran, it needs no emphasis that Biden wants to revive his former boss Obama’s JCPOA legacy. Yet, Trump has left little space for Biden. Trump had imposed punitive sanctions on Tehran, and now Iran says that it won’t come to the bargaining table unless Biden lifts all the sanctions which his predecessor had imposed.
But removing the sanctions is not a practical option for Biden. Speaking about when to lift sanctions on Iran, Blinken said, “Iran is out of compliance on a number of fronts, and it would take some time, should it make a decision to do so, for it to come back into compliance, and (some time) for us then to assess whether it was meeting its obligations. So, we’re not there yet, to say the least.”
Another place where Biden finds his hands tied is the Korean Peninsula. Biden wanted to stop any negotiations with Pyongyang and he used to criticise Trump for engaging the North Korean Supreme Leader Kim Jong-un. Yet, once he came to power, US ally South Korea gave a clear signal to Biden- that he must persist with Trump’s legacy of engaging North Korean leader Kim Jong-un.
Similarly in the Indo-Pacific, Biden wanted to dilute the anti-China narrative. In fact, he also wanted to reduce American presence and activism by undermining the Quad – an informal strategic forum comprising India, Japan, Australia and the US. But here is the real thing- Trump had given such high strategic leverage to US allies like India and Japan in this region that Biden cannot step back even if he wants to.
Biden is also faltering in another key Asian region- the war-torn nation of Afghanistan. He is a part of the interventionist lobby in Washington DC and he, therefore, wants American troops in Afghanistan. Yet, the way Trump planned the withdrawal of US soldiers from Afghanistan, makes it extremely difficult for him to station them in the conflict-ridden nation all over again.
Biden is also facing fresh setbacks in South America, where Brazil’s President Bolsonaro has given a clear message- Trumpism lives on. Eco-fascists wanted Biden to punish Brazil for obvious reasons, but it seems that the White House is not in a position to ruin bilateral ties all of a sudden and therefore the US President is failing to push his own policies on the Brazil front too.
Had Biden been able to push his own precepts over American foreign policy, then the White House would have ended up befriending Iran and China while upsetting allies like India, Japan, Australia, Brazil, Israel and Saudi Arabia. But Trump was able to tie Biden’s hands when it mattered the most and save the world from a major turmoil.