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Poker face: Biden most likely to lay some cards on the table and keep back some others in international relations

In a world where Manichaeism has to be left aside, it is now necessary to look at what Joe Biden's victory means in a global context

In international relations, much of what is invisible to the eye is more important than the battles made public. Some cards will be laid on the table, others will be kept inside the White House.

The war drama Mosul recently premiered on Netflix. Based on real life, the thriller shows the last days effort of the Nineveh SWAT team, formed by Iraqis, to fight against ISIS and liberate the city of Mosul, Iraq. 

The movie, which comes with all the good credentials of producers and directors, is good. A few moments can go unnoticed. That’s when certain lines take the veil from what is the real foreign policy of the United States and the United Nations. Cornered, one of the paramilitaries suggests asking the Americans for help to fight what is left of ISIS. The troop captain replies: we are over this moment.

This sentence is the synthesis of what happened, and continues to happen, in the Middle East. These are battles fought by the United States, since the 90s, that manage to guillotine the heads of certain regimes, but fail miserably to leave the legacy promised by American exceptionalism: democracy. Americans have been leaving the job half done for years, if by any chance, behind the scenes, they actually consider the democratization of the invaded country as a goal. 

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Joe Biden and Kamala Harris, Washington DC. Photo: Fotos Públicas

Many celebrated Joe Biden‘s victory in the U.S. presidential election. The reasons are clear: Trump has become unviable. The news is good, even the markets reacted well. But in a world where Manichaeism has to be left aside, it is now necessary to look at what this means in a global context. Joe Biden publicly delivers what the world wants to hear, smoothing things over with China to avoid a world conflict while showing concern for climate change, with the Amazon rainforest at the base of the conflict.

China and its unbreakable economy, whether for its size or for the worldwide effort that would be necessary to contain Huawei and its 5G, for example, is eating at the edges the doctrines that, for a long time, were dominant in the United States which, in turn, dominated the world. It is true that recent studies show that Republicans are more prone to exceptionalism and to the Manifest Destiny extended to other continents, ideas that have dominated the world of international relations,  but Democrats pragmatically do not repudiate any of these habits.  

There is nothing more agglutinating in American society than a war. Democratic presidents, as well as Republicans, have been responsible for several wars. Historically, they are politicians more adept at the doctrines of Machiavelli and Henry Kissinger than at other theories that predict the right of peoples to self-determination. Barack Obama, for example, wanted the world to believe in precision drones, those that would take out of the scene, with missiles, only particular targets. But reality showed that nothing was precise, as he pledged. When the United States saw the need to eliminate an enemy, and he could be at a wedding with 350 other guests in Afghanistan, all civilians, the missile crashed in the same way. 

The assassination of tribal leaders, per se, is already questionable by all standards that the UN had, even more so with the number of civilians involved.

Obama was also unable to close Guantánamo, either because of Congress or because of political will. It was a campaign promise, but history will tell what was the real effort to fulfil it. 

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Biden is not Trump, but in his speeches, between the lines, it is clear that American exceptionalism, the one that sees itself as a global leader in other countries’ domestic affairs, will not be absent from the agenda.

However, in the short term, at least so far, the war that Biden proposes is against the new coronavirus.  

Biden is not Trump, but in his speeches, between the lines, it is clear that American exceptionalism, the one that sees itself as a global leader in other countries’ domestic affairs, will not be absent from the agenda. The new president of the U.S. did not forget to mention, in almost any public appearance and in social networks, the role that the country hopes to play on the world stage: leadership. “Let’s put America back at the head of the table” and “the world does not organize itself” are Biden’s mantras. 

The Amazon rainforest, for its role in global warming, keeps coming out of Biden’s mouth. However, a look at his government plan makes clear the lack of preparation in the environmental policies submitted by the then-candidate. It is unrealistic to propose that the United States become a completely green economy in the coming years. This clearly demonstrates the dichotomy between the speech and what might actually happen behind the scenes and in the White House kitchen.

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It is certain that the strategy will not be coercive or disruptive, as Trump proposed. The last President did less than was believed by doctrines considered important to Republicans. By denying the new coronavirus pandemic and encouraging fake news and conspiracy theories, this ended up creating a conflictive and cracked domestic environment. And he had no problem breaking one of the biggest American slogans: “Together we stand, divided we fall”.

The United States will rely on multilateralism to try to preserve international hegemony. The choice for Antony Blinken as Secretary of State is indicative of this. Blinken himself has already written this, making it clear that the Chinese advance in 5G, for example, is “a Chinese threat” and that he intends to use the United Nations as a weapon against the path that Huawei has been digging in Europe. Tony Blinken is also the personification of multilateralism, as he defined it himself in July, during a conference. “Simply put, the big problems that we face as a country and as a planet, whether it’s climate change, whether it’s a pandemic, whether it’s the spread of bad weapons — to state the obvious, none of these have unilateral solutions.” And he added: “Even a country as powerful as the United States can’t handle them alone.”

For the prestigious Politico Magazine, born from the head of great journalists from the Washington Post, Biden has three bridges to build if he wants to recover the US leadership agenda on the international stage. First, he must economically recover a country devastated by a pandemic and demonstrate to the outside world that the United States has strong institutions capable of taking a leadership role. Additionally, he must repair all the damage done by Trump’s anti-immigration policies. In a nutshell: put his own house in order. Second, he must rebuild the bridges burned by Trump with multilateral organizations. Repair the nuclear agreement with Iran, the Paris Climate Agreement, the Transpacific trade partnership, strengthen the World Health Organization (WHO), among other agreements within the United Nations. Finally, he must stop bullying. The adult will have to enter the room to smooth things up with Iran and, especially, with China. 

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Changing the order of factors does change the product. Before he wants to steal any hegemonic role from China, the house must be in order. So time and patience will be key. Biden will have to practice a lot of Tai chi chuan in the gardens of the White House. As in martial art, he will need to meditate on the move. However, these movements will have to be smooth and diplomatic. 

“Make America Great Again” will only disappear from the slogan. Especially because this will be Biden’s herculean task. Not building walls on the border with Mexico, nor demonizing multilateral organizations, nor even inciting differences between Americans. That’s why Biden’s insistence on sticking together. He will have to show a country that is less like a Simpsons cartoon episode and closer to the “American Dream,” the same one Trump turned into a nightmare without realizing that the “American Dream” is more important on the international stage than it appears to be.  

If the world is no longer dreaming of America, many of those who are not comfortable where they are, will seek other dreams.

Translated by Anna Lima