The Irish Times view on the change of US president: Longing for a vanished world
To believe that Biden will oversee the restoration of the status quo ante is wishful thinking
Joe Biden. Photograph: Getty
It’s a remarkable indictment of a disgraceful presidency that Donald Trump’s loss of power will be mourned chiefly by the world’s autocrats. In Trump they found a sympathiser, an apologist and an enabler as eager as they were to trash democratic values and upend the liberal order. Conversely, Trump’s departure from office, and his replacement with Joe Biden, will come as an immense relief to America’s traditional allies, who struggled to adjust to a world in which Washington relinquished its leadership position and treated its oldest friends as hostile rivals.
Biden will find he has more space to make a mark in foreign affairs, where a US president is less constrained by the Senate, than in domestic policy, where Republican control of the upper house could produce gridlock. In Biden, America’s allies will have a lifelong internationalist keen to mend broken relationships. The tone will shift overnight, and some policy changes will not be far behind.
he world has changed since 2016. Trump’s protectionist, nativist creed, America First, has lost little of its attraction for millions of Americans
Washington is likely to recommit to the Paris climate agreement and to seek to rebuild the Iran nuclear deal. It would rejoin the World Health Organisation. European capitals will expect a Biden White House to take a tougher line on Russia and Turkey as well as on those EU states, Hungary and Poland, where the rule of law is under strain. They will hope that Trump’s defeat will arrest the momentum of the global far-right by depriving it of a figurehead.
Biden’s victory will be greeted with unconcealed glee in the Irish Government, which can expect warm relations with this proud Irish-American. That his relationship with the Conservative government in Britain will be prickly at best will not be entirely unwelcome in Dublin either.
And yet to believe that Biden will oversee the restoration of the status quo ante is wishful thinking. The world has changed since 2016. Trump’s protectionist, nativist creed, America First, has lost little of its attraction for millions of Americans, not least in blue-collar states that Biden needed for victory. That will have an impact on the Democrat’s approach to trade and China, which his party increasingly regards as, first and foremost, a geopolitical and economic rival.
Within the Democratic foreign policy community, the populist revolt has resulted in a reevaluation of long-held assumptions; for example, the value of heavy American involvement in the Middle East is now widely questioned. Those who hope for a more interventionist orientation are likely to be disappointed. Although Biden supported the Iraq war, more recently he opposed the Afghan surge and military action in Libya. The American public’s diminishing appetite for foreign entanglements will make him even more cautious.
Biden will bring respite and relief to America’s allies. But that familiar embrace, and the tonal shift that accompanies it, will not be enough to reconstruct a world that no longer exists.