It can be said that the first month of President Joe Biden’s term went as many expected, both at the domestic policy level and in the field of international relations.
While the basic element of Donald Trump’s term was to demolish everything his predecessor Barack Obama did, the new Democratic administration has not only come to demolish Trump’s policies, but also to finish what Obama could not achieve during his eight years in office. The early appointees to his administration confirm this approach; if the Democrats can control the Senate, even if it must be by virtue of Vice President Kamala Harris’s tie-breaking vote, the nominations will be easily confirmed without any noticeable obstacles.
Similarly, the new administration’s early bills and initiatives confirm that it means to destroy everything the previous Republican administration enacted over four years. The new administration is reinforced by the deep conflict within the Republican Party between a faction that represents what remains of the solemn “establishment” and its interests, and a populist faction that Trump launched in 2016, which he led to revolutionary positions that neither of the two traditional parties had dared to adopt before.
However, the passage of time has the potential to change a number of equations, even if many ideological convictions remain the same. On the international stage, if Biden’s administration continues what it began a month ago, it should expect more reaction like the reaction the new American president received yesterday from his Western European allies. It’s true that the political rationalists among western European political leaders suffered greatly from how mercurial Trump was, and from his his defiance and populism under the slogan of “America First,” and that they were perturbed by his support of the extremist European right and his hostility toward the spirit of European unity. Most Western European leaders prefer interacting with a moderate Democratic administration to a difficult coexistence with a Republican leadership that sees an adversary in Europe more so than an ally, but it is also true that the European powers have interests that do not entirely correspond with Biden’s approach.
Additionally, during the four years of Trump’s term, most leaders got used to not considering Washington as peerless and lofty Western partner and guarantor to Western Europeans for all seasons. Trump’s administration alerted Europeans, as well as many realist politicians outside Europe, to the existence of a life outside “America’s tent,” and that there are times when even the closest of friends and the best of allies have interests that do not correspond. For example, this is what happened with regard to the Iran nuclear affair, as well as with the developing relationship between Western European countries and Russia, the future of interactions with China, and other issues.
And steadily, as special strategic considerations in the Far East and the countries of East and South Asia became more important to Washington than those across the Atlantic, the large European powers began to realize they were unable to deal with a giant like Russia on their borders solely through the peephole of American interests. Moreover, Russia has imposed itself as an influential power through the Nord Stream 1 and Nord Stream 2 pipelines, which America opposes. And by virtue of its presence in Syria and Libya, Russia has become a current power in the Mediterranean.
Moreover, China is not only the largest and most direct challenge to the America’s standing, as U.S. officials openly declare, but has become the primary economic power in many regions of the world. Among China’s ambitious plans are projects like the Belt and Road Initiative, the new Silk Road launched in 2013, strengthening China’s investments in 70 countries and bringing it to numerous sea ports that China hopes will open paths to the world’s markets. After four years of “America First,” Europeans now categorically welcome Washington’s good will. They value the return to positive interaction with the ally that stood by them through World War II, then through the Cold War era in the face of the former Soviet Union. However, they are not yet convinced that there is consensus in Washington about the United States’ priorities with respect to international relations in the shadow of the deep ideological divide between the Democratic and Republican parties. And here, we arrive at the Middle East, for despite the fundamental differences between Western Europe and the United States, and the differences between the state of affairs in other countries and regions and the grand power of America, there remain shared anxieties and encounters.