Shocking Speed

U.S. President Biden is quickly establishing a political reorientation — and in some cases with unusual measures.

With his harsh verbal attacks on Russian President Vladimir Putin, U.S. President Joe Biden has made clear not only that he intends to punish past Russian misdeeds, but also that Moscow cannot continue acting has it has been — for instance, that it should no longer interfere in U.S. elections.

Biden’s push represents another facet of a political reorientation in U.S. politics, with which he has enacted his intended political agenda with shocking speed in just the first 60 days of his term. In doing so, he is not only moving to correct the destructive policies of his predecessor, Donald Trump.

He also wants to rectify some errors made by earlier president and fellow party member Barack Obama; for instance, by not acting as cautiously with his coronavirus rescue package as Obama did with his 2009 economic measures against the financial crisis. Instead, he is initiating an advertising campaign to avoid handing the political arena over to his critics.

More importantly, however, democratic goals are once again at the forefront, including strengthening and improving American society and trying to solve problems with others, instead of merely imposing U.S. interests.

As Biden, with other Democrats in the U.S., leads the U.S. back into the Paris Climate Agreement, they do not want only to prevent droughts and failed harvests at home; they also want to contribute to slowing or stopping climate change globally.

The Biden administration is also pushing the pace, because it has no time and has raised such high expectations. The multitrillion-dollar coronavirus rescue package is supposed to lessen the impact of the crisis on people and businesses. And the massive vaccination campaign, with which Biden has brought the U.S. to the forefront internationally, is supposed to not only decrease the coronavirus death toll; it is also intended to permit a return to life without restrictions as quickly as possible.

It is an entirely different question whether Biden will manage to calm the atmosphere at home and thus to unify a divided country with his rescue package and vaccines. That will surely require more time and even more success in other political spheres.

The proposed reform of U.S. immigration policies demonstrates just how difficult it is. Young immigrants especially are to be treated better than they were under Trump. But the reform is proceeding very slowly. One reason, for example, is that offices in Washington did not collaborate with local institutions when conducting a project in Texas, thus making it easier for Republican opponents of another immigration policy to criticize it.

Even more challenging is the political development in the Middle East. Biden does want to reactivate the nuclear deal with Iran, but he cannot simply dismantle the sanctions against Tehran because that would put him in a weak position. Thus, he must negotiate with the mullah regime, including over the latter’s destructive role in the region. But the regional power based in Tehran feels that it occupies the moral high ground with respect to the nuclear deal and shows no sign of changing its behavior in the region. It will probably be a difficult and protracted process.

A similar situation applies to relations with Saudi Arabia. Washington not only clearly connected Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman to the murder of journalist Jamal Khashoggi in a report from the CIA and thus signaled to nations in the region that Washington is no longer indifferent as it was under Trump to how rulers treat their subjects. Biden also has halted support for the war in Yemen. But an end of the conflict remains out of reach.

The Biden administration may be using diplomatic means against all these offenses, as it had announced it would. And when in doubt, is at least proceeding steadily. It is rather unusual in international affairs for an administration not to continue an agreement established by its predecessor, but Biden did exactly that with Afghanistan when he questioned the peace deal with the Taliban. Now, no one really knows what will come next.

Biden took a similarly strong stance against Putin when he answered affirmatively the question of whether the Russian president was a murderer. However, he also offered at the same time to continue talks with Moscow, for instance on disarmament. It will be interesting to observe if and how Biden wants to punish Putin or Russia for its behavior. In this case, the controversial Nord Stream 2 pipeline may quickly become an issue.

Ostensibly, Biden is proceeding calmly in relations with China. But that is by far the biggest and most complex problem because it concerns global trade, as well as the conflicts with Hong Kong, Taiwan, and indirectly, North Korea and Myanmar. But after the meeting of Chinese and U.S. representatives in Alaska, it will probably soon become clearer where things are headed.

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