If Biden Wins
It is looking good for Joe Biden. He is racing ahead in the polls as foot-in-mouthTrump slumps under the weight of the pandemic, economic woes, legal problemsand a growing credibility gap.
But whatwould a Biden win mean? In terms of the tone of political conversation it wouldmean a dramatic change. We would also see some big differences on the domesticpolitical front. In foreign policy, an evolving international situation plusdifficult to change actions which Trump has started, means shifts could be lessdramatic.
Comparedto Trump’s stream of consciousness rants, Biden is practically mute. Throughouthis career, he has been known for his gaffes, but nearly half a century inWashington has taught him that there are times when it is best to say nothing,or to leave it civil servants to do the talking. Don’t expect a daily tsunamiof tweets or cleverly-worded personal insults.
One ofJoe Biden’s biggest tasks would be to close the national divide that a Trumppresidency has created. He must find a way to push the hate-mongers andconspiracy theorists back into the woodwork from which they have crawled whileat the same time avoiding the trap of forcing them underground.
GunControl is a key flashpoint between the former vice-president and Trump’sdedicated base. Biden was heavily affected by the 2012 Sandy Hook massacre andis a keen advocate of gun control. Among his past proposals has been a buy-backscheme for owners of assault rifles. And if the owners refuse to sell they willbe required to register the weapons under the National Firearms Act. Needlessto say, the powerful National Rifle Association opposes his candidacy.
Bidencomes from what has been termed the “sensible centre” of the Democratic Party.The problem is that in recent years the party has moved to the left with therise of figures such as Bernie Sanders and Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez. Biden’s“sensible centre” position is looking more like that of right-wing Democrat.This could create difficulty for him in Congress with issus such as welfare anddefence spending and healthcare, even if the Democrats hold onto the House ofRepresentatives and win control of the Senate.
Other bigdomestic issues for Biden would be abortion and the Supreme Court. A devoutCatholic, Joe Biden takes a politically modified stand on the Vatican’s rulingon abortion. He agrees that life begins at conception, but then goes on to saythat he would not force his views onto others. As for the Supreme Court,Biden’s election would be an opportunity for 87-year-old liberal Supreme CourtJustice Ruth Bader Ginsburg to slide into a well-deserved retirement. AndBiden’s long tenure on the Senate Judiciary Committee means that he would havelittle trouble pushing through a replacement nominee.
Biden’sbiggest impact during his 36-year-long senatorial career was in foreignrelations. He spent three decades on the Senate Foreign Relations Committee,eight of them as chairman. One would have to go back 195 years to theadministration of John Quincy Adams to find a president with as much foreignaffairs experience. It was this experience that was the deciding factor inBarack Obama’s decision to choose Biden as his running mate in 2008.
It isdebatable as to whom had greater control over American foreign policy duringthe Obama years—Biden or Hillary Clinton. Biden oversaw American policy in Iraqand the Middle East; as well as playing a key role in events in the Balkans,Libya and the Ukraine. Biden was an established and respected player on theworld stage even before he became vice president. But that does not necessarilymean a Biden victory would result in tectonic shifts in American foreign policy.
The USwould almost certainly rejoin the Paris Climate Change Accord along with mostof the UN bodies from which Trump has withdrawn. The heavily implied threat towithdraw from NATO would also be dropped, but not the insistence that Europeanalliance members step up their defence spending. America’s unstinting supportfor Brexit would likely become a thing of the past. Trump viewed a strong andunited Europe as a threat to American business. Brexit economically weakensEurope and strengthens America. Biden takes a more holistic view. In hisjudgment, a strong, stable, united and democratic Europe is a vital componentof American and world security. Brexit threatens that.
In theMiddle East, Trump has slavishly supported Israel and its Prime MinisterBenjamin Netanyahu. Biden won’t, if only because if he wins the presidency hewould quite possibly be entering the White House at the same time as Netanyahuwalks into court to face corruption charges. However, Lebanon’s slide intofailed state status has complicated matters. It has created a vacuum whichIran-backed Hezbollah will quickly move to fill. This will make it almostimpossible for Biden to revive the Iran Nuclear Accord or reduce America’scommitment to Israel.
Asiawould remain the major focus of a Biden Administration as China continues tochallenge American hegemony in the Eastern Pacific and grow economically,politically and militarily. Donald Trump has turned relations with China into adomestic as well as foreign political issue by successfully branding Beijing asthe scapegoat for most of America’s problems. Biden will have a tough timechanging that perception—even if he wanted to. However, he is likely to shiftthe focus of blame away from conspiracy theories to human rights abuses whilestill concentrating on military and economic issues.
The darkcloud hanging over all of the above is the coronavirus that threatens so manyaspects of world security. Hopefully, the pandemic will be over, or at least onthe downhill slope, by January 2021. But the aftershocks of Covid-19 will be aproblem for Joe Biden—and every other world leader—for years to come.
Tom Arms is a regular contributor