Joe Biden says America is back. Does the world really need this?
The US president used his first major foreign policy speech delivered virtually at the Munich annual security conference to declare that “America is back, the transatlantic alliance is back”, without once mentioning the name of Donald Trump.
He presented a long list of things to do to save the Iran nuclear deal, meet the economic and security challenges posed by China and Russia, and undo the damage caused by the coronavirus pandemic to a warm welcome from Western allies.
But what America are we talking about? America that supported despots and dictators for its own ends?
Let us not forget in the past that he rubbed shoulders with people like Saddam Hussein and Mouammar Kadhafi, Hosni Mubarak or Ferdinand Marcos.
Donald Trump certainly loved his strong men but he was only following an American tradition.
Donald Trump was not the first American leader to embrace authoritarian leaders.
Are we talking about America that supported murderous campaigns like the Argentine junta’s “Dirty War” that killed up to 30,000 people, or the El Salvador government’s death squads in the 1980s?
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Maybe we are talking about America which secretly and illegally bombed Cambodia during the Nixon years or Barack Obama’s secret drone war which killed hundreds of civilians.
What about America that allows torture, euphemistically called “improved interrogation techniques” like waterboarding, asphyxiation, mock executions to get information from suspects? terrorists?
Has America manipulated trade rules as it pleases?
Are we in favor of once again welcoming America which makes a virtue of its “exceptionalism”? Who thinks the rules don’t apply?
We Never Had a World Order Joe Biden has previously signaled a return to foreign policies similar to Barack Obama’s (AP: Susan Walsh)
Biden speaks of the liberal world order as if it were as fixed as the sun and the moon. In fact, it never really existed.
The so-called order has never been comprehensive or truly liberal. It was an American-led order where the West dominated.
For example, only an American can run the World Bank and a “gentleman’s agreement” says that only a European can run the International Monetary Fund.
Strange indeed in a world where China is the biggest engine of economic growth and on the way to usurping the United States as the world’s largest economy.
Not that authoritarian China is virtuous. He breaks the rules to suit himself and intimidates other nations into submitting.
China’s rise to power ushered in what journalist and political commentator Fareed Zakaria dubbed the “post-American world” not as America disappears, but is no longer the dominant player.
China is on track to overtake the United States as the world’s largest economy (AP: Ng Han Guan)
Political scientist Joseph Nye says the so-called world order doesn’t need to be overhauled, it needs to be replaced. As he recently wrote: “It is not enough to think of exercising power over others. You have to think of exercising power with others.”
It requires building stronger alliances with nations that share liberal values, while recognizing that not all nations believe in the same thing.
As geopolitical researcher Michael Barnett writes: “Wanting a liberal international order and having an international order governed by liberal principles are two different things.”
Biden is a political Rip Van Winkle
A politically realistic view suggests that if we are to have something that looks like a world order in the 21st century, it cannot be an order dominated by the Americans.
If the old order has problems, Barnett says, it has less to do with the weakening of liberalism than the need to revise the rules as power shifts from West to East.
Biden presents his new vision of turning away from isolationism as a repudiation of Trump’s foreign policy approach.
JoeBidend gave his first major foreign policy speech at the Munich Security Conference virtual event (Reuters: Kevin Lamarque)
Yet before Trump, Barack Obama also signaled a withdrawal from America’s role as a global policeman.
At home and abroad, Biden speaks of unity, ignoring the fact that America and the world are unruly and messy.
Joe Biden is like a political Rip Van Winkle: he wants to take a nap and bring us back to an American dream. What he needs to do is wake up to a new reality.
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