Biden is Struggling
In terms of foreign affairs, this has not been the most promising start. The problems with China, Russia and Iran have not gone away. When Biden said on February 4, “America is back,” it really is not. Biden tried to coerce the government of Myanmar with sanctions, but this has not removed the military from power. Meanwhile, India is signing new infrastructure projects with the military government in Myanmar. Vice President Kamala Harris has a niece, Meena Harris, that is siding with protesters against the ruling Bharatiya Janata Party in India.
In Europe, American moralism and its crusading status is getting old. French President Emmanual Macron denounced the importation of U.S.-academic and cultural wokeness as a threat to the French way of life. Other leaders in Germany and elsewhere are strengthening economic relations with Russia and China. They ignore Biden’s efforts to raise the pressure on human-rights abusers in Moscow and Beijing. The U.S. trade representative said he was keeping Trump’s retaliatory tariffs on European wine, cheese and food imports.
In the Middle East, Iran is unwilling to reenter Obama’s 2015 nuclear deal. The Biden administration is also facing blowback from Israel and conservative Arab states that do not want to see a new Iran Deal. Regarding Turkey, Biden has no probable way of strengthening the opposition to President Recep Tayyip Erdogan who continues to violate dozens of human rights.
In the Western hemisphere, Biden has not had any more luck. Canadians are furious as Biden cancels the Keystone XL pipeline. Biden is starting a fight with Brazilian President Jair Bolsonaro over deforestation in the Amazon rain forest. Mexican President Andrés Manuel López Obrador waited until the last possible minute to congratulate Biden on becoming president. Obrador also passed a law limiting U.S.-Mexican collaboration over drug trafficking, and offered political asylum to Julian Assange. Maybe Cuba will be a country that Biden can improve relations with.
The counter-argument is that Biden has room for improvement since his term just began. It is possible that other countries will adjust to the new priorities over time, and policy rollouts will become smoother as the new team settles in. More likely though is that the Biden administration will face trouble in the future. Biden announced an ambitious agenda during the campaign and each year more and more of our allies want a quiet U.S. rather than an activist one.
Americans often assume that other countries see U.S. leadership as a blessing and the more we lead the happier the world gets. The vast majority of the see U.S. leadership at best as a necessary evil. Only a very few countries, most of them small and weak, like the idea of an American-led world order, and virtually all of our allies want as much order with as little leadership as they can get. An America First policy is the best idea for the U.S. since we can strengthen our economy and society and have the resources to go to war if absolutely necessary.