There has never been such an international fascination, and interest, in an American presidential election like this year. Thanks to four years of Donald Trump’s presidency, which was extraordinary unconventional in every aspect, the world seems to be holding its breath in anticipation of the results of the elections, to be held in just 48 hours.
Almost every country in the world, friend to the United State and foe, is already assessing its gain and loss post- November 3, in a way that never seen in international affairs since America began its ascendance as global power following World War I.
The anticipated change, in the case of a Joe Biden win as predicted by US polls, will of course be substantially domestic. From handing the coronavirus pandemic and health care to race issues, from the economy and taxation to trade and subsidies, from education to law enforcement and immigration among other issues, never the difference between two candidate has been as wide as in this election.
The US looks at fundamental change in almost all national policies if Trump leaves the White House. Meanwhile, a Trump win, which is possible even if the polls claims otherwise, means additional moves to the right in those programmes are expected.
Trump’s key message in his recent rallies that he is saving America from a takeover by “the socialists” and “the radical left” indicate his willingness to go further right than he did in the past four years. The signs are there. His scurried appointment of a conservative judge to the Supreme Court and his refusal to go along with Democrat- proposed $2.2 trillion stimulus despite him trailing Biden in the polls- thereby alienating moderate and independent voters who could secure his re-election, shows his determination to remain true to his conservative agenda even when it suits him as a candidate to look more flexible and accommodating.
On the other hand, a Biden’s win means a lot of change, or more precisely a U-turn, is expected in almost all the decisions President Trump has taken since 2016, and there are dozens of them. He even might initiate constitutional changes, if his party wins control of both house of congress as some predicts, to undo some of the Trump policies that cannot simply be overturned by presidential executive orders. Therefore, no matter who wins on November 3, we will be looking at a new America come next year. But what does all that mean in foreign policy terms?
Trump's twitter diplomacy
Trump’s unconventional way in dealing with US allies and adversaries and his ‘twitter diplomacy’ style have angered America’s friends and kept its enemies on their toes. His relationship with NATO leaders is basically hostile. He famously insulted his closet ally and neighbour Canada when he described Prime Minister Justin Trudeau as “weak” and “dishonest” in a tweet following the G7 summit, which was hosted by the Canadian leader, because of a disagreement in the meeting over Russia and trade.
Last year, in a press conference in London after a NATO meeting, Trump slammed French president Emmanuel Macron as “very nasty” over disagreement on the future of the military alliance. These allies will be watching closely the election results and probably hoping that a more friendly person will move instead to the White House. Biden has already pledged to fix ties with the US traditional allies.
While Trump has pulled out of the World Health Organisation (WHO) claiming the organisation led to the vast spread of the coronavirus when it downplayed the initial outbreak in China, Biden promised to return to the organisation. Trump, similarly, pulled out of the Paris agreement on climate change, citing its ‘negative’ impact on the economy, especially the fuel industry. He scrapped a number of environmental protection policies to give the shale oil industry more room to expand. Biden on the other hand has promised to rejoin the Paris Agreement and pledged a massive $2 trillion dollar plan to comply by the agreement targets for cutting emissions and build a clean energy economy.
Trump has waged his trade war against China. China’s cheap labour made it attractive for American companies to move their operations there costing the US thousands of jobs. Trump has been unambiguous in his will to test the limits of the relation with the Asian economic power by blocking Chinese tech giants from operating in the US. Biden has not been so forthright. He will be trading carefully though on this issue because his domestic labour policies are influenced by labour unions who will be pushing for the return of those jobs from abroad especially when millions of Americans are losing jobs due to the economic impact of COVID-19.
The same might be said about Russia. While Trump, on the personal level, has been awkwardly friendly in his relationship with President Vladimir Putin, his administration has been relentless in imposing various types of sanctions on Moscow. Again, Biden, as in his position towards China, is not very clear on this front. There is not clarity where he stands on Russia, but he is expected to follow the line of US NATO allies with regard to Ukraine and Russia’s involvement in the Middle East.
Historic agreements of peace
And as far as the Middle East itself is concerned, Trump has most probably had the most rewarding achievement in his presidency. He sponsored historic agreements of peace between Israel and three Arab countries- the UAE, Bahrain, and Sudan. Biden has already welcomed these agreements which are expected to drive a new push to revive peace talks between the Israelis and the Palestinians. Unlike Trump, though, Biden might be more reluctant to go along with Israel’s confiscation of Palestinian land in the West Bank to build more Jewish settlements- which is already been halted by the UAE-Israel peace treaty. A new Trump term will see more Arab countries sign similar agreements with Israel.
But the major difference in policy in this region will be on Iran. Trump abandoned the Iran deal two years ago arguing that 2015 agreement was too accommodating to Iran and failed to stop Tehran’s pursuit of uranium enrichment and the development of its controversial ballistic missile programme. The US reimposed sanctions on Iran as part of its ‘maximum pressure’ policy aimed at ending Iran’s malign actions in the region which led to the destabilisation of the region and igniting a sectarian conflict in several Arab countries. Trump’s decision was hailed by most Arab countries which continue to endure Tehran’s belligerent regional policies.
Biden has already said that he will return to the agreement. But it is yet to be clear if he is going to remove the sanctions, although he opposes the maximum pressure policy- a bad news for the region that has suffered much in the past four decades from Iran’s aggressive behaviour. This election is nothing less than historic. There is a lot at stake, domestically and globally. We will know the verdict in few days. Until then, the world will be holding its breath.