The White House has listed ten achievements of the Joe Biden-Kamala Harris presidency in one year. The title of the document is unmistakably pompous: “President Biden and Vice President Harris promised to move quickly to deliver results for working families. That’s what they’ve done”.
The White House has nailed all rumours of Harris shying away from her duties due to lack of focus, being lacklustre and terrible at her job as vice-president. The prominence she is accorded on the official White House site should strengthen the resolve of those batting for her candidature in 2024 unless Biden is serious to hold on to the job till he is 86. Anyway, the fact is that 2024 is already in the news when it is just one year into Biden’s presidency.
Out of the ten top things listed as the Biden administration’s achievements, eight are related to domestic issues and priorities. The claim of President Biden’s success in clocking the fastest economic growth since 1969 and adding 6.4 million jobs sounds incredible. But even more amusing is the passage of the ‘American Rescue Plan and Bipartisan Infrastructure Law’, which promises “jobs, provide clean drinking water, upgrade our roads, airports, and rail, and is a critical first step towards a clean energy future”. It sounds more like a page out of Indian election manifestos.
While the White House is free to give thumbs up for Biden’s efforts to address domestic issues, the US president’s assessment will continue to be made on the basis of America’s exercise of its global power positioning.
What ‘global alliances’
Within a year of his occupying the Oval office, Biden is supposed to have restored the US’ “global alliances and ended America’s longest war and for the first time in a generation, Americans are not deployed overseas in an ongoing war”. By the way, Defense Secretary Lloyd Austin has ordered about 8,500 US troops to be on high alert, ready for deployment in Europe and to support NATO if Russia invades Ukraine. Are these not American boots to be deployed after quitting Kabul? More than the reasons for quitting Kabul, Biden will be answerable for the sudden and shabby manner in which the US Army was pulled out, plunging the region into chaos.
The ‘restoring global alliances’ is the ironic part of Biden’s achievement, to say the least. Which alliance partner has benefitted out of the American withdrawal from Afghanistan except China and Pakistan? If China and Pakistan are to be considered as America’s security and economic “global alliance partners”, then the Quad members will have to start thinking of an alternative security architecture in the Indo-Pacific region.
Building alliances has been the primary focus of the American global security structure within broader military and economic parameters. Even before the Covid pandemic hit the global economy, Beijing’s economic initiatives such as the Belt and Road Initiative (BRI) had challenged the Western economic paradigm, knocking America out of the single player advantage.
Biden-Harris yet to pass the test
Strategic regional and global realignments between emerging economies have brought about a different world that lays emphasis on multilateralism, South-South cooperation, and selective bilateral engagements even while remaining within the larger trade bodies. In such a scenario, Biden could have initiated moves to re-join the twelve Pacific Rim countries’ outfit – the Trans Pacific Partnership (TPP) – and widen its base so as to include economies that are being compelled to look for an alternative trade body like the Regional Comprehensive Economic Partnership (RCEP).
Instead, the White House talks of ‘donating nearly 400 million vaccinations’ as vaccine diplomacy to buttress its claim of “restoring America’s global leadership. In fact, the rest of the world and especially New Delhi, which had eased export restrictions of hydroxychloroquine to the US, have not forgotten the export restrictions imposed by the US and the statement of Ned Price, the spokesperson for the US Department of State, “It is not only in our interest to see Americans vaccinated; it’s in the interests of the rest of the world to see Americans vaccinated.” Global alliances are not built through such protectionism and selective restrictions.
Biden’s global leadership role will be tested by his handling of the emerging flashpoint in Ukraine and his success in restraining Russia from any further escalation of the situation. China’s aggressive posture against Taiwan is no less serious and merits immediate attention from the US if it really wants to continue to play a global role. Short-term tactical victories may not result in a long-term deterrence in these two potential conflict zones.
Biden’s message of “willing to strike but afraid to hurt” will gradually wean other allied partners away from Washington and remain neutral in the event of a real-time showdown. Though such an eventuality looks unlikely, a combination of forces with hegemonic objectives and potential opportunities can lead to an unexpected situation, especially at a time when the emergence of a new world order is challenging the democratic world. India and the US, both democracies, have a duty to ensure peace, stability and progress.
Meanwhile, New Delhi should assure the White House of its continued support as a trusted strategic partner and work towards greater convergence on regional security, peace-keeping and economic revival by forging a stronger democratic alliance. Biden’s successful second year could lay the foundation for his second term.
The author is the former editor of ‘Organiser’. He tweets @seshadrichari. Views are personal.
(Edited by Prashant)