WASHINGTON – With two-thirds of President Joe Biden’s first 100 days, the main challenges he faces are becoming clearer. In his inaugural address, he defined them as: crushing the COVID pandemic; rebuild the economy; and deal with climate change. Although these are the main political issues it faces, they are in reality a subtext of the larger issues: governing at the national level; align with allies; and face America’s adversaries.
The 2020 election put Congress and the White House in Democratic hands.
Progressives in this party see this as an opportunity to advance a broad liberal agenda. A number of President Biden’s early executive orders and his $ 1.9 trillion COVID relief bill appear to be pushing this agenda forward.
Other factors, however, can push the federal government in a different direction over time.
The invasion of the United States Capitol on January 6 by what the FBI called “national terrorists” highlighted the dangers of leaning to the extremes, to the right or to the left. Even though the COVID relief bill passed Congress in party line votes, West Virginia Democratic Senator Joe Manchin forced several moderating amendments, voiced opposition to ending the filibuster and signaled his desire for more bipartisanship.
The potential influence of the “Problem Solvers” caucus – now 28 members from each party – strengthens voices for moderation in the House, as does the apparent economic recovery already underway. The Progressive Democrats’ proposals are likely to continue to be presented, but President Biden seems to understand that any legislation that cannot be passed under the “reconciliation” rules will have to be bipartisan.
The major test of bipartisanship will be policies aimed at strengthening the economy, including investments in infrastructure, social justice measures and a national competitiveness strategy. How much spending will go toward these goals and how that spending will be structured will most likely have to be shaped by Republicans and centrist Democrats to pass the Senate.
Strengthening that tilt is a major lesson from the pandemic: The woolly mix of government policies on closures, reopenings, mask mandates, and social distancing have done less to curb the COVID pandemic than rapid development and deployment. of vaccines as part of a public-private collaboration.
Align with allies
President Biden, both verbally and symbolically, has sent the message that he sees America as stronger by working with allies than going it alone. He joined the World Health Organization and the Paris climate agreement and has indicated his openness to joining the nuclear deal with Iran.
One obstacle on this route, however, is that European allies in particular have become more skeptical of American reliability. Asian alliances may be easier to rekindle as many Asian countries feel the growing pressures of a rising China, but they can also be expected to resist a foreign policy that asks them to choose between states- United and China.
Therefore, reestablishing solid relations with key allies and foreign powers may turn out to be more murky and hesitant than President Biden might have hoped. Returning to the pre-2016 status quo is no longer possible, but it remains to be seen what cooperation is possible in the future. One thing seems certain: it will have to be pragmatic and be subject to compromise.
Confront America’s Opponents
The main adversaries requiring the immediate attention of the Biden administration are China, Russia, Iran and North Korea. While the latter two present the greatest risk of armed conflict, there is little the United States can do unilaterally against that risk, and President Biden’s signal of openness to dialogue may be all that can be done. for the moment.
Russia poses a different kind of challenge. America has long faced tensions with Russia over electoral interference, cyberattacks, Ukraine, and human rights, the latter more recently embodied in the imprisonment of Alexei Navalny. Sanctions have been the weapon of choice for recent US administrations, to little effect. No real alternative, however, appears to be available unless progress can be made on the overarching issue of nuclear disarmament and non-proliferation. Not much seems likely to change as long as Russian President Vladimir Putin retains control.
China poses a very different kind of threat. It is rising as an economic power; its military budgets increase significantly; its Belt and Road initiative has extended its influence in Southeast Asia, the Middle East, Africa and Latin America; and its “Made in China 2025” campaign threatens to make China the dominant player in a multitude of new generation technologies.
Foreign policy experts describe the necessary US-China policy as a three-legged stool. One step is the confrontation, with Taiwan, human rights and the South China Sea incursions all being flashpoints. It should be noted in this regard that, so far, President Biden has not lifted any of former President Donald Trump’s tariffs on Chinese products, although they are more likely symbolic than real leverage. .
Another step is cooperation in areas of mutual interest, with climate change being a potential area of shared work. President Biden characterized this cooperative initiative as going as far as it serves American interests, a fairly standard expression of American foreign policy.
The third step is competition, and this is where major progress is needed. To be competitive, the US government will have to invest more in basic research on future technologies without falling into the trap of an “industrial policy” that tries to pick winners and losers. Being competitive will also require closer collaboration with U.S. allies in research as well as in the development of standards, policies and practices to shape markets. And to be competitive, it will also require a more open trade policy and a reinvigorated economic development policy to seduce or keep friends in the Pacific Basin and elsewhere. Working with the rest of the Quad – Japan, India and South Korea – will be essential for all of these issues.
The contours of such a policy remain unclear. The national political consensus for such a policy remains elusive. The urgency of developing both, however, is undeniable.