Repairing Alliances: A Biden Effect?


Foreign policy really isn’t that hard.  To make things right in the world, just repair the alliances Donald Trump destroyed.

The line, “repair alliances,” or some variation was standard in articles and think-pieces savaging Trump foreign policy for the last several years.  And it was perhaps mandatory if angling for a position in a post-Trump Democratic administration.

However, one never saw a 1,200 word essay describing exactly how these relationships would be repaired – other than not asking the Japanese and South Koreans for more money to pay for U.S. troops – and not saying anything that hurt European feelings.  

Declaring “Trump was ruining everything” was enough to establish bona fides.  No further explanation required.

But if the new administration’s pitch is:  “We’re not Trump.  Those awful people are gone” – any so-called “Biden Dividend” may be rather modest.  

Are other nations suddenly going to spend more on their own defense?  Or build defense capabilities?  Cooperate more with the U.S. or with their own neighbors?  Or do something that might anger the Chinese?  

Consider the Indo-Pacific, and the new Secretary of State and senior officials making the rounds in coming months:

South Korea?  Even with Trump gone, along with his demands for more money, President Moon Jae-in still isn’t all that crazy about America.  And he’ll expect the U..S to follow his lead and appease North Korea.

Japan?  The government of Japan will appreciate not being asked to cough up money, but it really doesn’t matter who is President.  Without considerable prodding Japan isn’t going to do much more than it feels like doing.  Though keep in mind that Japan did a fair amount while Trump was in office.

Philippines?  This writer would pay to attend that meeting.  

U.S” official:  ‘We’re not Trump.’” 

Philippine official:  “Yes, but a lot of you worked for that ‘son of a _____’ Obama.  And…ahem….your new Asia Czar, that Campbell fellow.  He’s not the same Campbell who let the Chinese steal our territory at Scarborough Shoal in 2012, is he?  If he is, did he learn his lesson?  Does he even think there is a lesson to learn?”

And drop by Bangkok and tell the Thais you’re Obama administration veterans, and they might demand an apology.

Indeed, Mr. Biden’s new foreign policy team can go to the ASEAN secretariat and promise the President will attend the next ASEAN summit (and the Shangri-La Dialogues too) and even wear a batik shirt while there.

But ask if they will cooperate against China?  Cambodia and Laos will tell you “no.”  And except for Vietnam…you will likely hear: 

“We don’t want to choose between China and you.  We’ll just do business with China while you Americans provide our security.  You don’t mind, do you?”

So much for the afterglow of deposing Donald Trump.  So much for “just showing up.”

And continue the regional tour…

Taiwan?  “We’re not Trump.  And we invited your de facto Ambassador to the inauguration.”  

The Taiwanese will respond, “Thank you.”  (They are always polite.)  But they will be thinking…”We remember Obama and Bush.  We liked Trump best.  Please don’t sell us out.”

India?  They will likely ask what was wrong with the relationship under Trump?  

The Australians?  “We stood up to China before you did, and we showed you how to do it.  Now the PRC is hammering us.  You aren’t going to leave us in the lurch are you?”

New Zealand?  Good luck.  President Biden had only been in office a week and New Zealand signed a trade deal with China, advised the Australians to kowtow to Beijing, and is doing its best to get kicked out of the 5-Eyes intelligence collective.  The Kiwis might offer to”‘intermediate” between Biden and Xi Jinping – if you ask nicely.

And when you finally get to Micronesia, Palau, and the Marshall Islands (the COFA states) and try out the “We’re not Trump” line:

Local Official:  “We know.  Trump was the first one to ever pay us any attention.  Why didn’t Obama, Bush, or Clinton invite us to the White House?  Renewing the COFA pacts is your priority too isn’t it?”

All things considered, the new Biden administration ought to be grateful Donald Trump’s foreign policy team destroyed things so well in the Indo-Pacific.

Of course, the Democratic foreign affairs crowd that simmered during four years of Donald Trump are not the first to declare their predecessors to be complete idiots.

But they (and many “Never-Trump” Republicans) did it with Ulster style ferocity.

Four years of demonizing Mr. Trump and anyone working for him, and anything they did, made it much harder to implement a more effective policy towards the People’s Republic of China.  And China is the one country that seeks to displace and dominate the United States, and might be able to do so.

Imagine how this vitriol raised expectations in Beijing:  No need to improve behavior.  Just wait out Trump and a more pliant Democratic administration will be in the White House.  And maybe even send thousands of Covid-19 infected Wuhan residents around the world to help things along.

And this also made things hard for Biden’s team – since Beijing might be expecting them to “produce” – as the Democrat’s hatred of anything Trump (presumably including his tough on China policy) suggested they would, and as many Republicans are expecting them to do.

There is of course no little irony in Secretary of State Blinken saying the other day that Trump got China basically right.  

As for America’s partners and friends, a lot has been accomplished, and a lot more could have been.  But is was an uncomfortable four years – though it needn’t have been.  Sort of like arriving early for a dinner party, standing outside and hearing one spouse loudly berate the other for an hour, and then opening the door with a smile.  

But there is a lesson in all this.   

Sometimes a little graciousness, cooperation and admitting your rivals aren’t fools and devils goes a long way.  

And that can be good for a nation, and the rest of the civilized world.

(I can hear it now:  “Newsham you don’t understand.  Trump was Satan in human form!”

Indeed.  So was the Reverend Ian Paisley, or is that Gerry Adams?)