Free World Leader, not G.I. Joe
By Amir Oren
President-Elect Joseph Biden is the most experienced official ever to reach the door to the Oval Office, ready to enter it in two and a half months. A Washington insider since age 30, having spent 36 years in the Senate and another eight as Vice-President, he has become the very embodiment of the political establishment, and while the oldest ever to be elected Commander-in-Chief of the world’s most powerful nation, he knows he must be attentive to the younger generation which over this weekend celebrated his victory over Donald Trump, the non-politician who beat both Republican and Democratic Senators and Governors, active or former, in 2016.
Biden won because Anericans focused on domestic concerns, Corona and charachter rather than foreign policy and national security issues. Health, economy and societal tensions will top his agenda, as much as it can be under his control. Jimmy Carter did not anticipate the Khomeini revolution, George H. W. Bush had to react to Saddam Hussein’s invasion of Kuwait and his son was forced by 9/11 to respond in Afghanistan and then Iraq.
As much as he can plan ahead, however, Biden will look homeward first, though not in the America First – actually, Fortress America – manner of his predecessor. Indeed, it would be almost a reverse U-Turn from the one Trump took. Biden will revert to the unofficial title which comes with White House occupancy- “Leader of the Free World”. Trump was indifferent to the needs of alliances. Foreigners do not vote in American elections. The price of Isolationism was that the US was in fact isolated on many issues. It replaced diplomacy, negotiations and compromises with pressures, sanctions and arms sales. Other world powers resented this approach, went their own way and waited Trump out.
In that sense, Trump’s loss is definitely Biden’s gain and not only win. He will be granted a grace period to set up his team, consolidate his power – if he manages to have two Senate candidates come on top in the double January run-off in Georgia, he will control both houses of Congress – and align his policies. No surprises there. In his Foreign Affairs article earlier this year he insisted on reviving the JCPOA deal with Iran reached by the Obama administration and aborted by Trump’s. The Arab-Israeli conflict was not even mentioned in a checklist dominated by China, Climate and NATO, but the line retaken by Biden is well known. Two states, security for Israel, status for the Palestinians, no more settlements, definitely no annexation.
Democratic administrations tend to promote second-tier officials who patiently waited their turn in exile at think tanks, law offices or industry. Obama and Clinton veterans can expect key national security and foreign policy positions at the National Security Council, the Departments of State and Defense and important embassies. Biden’s Advisor Tony Blinken, former Pentagon official Michelle Flournoy, retired General John Allen and Obama’s Ambassador to Tel Aviv – not Jerusalem – Dan Shapiro are among the usual suspects. They will draft and implement a measured pro-active posture which will prefer staying out of “forever wars” – Biden has never been a G.I. Joe – but also understands that in extreme cases the world’s leading power must put its military, and not only its money, where its mouth is.
Biden won as a middle-of-the-roader. The less moderate wing of his party, the so-called “Progressive” group of legislators demanding an end to pro-Israel policy, will not gain a lot of mileage from him. He needs no lessons on the morality and utility of working towards a fair, reasonable and balanced end to claims and conflict in the Middle East, with Israel’s security – via peace along with superior strength – paramount. The same Millennial generation impatient with America’s problems, which propelled him to victory and preparing for a hand-over of the torch in the not too distant future, has its equivalents military in Tel Aviv and Tehran, Ramallah and Gaza, Beirut and Damascus.
As Trump grudgingly transitiones into Biden and traditional statecraft reclaims its place, the Middle East will adjust, probably after undergoing several local political upheavals, too. No one will yawn; Joe was not domestically, and has no intention to be internationally, “Sleepy”.