FeaturedInternationalVOLUME 16 ISSUE # 07

Biden’s pressing challenges

US President-elect Joe Biden faces a long list of serious challenges after winning a closely contested election. Domestic issues, such as COVID-19, economy, race and climate change, require immediate attention but they cannot be addressed domestically and he will need international cooperation to resolve them.

His victory has also instilled fresh hope among people in occupied Kashmir after his party had expressed concern over the scrapping of Article 370 in the valley last year. In a policy paper posted on his campaign website in June this year, titled “Joe Biden’s agenda for Muslim American community”, the President-elect had asked the Indian government to take “all necessary steps to restore the rights of all the people of Kashmir. Restrictions on dissent, such as preventing peaceful protests or shutting or slowing down the internet, weakens democracy.” Vice President-elect Kamala Harris had said: “We have to remind the Kashmiris that they are not alone in the world. We are keeping a track on the situation. There is a need to intervene if the situation demands.” Political analysts say Donald Trump’s defeat gives hope to the rest of the world that Right-wing extremism and those who sow division and hatred will sooner or later be relegated to the pages of history. They hope politics of polarisation will end after Trump’s defeat. It is hoped fascist forces will weaken and democracy becomes stronger across the world.

Democrat Joe Biden will take office as the next US president of a country that is grappling with a deadly pandemic, a struggling economy and a deeply divided American public. Biden, the former vice president and US senator from Delaware, ran on promises to implement extensive yet pragmatic policies to expand affordable access to health care and education, increase the minimum wage and assistance for the working poor, and develop clean energy industries that would generate millions of new jobs. According to the Voice of America, his most immediate concern, however, will be addressing the surging coronavirus pandemic. The virus has killed more than 236,000 people in the US and infected more than 9.8 million, according to Johns Hopkins University.

Analysts say Biden’s challenges are massive, and his success will hinge on finding ways to unite the country and find common ground with Republicans on Capitol Hill once President Donald Trump departs. Along with seeking ways to rein in the pandemic, Biden also prioritized providing economic relief for the 20 million workers who have lost jobs during the pandemic that has severely crippled entire industries, especially impacting travel, theaters and restaurants. But to pass his agenda, Biden will likely have to compromise with the opposition, in particular Republican Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell of Kentucky, who just won a new six-year term.

Biden may have won the presidency, but his Democratic party is likely to fall short of winning control of the Senate. Democrats will need to win two run-off elections in Republican-leaning Georgia in January to reach a 50-50 tie in the Senate — enabling Vice President-elect Kamala Harris to cast the tie-breaking vote to claim control of the chamber. If Biden’s party does not win the key Senate seats, he will be the first newly elected president in more than 100 years whose party did not gain majority control in both houses of Congress. And Republicans, while still in a minority in the House of Representatives, gained seats in the House in the Nov. 3 vote.

Biden, however, has a long history as a legislative dealmaker during his decades-long service as a senator and as President Barack Obama’s vice president. On a number of occasions during the Obama administration, Biden cut major budget deals with McConnell. That experience could help him overcome Washington gridlock. Biden could also face challenges within his Democratic Party between fellow moderates and progressives seeking transformational programs such as a universal health care plan that would eliminate private health insurance and require trillions of dollars of additional taxes to pay for it. Facing a Republican-controlled Senate, analysts say, could help Biden unite the various Democratic factions to support more achievable, incremental change in a divisive political landscape.

According to the New York Times, Biden is inheriting a landscape of challenges and ill-will toward the United States in countries hostile to President Trump’s “America First” mantra, his unpredictability, embrace of autocratic leaders and resistance to international cooperation. Biden also could face difficulties in dealing with governments that had hoped for Trump’s re-election — particularly Israel and Saudi Arabia, which share the president’s deep antipathy toward Iran. Nothing is more urgent, in the eyes of many experts, than reversing the downward trajectory of relations with China, the economic superpower and geopolitical rival that Trump has engaged in what many are calling a new Cold War. Disputes over trade, the South China Sea, Hong Kong, Taiwan and technology have metastasized during Trump’s term, his critics say, worsened by the president’s racist declarations that China infected the world with the coronavirus and should be held accountable.

Biden has vowed to reverse what he called the “dangerous failure” of Trump’s Iran policy, which repudiated the 2015 nuclear agreement and replaced it with tightening sanctions that have caused deep economic damage in Iran and left the United States largely isolated on the issue. Biden has offered to rejoin the agreement, which constricts Iran’s nuclear capabilities if Tehran adheres to its provisions and commits to further negotiations. He also has pledged to immediately nullify Trump’s travel ban affecting Iran and several other Muslim-majority countries. Biden’s Iran policy could alienate Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu of Israel, who leveraged Trump’s confrontational approach to help strengthen Israel’s relations with Gulf Arab countries, punctuated by normalization of diplomatic ties with the United Arab Emirates and Bahrain. How Biden manages relations with Saudi Arabia, which considers Iran an enemy, will also be a challenge.

Trump has described his friendship and three meetings with Kim Jong-un, the North Korean leader, as a success that averted war with the nuclear-armed hermetic country. But critics say Trump’s approach not only failed to persuade the North Korean leader to relinquish his arsenal of nuclear weapons and missiles, it also bought him time to strengthen them.

Biden has long asserted that he would take a much harder line with Russia than Trump, who questioned NATO’s usefulness, doubted intelligence warnings on Russia’s interference in US elections, admired President Vladimir V. Putin, and said that improving American relations with the Kremlin would benefit all. Biden, who as vice president pushed for sanctions against Russia over its annexation of Ukraine’s Crimean peninsula in 2014 — the biggest illegal land seizure in Europe since World War II — might seek to extend those sanctions and take other punitive steps.

Biden has said one of his first acts as president will be to rejoin the Paris Climate accord to limit global warming, which the United States officially left under Trump. Biden also has said he would restore US membership in the World Health Organization, which Trump repudiated in the midst of the coronavirus pandemic, describing the WHO as a lackey of China.

The new administration is also expected to change its policy in South Asia, though not drastically. According to Arun K Singh, former Indian ambassador to the US, India could face challenges in dealing with Biden on climate change, human rights and US policy on Pakistan. India is also wary of growing US dependence on Pakistan for the ongoing talks with the Taliban. Pakistan’s role in the region will continue to grow, though India would not like it.