Major Challenges Facing the New Biden Administration

It is no secret that there were speculations that the presidential election, held in the United States on Nov. 3, would see the back of the incumbent US president Donald Trump and welcome Joe Biden as the country’s 46th president. Now  that the page has turned on Trump era, it remains to be seen how the new president after being sworn in on Jan. 20 next year deals with the challenges facing the US on the domestic and foreign policy fronts.

The incoming president may find it easier to deal with the domestic challenges. Undoing Trump’s ban on Muslims on the first day of his presidency (the ban imposed restrictions on the citizens of many Muslim-majority countries from coming to the US) is likely to prove an easy affair for Biden. Similarly, taking some more confidence building measures to unify the country can be possible domestically. In fact, Biden has stated that he will act as a ‘unifier’ and govern as the president of America, a positive message for Americans who have chosen him to lead the country. Uniting a divided country where havoc has been wrecked by polarization and racial tension, is likely to be Biden’s top priority.

But Biden is likely to face difficulties as the Republican Party controls the Senate and overturning Trump era US policies can never be a smooth sailing. With the government divided, Biden’s governance will be a formidable task if he seeks to give a healing touch to the divided nation. Above all Trump has got more popular votes this time than 2016 and if he actively engages himself in US politics, Biden’s job will be more challenging and tedious to address the deepest issues of America; Trump will be no lame duck for the Democratic president.

It is on the foreign policy front that Biden will undergo an acid test. The most complicated task possibly will be to overturn the Trump administration’s policies regarding the world. In the Muslim world, the most challenging task could be dealing with Iran and Israel–Palestine issues. Although the Obama administration had painstakingly reached the Iran Nuclear deal (JCPOA) in 2018, Trump reversed it, causing Tehran and Washington to lock horns. Reviving the nuclear deal is likely to prove a complicated affair for Biden as Iranian government seems  unwilling to trust the US. And similarly engaging with the Islamic republic could be a formidable task given the two countries’ long-standing rivalry and strained relations. 

Moreover, inching closer to Tehran will not settle well with Israel and Saudi Arabia, the two close allies of America and arch rivals of Iran in the region. Riyadh and Tel Aviv see Iran as a regional threat and accuse it of being in bed with the armed militias fighting in Libya, Yemen and Syria. Washington also shares the perception that Iran has a hand in the regional crises.

As of the Palestine issue, the Trump administration recognized Jerusalem as Israeli’s capital, a move which surprised the international community and triggered protest demonstrations by the Palestinians. Trump also recognized Israeli’s control over Golan Heights, a territory belongs to Syria. Mr. Biden has opined that he will reopen the channels which the Palestinians closed after Trump’s Jerusalem move. But given Biden’s pro-Israel stance, it appears that his Israel policy will not divert from America’s traditional policy towards Tel Aviv.

Another issue on foreign policy front is Washington’s Afghanistan commitment — the commitment which will be seen as a barometer of Biden administration’s Afghan policy. The US under Trump has promised to withdraw its all troops from Afghanistan under a deal agreed with the Taliban in Qatar on Feb. 29 this year.  Perhaps, Biden’s policy towards the Afghan issue is unlikely to shift as he has been a vocal critic of America’s military engagements on foreign soils. Possibly, he would seek to disengage American troops from Afghan crisis.

The toughest foreign policy challenge will be posed by the US-China relations the challenge whose repercussions have a global reach. Under President Trump the relations between the two major powers reached their historic low, raising concerns of military confrontation between the two countries. It will be a tough ask for Biden to seek cooperation on global issues with Beijing, given the deep rivalry between the two countries.

China on the other hand, may supposedly seek to normalize ties with Washington and for that Joe Biden’s victory is likely to be taken advantage of by the Asian giant. Recently, China’s vice foreign minister said that he is hopeful that the new US administration would work with China and “meet it halfway to focus on cooperation and manage differences.”

A thaw in the US- China ties looks unlikely given Beijing’s interest in the South China Sea and Washington’s growing bonhomie with India, the regional adversary of Beijing. America opposes China’s moves in the South China Sea and sees its confrontation with New Delhi as Beijing’s act of hegemony. Recently, the US signed a defence deal with India amid the latter’s military standoff with China on the border, a move not taken favorably by Beijing.

The views and opinions expressed in this article are those of the author.

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