Following in the footsteps of Ronald Reagan, Donald Trump’s slogan was “Make America great again! ” The motto of the new American president, Joe Biden, would be “Make the American middle-class happy again!”
Deploying diplomacy that satisfies the American middle class is a stated goal of the Biden administration. Jake Sullivan, the new National Security Advisor, has made this clear.
The loss to Trump of a significant proportion of their traditional working middle class constituency has been a trauma for the centrist Democratic leadership. President Biden now wants to win back this electorate entirely by the November 2022 mid-term congressional elections.
It is a diplomacy that at least has the merit of being clear. It is less thunderous than the one advocated by the previous administration, whose climax was the injunction to China to stop stealing Western technology, launched in Davos in January 2018. But, apart from this lasting strategic setback, what concrete effects on the world stage has Trump’s diplomacy provoked? The denuclearisation of North Korea has not advanced one iota; Iran has not relinquished its grip on the Shiite axis (Tehran-Baghdad-Damascus-Beirut); Jared Kushner’s plan has not resolved the Israeli-Palestinian conflict; Russian-Ukrainian skirmishes have not ceased in the Donbass ; Beijing has not abandoned the militarisation of reefs in the South China Sea that are considered terrae nullius under international law; the Russians and Chinese have not stopped their cyber attacks on Western infrastructure and businesses; Maduro still rules in Caracas.
To achieve his goal of defending the American middle class, Biden will continue the protectionist policies of his predecessor. Like Trump, the Democratic president wants to bring industrial jobs back to US soil. Like Trump, Biden seeks to counter Chinese trade hegemony in Asia and Europe. On 5G, the technological partition of the world will continue. Against China, America already has the unconditional support of Japan, as confirmed by the Biden-Suga summit on Friday 16 April . Huawei will not have access to the markets of America’s various allies.
Anxious to combat the Chinese hold on the Asian continent, Biden wants to transform the G-7 (economic forum of developed democracies, created by Giscard in November 1975, comprising France, Italy, Great Britain, Germany, the United States, Canada and Japan). He wants to add India, Australia and South Korea, to form a G-10, capable of keeping up with the Chinese. Trump dreamed of a G-11 that would have included Russia; with Biden, it is out of the question. The president is resolutely pro-Ukraine and intends to publicly criticise Putin for his disregard for human rights.
At the next Nato summit in Brussels on 14 June, Joe Biden will not only ask his European allies to increase their defence efforts, he will also demand that they align themselves with Washington’s anti-China policy. But he will renounce any neo-conservative idea of humanitarian preventive war. In this, he will be a strict continuation of Trump.
America is likely to face scathing criticism from its Western allies, starting with the British, for its premature military withdrawal from Afghanistan. It seems certain that the Taliban will succeed in seizing power in the near future. After spending nearly $1.5 trillion in Afghanistan over twenty years, and sending significant military contingents, Nato countries are not happy about returning to an Afghanistan that will serve as a sanctuary for jihadists from all over the world, while remaining the world’s number one centre for heroin production.
But Biden knows that after a few days of televised images of the fall of Kabul, painful for the American ego, the long-term trouble will be for the Europeans. Indeed, the refugees fleeing Taliban repression will seek first and foremost to reach Western Europe, via the already tried and tested Iran-Turkey-Balkans route.
A lot of protectionism, a bit of human rights, and no military adventurism, this is a foreign policy that should satisfy the American middle class. But will it be great diplomacy? In history, it has rarely been the case that diplomacy has been driven solely by domestic political considerations.
This article was first published in Le Figaro.