Current Affairs

What Does The Capitol Riots Mean for US Foreign Policy


These were the shocking scenes captured over the last week and many foreign leaders will have watched the events on Capitol Hill with disgust and alarm.

The Nato Secretary-General Jens Stoltenberg tweeted, “Shocking scenes in Washington, D.C. The outcome of this democratic election must be respected.”

The episode says much about Washington's standing in the world after four years of the Donald Trump presidency.

The riot forced the suspension of a joint session of Congress to certify Joe Biden's electoral victory.

Lawmakers are expected to bring up a resolution asking Mr Pence to invoke the 25th Amendment to declare the president unfit for office. Mr Pence is said to oppose the idea. If he refuses, Democrats will vote to impeach Mr Trump who had urged supporters to march on the Capitol.

Mr Biden has said impeachment is for Congress to decide, even though he has thought "for a long time President Trump was not fit to hold the job."

The Republican president has been accused by Democrats and an increasing number of Republicans over the riot, following a rally in which Mr Trump repeated unsubstantiated allegations of vote fraud. Five people died in the attack, including a Capitol police officer.

The storming of the US Capitol building in Washington DC stunned viewers around the world.

Many leaders called for peace and an orderly transition of power, describing what happened as 'horrifying' and an 'attack on democracy'.

The UK Prime Minister Boris Johnson condemned the 'disgraceful scenes'. "The United States stands for democracy around the world and it is now vital that there should be a peaceful and orderly transfer of power," he wrote on Twitter.

The forces of attraction that made the country a model for aspiring democrats everywhere are tarnished, its fissures are there for all to see. Analyst, Ian Bremmer stated: "The US is by far the most politically dysfunctional and divided of all the world's advanced industrial democracies.”

It has pulled out of arms control agreements, the Iran nuclear deal, and a major climate accord. It has sought to reduce its military engagements overseas while offering little in the way of diplomatic alternatives.

Countries like Israel, Saudi Arabia and Turkey have all, to an extent, sought to provide for their own security, mindful that the US president's attention span is limited. Indeed, Donald Trump often appears to regard authoritarian leaders as more convivial hosts than the heads of government of many of his democratic allies.

Over recent years, the international system has clearly suffered from Mr Trump's decision to pursue an America First policy.

Authoritarians are on the march. China and Russia both feel their influence has been bolstered during the Trump years. The institutions of the liberal order - like Nato, the UN and many of its agencies - face varying degrees of crisis.

The world faces acute crises like the pandemic and climate change and under Mr Trump's watch, the US has simply not turned up for duty.

Often an expansive US foreign policy has been as much a part of the problem as part of any solution. But US defence and security policy is currently not in a good place. The whole fabric of arms control agreements inherited from the Cold War years, from the INF treaty to Open Skies, has fallen apart.

In order for the US to get back to some sort of normality, Joe Biden has chosen three people to lead his foreign policy team will bring decades of diplomatic experience to the White House.

The three people who will be advising Mr Biden on issues beyond America's borders are not well known beyond Washington. Antony Blinken, Linda Thomas-Greenfield and Jake Sullivan are all alumni of the Barack Obama White House and are considered Biden loyalists and foreign policy centrists.

Mr Blinken, 58, whose work with Mr Biden goes back nearly 20 years has been picked to serve as secretary of state, the nation's top diplomat.

Linda Thomas-Greenfield, one of the most high-profile black female US diplomats who worked for years on African affairs, has been nominated to serve as US Ambassador to the United Nations.

Jake Sullivan is a former state department official and Hillary Clinton aide who played a key role in negotiating the 2015 Iranian nuclear deal. He served as Mr Biden's national security adviser when he was vice-president.

Their wealth of Washington experience as foreign policy veterans will not endear them to all. It does, however, mark a break with Trump's war on the so-called 'deep state' individuals in government he regarded as working against his own agenda.

Top of the agenda for the Biden team will be re-joining organisations, alliances and treaties that Mr Trump worked to weaken or dissolve over the past four years.

They will be tasked with bringing the US back into the Paris climate agreement and keeping the US in the World Health Organization.

They will also seek to revise the Iran nuclear deal, bolster ties with Nato and seek trade agreements as a means to counter China's rising influence.

Most experts agree that the team Mr Biden is putting in place is more experienced than those appointed by Mr Trump, such as his first Secretary of State Rex Tillerson, who was a former Exxon Mobil executive.

The new President will be warmly welcomed by Washington's allies abroad, especially within the EU and the G7 groupings. Others like the Saudis, the Israelis and middle east are rapidly triangulating or re-adjusting their policies, seeking to enable a new dialogue with the Biden team.

Policy differences, commercial ties and Europe's own desire for a greater degree of strategic autonomy will all complicate relations with Washington. But Mr Trump's legacy at the State Department, which has seen scores of disillusioned diplomats retire early under Mr Tillerson and his replacement Mike Pompeo run deep and cannot be swiftly overdone overnight.

One of the key policy promises was on the Coronavirus. The president-elect has promised 100 million Covid vaccinations in 100 days, after criticising Donald Trump's failed pledge to vaccinate 20 million Americans by the end of the year.

Mr Biden has said he will invoke the Defence Production Act in order to deliver on the mammoth task and launch an education campaign to combat vaccine scepticism.

The president-elect has also made it clear that health care remains a top priority for him. Mr Biden said he will expand the Affordable Care Act, the signature legislative achievement of the Obama administration which expanded health insurance to millions of Americans.

Mr Biden has laid out an ambitious climate plan which includes overhauling the country's energy industry to achieve 100 per cent emissions-free power by 2035. The plan includes a pledge to invest $2 trillion in clean-energy infrastructure, along with a promise to build 1.5 million new energy-efficient homes and social housing units.

Biden said he will raise taxes on the wealthiest Americans, which he defines as those with an income of more than $400,000 per year. He wants to impose a marginal tax rate increase so the more a worker earns over that threshold, the more tax they must pay. Most of those affected are in the top 1-2 per cent of earners in the US.

Mr Biden has criticised Mr Trump's "America First" nationalism and the Democrat is much keener on building relationships with America's allies. Mr Biden will look to repair some relationships, including with NATO and the World Health Organisation. He would also rejoin the Paris Climate Agreement.

Mr Biden also said he would enter into another international deal with Iran, which was agreed by President Obama and ripped up by Mr Trump.

Joe Biden committed to tackling systemic racism in America "At those moments when this campaign was at its lowest ebb, the African-American community stood up again for me," said the president-elect.

"You've always had my back and I'll have yours."

Jan 13, 2021
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