By Shivaji Sengupta
Benjamin Bloom, an American educator, influenced teachers across the country for over five decades. He used to say that for an objective evaluation of any phenomenon we need to take into consideration both its logical consistency, and how it measures up according to external criteria. That, according to Bloom, was judgment.
So, to a judgment of Joe Biden’s foreign policy by internal evidence and external criteria. When the president-elect laid out his foreign policy vision for America, he, like Bloom, seemed to be aware of the internal/external balance: restore dignified leadership at home and regain respect on the world stage. Biden says that our policies at home and abroad are deeply connected. As president, he will advance the security, prosperity, and values of the United States by taking immediate steps to renew our own democracy (internal) and alliances (external). The United States, he announced, needs to protect its economic future, and once more place America at the head of international affairs, leading the world to address the most urgent global challenges.
In an address to the Graduate Center in the City University of New York, Joe Biden had reemphasized the concept of no man is an island. The very antithesis of Donald Trump. Biden believes that although America will return to its leadership role in the world, the world cannot return to a pre-Trump environment on the shoulders of any one country, however powerful. “In a Biden administration, America will lead by example and rally the world to meet our common challenges that no one nation can face on its own, from climate change to nuclear proliferation, from great power aggression to transnational terrorism, from cyberwarfare to mass migration.”
As much as I agree with the President-elect, I want to caution against the summary dismissal of Trump’s policies. Yes, they are erratic, and they severely undermine our Democratic principles. (Witness, having lost to Joe Biden, the way he is casting terrible aspersions against our most democratic institution – the elections). However, rather than dismiss Trump, we ought to take a careful look at Trumpism. Because, for all his crudeness and exorbitant egotism, this man, like Evil itself, has been able to infiltrate the minds of nearly 75 million Americans who have voted for him. They still think he is right, they want him back, and have bought wholesale, his appeal that the 2020 election was a fraud. And deep in this fraudulent apparatchik, are his cohorts, like Rudy Giuliani, who have created the illusion of fraud. They have infested deep into Trump’s bosom fermenting the evil, the causes of which have yet to be deciphered. As scholars and journalists, we have an obligation of not simply dismissing Trump. He will eventually go away. But Trumpism won’t. It is embedded in almost half of America’s voting population.
So, when Trump takes egregious steps to yank the USA out of the international community, Biden has the obligation to restore us back to the world. He is taking the right steps to ensure that, as he explained to Americans the connection between America’s foreign policy and its internal affairs.
President-elect Joe Biden believes that although America will return to its leadership role in the world, the world cannot return to a pre-Trump environment on the shoulders of any one country, however powerful.
However, at least in the beginning the US’s return to the international community should be as an active participant, not as one of its leaders. We should not be a marshal with a banner leading the world community. We need to lead by example, and not try to be an exemplary leader, showering dollars to the world when our own economy is sagging under the weight of the Coronavirus.
To this extent, Biden’s foreign policy team should be extremely cautious about relieving the more powerful nations of NATO of the financial obligations they have been shirking historically, like Germany, France and Britain.
Biden should also tread the Middle East carefully. President Obama was not all right with his approach to the Israeli-Palestine problem. He, along with other American Presidents, coddled Palestine far too much. Donald Trump’s approach of completely ignoring Palestine, leaving them as mere bystanders in the Middle East process, has merits. Joe Biden should carefully readjust this approach: encourage Israel to continue its Middle East rapprochement, yet entice Palestine to reenter the Middle Eastern theater and shed some of its rigidity.
Trump’s Iran policy is wrong-headed because it was forged out of jealousy and hatred – hatred of Muslims, and jealousy against Barack Obama. The perverse withdrawal of the Iran nuclear deal has apparently resulted in Iran manufacturing enough enriched uranium to build several nuclear bombs. It won’t be easy for Biden to lead the international community again to coax and cajole Iran back to the negotiating table. Biden might think of offering President Obama a lead role in it. Biden cannot abandon Israel in this process either.
Finally, India. There are enough readers of this newspaper who, having voted for Biden and Kamala Harris, are now anticipating keenly America’s continued favoritism of India over Pakistan.
That won’t happen. Democratic presidents have traditionally leaned toward Pakistan rather than India, up until President Bill Clinton. While American foreign policy has tilted more in favor of India since then, we must remember it is not because the Americans suddenly realized that Kashmir belongs to India and not to Pakistan. Remember, the Clinton presidency coincided with India’s opening its doors to foreign markets. Almost overnight, the Indian middle class, comprising more than three hundred million – almost as large as the American population – became one of the most lucrative markets to Americans. Since Pakistan has significantly lagged behind Indian economy, America, true to its mettle, has switched favors from Pakistan to India.
Donald Trump is defined by his love for money and business (in that order). Furthermore, his executive actions betray his massive bias against Muslims. Biden and Harris, while they will look favorably at India’s rising status in the world-market, will nevertheless be concerned about India’s very poor record in protecting human rights, most recently in Kashmir. Modi cries foul whenever Kashmir is mentioned, aggressively referring to it as an internal matter. He, along with many other Indians, do not acknowledge that human rights is a human concern, not just Indian. While Trump has famously said that the US does not pretend to lecture about human rights to the world (he said this in Saudi Arabia, one of richest countries of the world), Biden will not abide by the same dictum.
Kamala Harris will lecture to the country of her ancestors: beware ignoring human rights.
Indeed, she should.
Shivaji Sengupta is a retired
Professor of English at Boricua
College, New York City. He has a
Ph.D. in English and Comparative
Literature from Columbia
University, New York. He has been
a regular contributor to The South
Asian Times and to other newspa‐
pers. He is a member of the
Brookhaven Town Democratic