In announcing his national security team late Tuesday, US president-elect Joe Biden declared that “America is back”. That ringing affirmation is repudiation of the defeated incumbent Donald Trump’s “America First” framework. Throughout his campaign, Biden attacked Trump for abandoning America’s global leadership, retreating from foreign military commitments, trashing US security alliances, wrecking global institutions like the WHO and WTO, closing America’s borders, walking out of agreements on mitigating climate change and containing Iran’s nuclear weapons programme. Biden’s criticism has huge resonance in the US establishment that reacted with shock and anger to Trump’s challenge to all the major premises of American internationalism after the Second World War. Now the appointment of many familiar figures from the Obama Administration suggests a return to the old order in Washington. Biden’s team comes as a big relief to America’s friends and partners who have struggled to cope with the administrative disorder and policy disruptions unleashed by Trump. China, too, will hope that an internationalist Biden might be more open for a reset in bilateral relations and eschew the all-out confrontation initiated by Trump.
So is Trump’s “America First” an aberration that is about to be turned into an amusing anecdote in US political evolution? Not so fast. Trump was merely channeling the deepening popular discontent against the ravages of endless wars, and a globalism that was seen to decimate American jobs and open American society to a massive influx of immigrants. That the contest for the presidency was a close one in the American heartland suggests that the resistance to the restoration of globalism will not simply disappear with Trump’s defeat. Equally important is the palpable disappointment of the progressives who backed Biden with great gusto. They disapprove of his turn to the old ruling caste.
While India must wait to see how Biden governs in these hard times, Delhi has reasons to be pleased with the appointment of Antony Blinken as the new Secretary of State and Jake Sullivan as the national security adviser. Blinken and Sullivan held senior positions in the Obama Administration and South Block has dealt with them on many issues. The new chief of national intelligence, Avril Haines, served in the State Department and the White House before she was appointed as the Deputy Director of the Central Intelligence Agency by Obama. John Kerry, who will translate Biden’s intense commitment to addressing climate change is no stranger for India. He served as Obama’s Secretary of State after a long stint as US Senator from Massachusetts. South Block would also hope that the new defence secretary would build on the rapid expansion of bilateral security cooperation that has strong bipartisan support in the US and a new enthusiasm in New Delhi. Biden is likely to be as tough on trade as Trump and Delhi needs to find creative ways to resolve sharpening trade tensions with the US.