Support 110 years of independent journalism.

  1. World
18 January 2021updated 28 Jul 2021 1:47pm

Why Joe Biden could struggle to restore global trust in the US

Foreign governments no longer consider the US a reliable ally, even without Donald Trump.

By Ido Vock

Joe Biden will be inaugurated as the 46th president of the United States on Wednesday 20 January, putting an end to a chaotic four years of Donald Trump, which culminated in the storming of the US Capitol on 6 January. At home, Biden’s presidency will represent a break with the style and substance of Trumpism – it is difficult to imaging “Amtrak Joe” attempting to overturn the result of an election he lost. But for the world, the picture is murkier.

Biden will seek to repair relations with US allies spurned during the erratic isolationism of the Trump years, attempting to reassure them that the US remains committed to its traditional alliances. He will emphasise the US’s commitment to NATO and its desire to re-engage with international initiatives abandoned by the Trump administration, such as the Paris Agreement on climate change. Biden’s message, in short, will be that the Trump years were an aberration and that things are back to normal.

As much as the US’s allies will be hoping that Biden is right, in reality all of them have come to the realisation that the post-Trump era will be different, for two main reasons. The first is that Trump showed “America First” isolationism to be an election-winning proposition, winning in 2016 and gaining 46.9 per cent of the vote in 2020.

There is no guarantee that Trumpism will not continue to haunt the Republican Party for years to come. Isolationist Republicans could hobble Biden’s policymaking – more so if they retake one or both houses of Congress in the 2022 midterm elections, as has often happened historically – and one could well win the next presidential election, or the one after that.

A telling example of the reservations traditional US allies now harbour about the country came this weekend as Germany’s Christian Democratic Union (CDU), Angela Merkel’s historically Atlanticist party, held a conference to elect a new leader. Two of the three candidates on the ballot used the US as a cautionary tale, none mentioned Biden by name and the winner, Armin Laschet, accused Trump of “dripping poison into America’s soul”. (For more, read International Editor Jeremy Cliffe’s full write up of the vote.)

Select and enter your email address Your weekly guide to the best writing on ideas, politics, books and culture every Saturday - from the New Statesman. The New Statesman's quick and essential guide to the news and politics of the day. Stay up to date with NS events, subscription offers & updates. Weekly analysis of the shift to a new economy from the New Statesman's Spotlight on Policy team.
  • Administration / Office
  • Arts and Culture
  • Board Member
  • Business / Corporate Services
  • Client / Customer Services
  • Communications
  • Construction, Works, Engineering
  • Education, Curriculum and Teaching
  • Environment, Conservation and NRM
  • Facility / Grounds Management and Maintenance
  • Finance Management
  • Health - Medical and Nursing Management
  • HR, Training and Organisational Development
  • Information and Communications Technology
  • Information Services, Statistics, Records, Archives
  • Infrastructure Management - Transport, Utilities
  • Legal Officers and Practitioners
  • Librarians and Library Management
  • Management
  • Marketing
  • OH&S, Risk Management
  • Operations Management
  • Planning, Policy, Strategy
  • Printing, Design, Publishing, Web
  • Projects, Programs and Advisors
  • Property, Assets and Fleet Management
  • Public Relations and Media
  • Purchasing and Procurement
  • Quality Management
  • Science and Technical Research and Development
  • Security and Law Enforcement
  • Service Delivery
  • Sport and Recreation
  • Travel, Accommodation, Tourism
  • Wellbeing, Community / Social Services
Visit our privacy Policy for more information about our services, how New Statesman Media Group may use, process and share your personal data, including information on your rights in respect of your personal data and how you can unsubscribe from future marketing communications.
THANK YOU

The second reason is that such allies expect Biden’s term to be focused on domestic healing. The US is a broken, divided country, as the Capitol riots demonstrated. Biden’s attention will be turned to the post-coronavirus economic recovery and fixing American democracy after the assaults of the past four years. The US’s alliances are important to him but some of the country’s traditional allies do not expect him to make them a priority, and with good reason.

In short, US allies no longer consider the US a fundamentally reliable ally, even without Trump. While diplomats are reassured personally by Biden, whom they know and trust from his decades as a senator and as Barack Obama’s vice-president, they also believe that their countries need to be better prepared for a future in which the US’s commitment to its traditional friends ranges from disengaged to openly hostile.

Content from our partners
What is the point of inheritance tax?
Businesses must unlock the regional growth agenda
Why we must prioritise treating long-term health conditions

[See also: Collusion with the far right is not unique to US Republicans]