There is a calm sense of steadiness in the global affairs now with Joe Biden at the helm. Battling multiple crises, Biden probably knows he has got no time for divisive politics at home or threatening retaliations abroad. The focus is on enacting a nearly two-trillion-dollar fiscal stimulus to beat back Covid and rev up economy. Biden doesn’t have long, for things can change in America after just one election cycle.
Abroad, American foreign policy is slowly being recalibrated away from the Trump era, especially in the Middle East. Saudi Arabia’s MBS has been snubbed, as Biden will only speak to the King. Emiratis have been denied their multi-billion-dollar F-35 fighter jets. Israel’s PM has not yet been called by Biden for a customary chat. And the Iran nuclear deal is back in focus, albeit both sides are playing initial hardball.
With China, Biden is trying to be assertive about US security and economic interests without risking the kind of confrontation that defined the Trump era. The immediate diplomatic test of the new administration is to shake hands with China, in order to forge cooperation on countering ongoing pandemic and resolving what Biden calls “the shared challenges of global health security, climate change, and preventing weapons proliferation”.
With India, Biden seems to have little choice but to overlook the human rights situation there, so as to secure broader strategic goals. When Biden told Modi that “shared commitment to democratic values is the bedrock for the U.S.-India relationship,” it wasn’t interpreted as a demand for corrective action. Modi got Biden’s call two days before Xi Jinping did, signaling India’s centrality to US in South Asia and Indo-Pacific. Modi is also going to be critical to Biden’s global agenda on climate change and health security.
Four years is what Biden has to make good on his foreign policy agenda and bring America back to its leadership role. A disastrous mid-term election performance in November 2022 could cut that time down in half. Not to mention, the Republican Party is still in the trance of one Donald Trump, who is apparently not done with America yet. Last week, Trump narrowly escaped a conviction in his second impeachment trial. Politically, he is refusing to go gentle into that good night. More than half his party has got his back.
From the home perspective, things are still in quite a bit of flux. The new administration’s relationship with Pakistan got off to a seemingly rocky start, thanks to the new administration having second thoughts on the Afghanistan troop withdrawal (scheduled in May) as well as the inopportune timing of the release of Pearl murder suspects. So far, PM Khan has not received a phone call from Biden. While the resumption of IMF’s EFF is a good omen, let’s see how the US acts on Pakistan’s FATF grey listing next week.
In a changing landscape abroad, Pakistan will need to find ways (beyond regional peace) to become relevant for the US and find some space to secure its economic interests. The current thinking of the government in Islamabad is thankfully focused on trying to pivot this key bilateral relationship towards “economic security”. Linking foreign policy with economic goals will be a good start. However, this concept needs to be better articulated through such plans or policies that can actually entice folks in DC.