„I’m letting them know that America is back. We’re going to be back in the game,“ are the words which president-elect Joe Biden used when describing his phone calls with foreign leaders who congratulated him on his victory in early November.[1] It is clear that Mr. Biden holds dear to him the internationalist view, one that has shaped the U.S. policies ever since the ending of World War II, creating an international liberal order with American leadership to guide it.

But today, we see a rather changing landscape where not many tend to think that the United States should be entitled to lead, not as it once used to anyways. With domestic issues on the rise, as well as the new challenges around the globe, it will be quite a task when it comes to restoring U.S. leadership in the world, and more importantly it will need to go hand in hand with the renewal of domestic politics above all. The latter particularly stands out in the scene of January 6th events which have occurred in the Capitol, shocking and devastating as they seem.

For the past four years, American foreign policy has been shaped around a single slogan: America First. But as from January 20th 2021 on, when Mr. Biden is sworn in, he is determined to change the course of this isolationist approach, with the aim of rebuilding America’s relationship with her allies and reinforcing her commitment to multilateral institutions and treaties. He also emphasized relaying more on nonmilitary instruments of power and making diplomacy his key approach towards foreign affairs. The plan is to place the United States back at the head of the table, working with the coalition of likely-minded and pursuing collective action on global threats. But not everything is as it seems: the public is concerned of what has happened within the country and political developments have left the world uncomfortable.

The perception some may have when it comes to U.S. policies is troubling. Mr. Trump has showed how easy it can be to undo some of the major accomplishments and agreements of previous administrations. If there is no continuity, how is the world supposed to trust that U.S. foreign policies are going to outlast one presidency? Why should countries sign new deals with the United States just to see them be diminished couple of years after?

There is a lot to be done if the U.S. is to regain its trust and take back the leading role it yearns for. As the designated National Security Advisor for president-elect Biden, Jake Sullivan points out, the thought of American exceptionalism is just not enough of a justification anymore.[2] The United States must update its purpose, it must evaluate its place in the world. In order to do that, it also must update its own democracy, one that is today taken into a question.

In his Foreign Affairs article published earlier in 2020 –  „Why America Must Lead Again,“ Mr. Biden correctly pointed out that „First and foremost, we must repair and reinvigorate our own democracy, even as we strengthen the coalition of democracies that stand with us around the world,“ and went on saying „We have to prove to the world that the United States is prepared to lead again—not just with the example of our power but also with the power of our example“.[3]

And as for the moment, the example is quite troubling. Domestic issues are on the rise: a part from the fight against the pandemic, issues such as economic recovery, health care, income inequality, racism, deep political polarization and the divided nation need to be urgently addressed. It is also important to acknowledge that Mr. Trump was more of a consequence, not the true cause of many of these issues. He needed only pour the fuel on the fire.

Even as we come to the end of his presidency, these issues are not simply going away with him out of the office. In the midst of a dark era, when pro-Trump rioters storm the Capitol, when the law enforcement is so ill prepared to stop them, when the one who took an ought to serve his country encourages an insurrection against her democracy, the American Nation must act, and it must act now. It has been blind-eyed for far too long.

Capitol, Congress, Biden-Trump
Police stand outside the Capitol after a day of rioting protesters, at the Capitol in Washington. (AP Photo/Julio Cortez)

The latest result of Georgia’s Senate race gave the Democrats control of both houses of Congress – a future opportunity for Mr. Biden to pass ambitious political agenda. In other words, chances of fighting the climate change, reducing economic inequality and slowing the pandemic got a whole lot bigger. Ultimately, this is a chance of saving U.S. democracy, a spark which can lead to a braver world.

Hence, if the United States wants to show that it is prepared to lead, it also must be prepared to change. It must repair its broken system. It must heal its democracy. As a famous Welsh poet once put it: „Do not go gentle into that good night. Rage, rage against the dying of the light“. Even so the night does not seem good in the case, it need not be further long. Fight for your democracy, Americans.

Autor: Kristina Velimirović, članica Centra za međunarodnu javnu politiku



[1] Joseph R. Biden, Jr, „Why America Must Lead Again“, Foreign Affairs (March/April 2020): https://www.foreignaffairs.com/articles/united-states/2020-01-23/why-america-must-lead-again

[2] Jake Sullivan, „What Donald Trump and Dick Cheney Got Wrong About America“, The Atlantic(January/February2019): https://www.theatlantic.com/magazine/archive/2019/01/yes-america-can-still-lead-the-world/576427/

[3] CBS News, Biden says he told foreign leaders „America is back“: https://www.cbsnews.com/live-updates/biden-america-back-foreign-leaders/

Naslovna fotografija: Chip Somodevilla/Getty Images

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