Can Joe Biden restore exceptional global leadership?

AMERICAN ESSAY: The victory of the Biden-Harris ticket signals the general direction: reformation.

Former U.S. Vice President Joe Biden accepts the 2020 Democratic presidential nomination during a speech delivered for the largely virtual 2020 Democratic National Convention from the Chase Center in Wilmington, Delaware, U.S., August 20, 2020 (photo credit: REUTERS/KEVIN LAMARQUE)
Former U.S. Vice President Joe Biden accepts the 2020 Democratic presidential nomination during a speech delivered for the largely virtual 2020 Democratic National Convention from the Chase Center in Wilmington, Delaware, U.S., August 20, 2020
Joe Biden’s upcoming inauguration, in the shadow of the insurrection and Trump’s second impeachment, presents a good opportunity to assess the implications to US-Israel ties, as well as American politics.
Largely due to his age, the conventional wisdom is that Biden’s presidency will be a transitional one. The 78-year-old Biden is the oldest person ever to be elected as US president.
The transition various commentators are referring to is intergenerational. He will serve, they say, as the president passing the baton to the new generation within the Democratic Party. His opponents even spread rumors during the campaign that he is interested in being a one-term president.
But Biden’s presidency has the potential of being significantly transformational given the greatness of the hour and the fact that Democrats have managed to conquer all key positions.
In just a few days Biden will enter the Oval Office as president. He will face an unparalleled list of challenges and embark upon a long journey to repair a wide range of national and international problems, many of which are unprecedented in scope and magnitude.
Biden’s victory is not only a result of Americans’ disdain for Donald Trump’s brutal violation of the presidency. It is also a direct by-product of a deep social, cultural and political change. The United States is more ethnic, urban and secular than ever before. The American family has dramatically changed. A growing share of parents are unmarried. The number of immigrants and their children has never been higher.
The Democratic Party is reaping the fruits of the massive migration of young people to major urban centers, even in the South. Biden won Georgia because of Atlanta and Savannah.
The Biden-Harris victory provides a clear indication of the future. The long-anticipated political impact of the so-called coalition of minorities is here.
ISRAEL WILL have to get used to a set of new key words: inclusion, diversity and equality. Yes, authenticity is still appealing, but not the rude type.
Sadly, Israel is not prepared for this change despite decades of warnings. The main reason for Israel’s lack of preparedness is its own self-centered nature.
Take the issue of the environment, for example. Climate change, undoubtedly, is the most talked about subject in the world. The great sense of urgency attached to the discussion is totally unfamiliar to Israelis, who are still being dominated by their own omnipresent anxiety agents. Disturbingly, Israel’s national agenda is largely disconnected from both the global agenda and the one led by America’s coalition of minorities.
Israel’s Foreign Service is still massively Eurocentric. The number of diplomatic missions in Europe is more than double that in North America. The UN still attracts far more attention than it deserves. This comes at the expense of the need to develop ties with leading minority groups.
Israel’s strategy in the US is in a severe mental jet lag. Major cities such as Seattle, home to some of the largest companies in the world, are not adequately covered. Israel never developed an effective strategy to reach out to the African-American (30 million voters), Latino (32 million voters) or gay communities, all of which are expected to set the tone in the Democratic Party.
Paralyzed by its own domestic considerations and anxieties, Israel’s diplomacy concentrates, much like its military, on identifying threats rather than opportunities. And so, while Israel was wasting its energy on the marginal and insignificant Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions movement, entire tectonic shifts went unnoticed.
Historically, Israel’s decision-makers were never great proponents of true diplomacy. It did not fit into the dominant national ethos of military power. They truly believed that “diplomacy is the continuation of war by other means,” as is (wrongly) attributed to the Prussian military theorist Carl von Clausewitz (his famous quote referred to war as “the continuation of policy by other means”).
But true diplomacy is the absolute opposite of war. It’s about long-term relationships and win-win situations. Those who end up winning in diplomacy are not the ones seeking victory.
Biden’s victory signals the return of classic international diplomacy, as Israel’s leaders are about to discover soon. In a Foreign Affairs article (May 22, 2020) authored by two of his confidants and former advisers, Daniel Benaim and Jake Sullivan, a strong case for diplomacy over military force is made. The writers’ concern with the “diplomatic void” will be addressed by the new administration.
The implications for Israel go beyond the Iran deal. The return of diplomacy also means the end of unilateralism and the disengagement from global forums.
BUT BIDEN has bigger fish to fry than the Middle East.
COVID-19 is the perfect storm. The pandemic exposed systemic deficiencies and brought to the surface the inevitable clash between two approaches.
One approach believes the virus is a direct by-product of our ongoing abuse of the planet. Proponents of this approach believe this is the time for a big correction across the board. They would like to introduce a new agenda through the implementation of massive and comprehensive reforms.
Climate change will top the agenda. It will also include healthcare, reengagement in global diplomacy, large-scale infrastructure investments, racial justice, equality and education.
The other approach rejects the call for a new order. The proponents of this approach are interested in restoring the pre-COVID-19 order. They say let’s not forget how robust the economy was before COVID-19, and they blame globalization for the spread of the pandemic.
The victory of the Biden-Harris ticket signals the general direction: reformation.
The economic devastation created by the pandemic is similar in scope to the one experienced post World War II. Then, the world reacted by engaging in a more collaborative form of international relations. The United Nations was established in San Francisco in 1945, along with its main organs, such as UNESCO and ECOSOC. Massive investment in infrastructure was another result of the war.
Some observers question the ability of the American democracy to survive the events of January 6 and contain the deep political crater it erupted from. While it seems that the system, as a whole, will certainly survive, the events cast serious doubt on the viability of the two-party system.
Trump is gone, but Trumpism is here to stay. In the age of malignantly narcissistic political discourse, other massive personality brands are expected to enter the arena. They might disrupt the delicate balance of the two-party system. The scenario of Trump, or one of his branded loyalists, running independently must be taken seriously. It’s all about the brand. This is the essence of Trumpism.
As Biden enters his new role, and the conversation about America’s decline is intensifying, we must remember this: The US is the primary producer of knowledge and innovation in the world; its economy is, by far, the world’s largest. Some individual US states, such as California, have GDP’s that surpass countries many times their size. American English is the undisputed language of the online world. American brands dominate the list of the 100 strongest brands in the world; American popular culture is as dominant as ever; Hollywood is still a cardinal agent of change, and the American Dream is still the most compelling national ethos in the world.
In 1840, long before the US became a global power, French political scientist and historian Alexis de Tocqueville described the country as “exceptional.” He noticed the desire to lead, think and behave like a global power.
The same year, US president Martin Van Buren acted on behalf of the Jews of Damascus, when he made an appeal to the Ottomans to end the rioting against Jews (the famous Damascus Blood Libel) and succeeded – precisely because of that very sense of global leadership that Biden is so determined to restore.
The writer, a former Israeli consul-general to New York and senior Foreign Ministry official, is a professor of international relations at New York University, a member of APCO Worldwide’s International Advisory Council and chairman of the Charney Forum for New Diplomacy.