If US allies thought the era of Trump-style populism was over, recent weeks have shattered that impression. When he became president, Joe Biden—chosen on the pretense of being a calm and accomplished statesman—declared, “America is back.” But it didn’t feel that way.
Trump’s term as president was deeply damaging to international relations, with many world leaders finding US policymaking unpredictable at best and reckless at worst. This was most evident in the arbitrary and chaotic way policy decisions were announced via social media, the mishandling of the COVID-19 pandemic, the scrapping of closely negotiated deals such as the Iran nuclear deal, and the way many previously trusted allies and institutions, such as the EU and NATO, were alienated.
Trump’s policies set the bar very low for his successor to reaffirm the country’s status as a global superpower. So Biden was credited early on for his soothing tones of unity and for giving the US back to the World Health Organization (WHO) and the Paris climate accord, both of which Trump had withdrawn the US from.
‘Not listening to sensible advice’
However, the Afghanistan debacle has provided a reality check, with Biden’s approach bearing a striking resemblance to that of his predecessor. While US presidents have been looking for a way out of Afghanistan for years, Biden’s handling of the withdrawal has belied his reputation for steady competence and inclusive coordination with close partners.
This could be because, like Trump, Biden has enormous self-confidence — or, as his opponents more likely would have it, an arrogant streak that keeps him from listening to sensible advice. Both his secretary of state and defense minister would have been against an abrupt departure from Afghanistan.
Joe Biden’s top generals recently testified under oath to the Senate Armed Forces Committee that they recommended keeping 2,500 US troops in Afghanistan, which contradicted Biden’s statements that he had not received such military advice.
The US also barely consulted its allies or withdrew from the country after 20 years, despite the fact that there were 7,000 NATO allies who were completely dependent on the US infrastructure there. The sudden shutdown of the strategically important Bagram airport overnight is an example of this unilateral decision-making, with the US leaving its largest base in the country without even informing its Afghan partners, who woke up the next morning without electricity. This lack of communication undoubtedly contributed to the plummeting of morale among the Afghan armed forces, accelerating the Taliban takeover.
Biden’s plan for Afghanistan was an eerie echo of Trump’s.
As the timetable shifted by a few months, the US administration insisted on following Trump’s blueprint negotiated with the Taliban. This is strange, as the general tendency of most politicians is to be quick to reject the plans of the previous government, which is often politically convenient.
As the security situation deteriorated rapidly, Biden, after being silent for days, finally emerged and used Trump’s humility-free rhetoric to justify the withdrawal, dodging his own mistakes and directly attributing the collapse of security to the lack of will from Afghan partners. . These falsehoods were heavily criticized by veterans who praised the bravery of local troops.
Biden has continued to follow in Trump’s footsteps in opposing partners, and recently outraged France, a key NATO member, after quietly signing a new security partnership “AUKUS” between the UK, US and Australia, including cooperation in artificial intelligence, nuclear-powered submarines and innovative defense technology.
This led Australia to end a $66 billion submarine deal it had struck with France, destroying the latter’s geostrategic plans for the Indo-Pacific region.
France was so furious that they withdrew their ambassador to the US, a first in the history of the two countries, and also recalled their top diplomat from Australia. Their Secretary of State, Jean-Yves Le Drian, accused Biden of behaving in a “cruel and unpredictable” way reminiscent of the Trump era.
While the UK, newly independent from the European Union, should welcome the strengthening of ties with the US, the EU is forced to rally support for its member state France. EU calls for more “strategic autonomy” have grown louder as some member states fear that Biden is acting as disdainfully as Trump, severing Western unity in the process.
Despite Australia benefiting greatly from this deal, Australia was not spared Trump-style embarrassment, with Biden seemingly forgetting Australian Prime Minister Scott Morrison’s name during a critical summit, referring to him as “that guy Down Under” .
Many countries rely heavily on the US for protection, so the lack of an inclusive approach with traditional allies has implications for broader global security policies.
The US is one of the two largest contributors to the NATO alliance, with just over 16 percent of funding. And it has deployed tens of thousands of soldiers to Japan, South Korea, Germany, Italy and until recently Afghanistan. Will Biden keep their long-term security guarantees intact, or will he continue to follow Trump’s path of easing his obligations, just as he has done with Afghanistan?
Aimed at working class voters
Biden has also adopted Trump’s approach to economic issues, retaining much of the previous administration’s protectionist policies. For example, Biden has promoted reshoring initiatives such as “Buy American” and enforced tariffs on steel and aluminum to protect the US domestic heavy steel workers.
These policies are clearly aimed at the same working-class voters who made all the difference in Trump’s surprise victory in the 2016 election, but also help entrenched anti-globalization, ignoring calls from international institutions like the IMF to scrap them.
Despite this, the US remains a global player. It’s too rich, networked and militarily powerful to ignore. And as his personal polls plummet, Joe Biden can learn from his early mistakes and turn his all-encompassing rhetoric into reality. But with US politics more polarized than ever, allies will have to decide whether America can be a reliable partner in the long run or whether Trump’s spirit will continue to be felt in the country’s policies.
The views expressed in this article are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect the editorial position of Al Jazeera.