The Trump presidency has been a wreck. An unqualified, unprepared narcissist with a nanosecond attention span and compulsion to tweet, while holding a multitude of ill-considered opinions, became the world’s most powerful and important person. It sounded like the script for a great movie. However, it played out as the most incredible reality show in human history.
Already I miss him as president. Or, more accurately, I am growing more despondent by the day thinking about Joe Biden replacing The Donald as president.
First is the absolute unanimity with which the "usual suspects" are celebrating Biden’s victory. There have been dozens (scores? hundreds?) of think tank webinars since November 3 assessing the impact of the election on (fill in the blank) topic. Every journalist. Every diplomat. Every think tank analyst. Every commenter. Every philanthropist. Every former diplomat. Every person, other than an occasional Republican legislator or apparatchik. Has expressed how relieved he or she is that U.S. democracy had been preserved, America’s reputation had been salvaged, and Western civilization had been saved. Only by a whisker was the fascist dictatorship intended by President Donald Trump, the Republican Party, Trump supporters, Trump voters, foreign authoritarians, and/or every other malign force on the planet avoided.
Second is the absolute unanimity with which the foreign "usual suspects" are celebrating Biden’s victory. While the president has a few fans, typically murdering autocrats, wannabe strongmen, governments with "third rail" domestic lobbies, and nations desperate for US military support, most foreign leaders are falling all over themselves trying to ingratiate themselves with Biden. Indeed, since he has been in government for a century or two – okay, "only" 47 years – most foreign officials claim to know him. So most of the Asian and European governments are counting on Washington’s renewed promise that it will make their defense and interests the highest priority for American taxpayers. What could be better for prosperous, populous allies which prefer to spend their money on social services rather than armed forces!
Third, the president-elect already is paying off his foreign supporters. Most important, he is assuring them that the US defense dole is safe. Indeed, American military welfare almost certainly will grow even more expansive. He wrote in a South Korean newspaper that he would not threaten to withdraw American forces, even though the Republic of Korea enjoys 50 times the economic strength and twice the population of North Korea. Why are American taxpayers, whose debts have been rising dramatically, financing the South’s defense?
Europe is an even more ridiculous case. The Europeans spend less on the military because most don’t believe Russia is a threat but do believe America would come to their rescue in a crisis. Seventy-five years after World War II ended is surely sufficient time for the Europeans to take over their own defense. They enjoy 11 times the GDP and three times the population of Russia. Washington should insist on burden-shifting rather than burden-sharing.
Fourth, while Trump said and did stupid things because he really didn’t know better, Biden will say and do stupid things even though he supposedly knows better. Lauded for his incredible experience, he remains an exemplar of the conventional wisdom regarding foreign policy. America must be everywhere and do everything. Every once in a while he registers a tiny dissent – he didn’t want add more troops to Afghanistan when President Barack Obama did a double surge. However, Biden was for Iraq, didn’t oppose Libya until the mission went bad, embraces Israeli politicians only slightly less tightly than has Trump, is convinced that Russia poses the most grievous security threat of all to the US, and doesn’t want to cut military outlays. This is supposed to be an improvement over the Trump administration?
Fifth, every member of the Blob, the foreign policy establishment – at least, every member other than the two or three people who still have their tattered "I’m Proud to be a Republican" bumper sticker on their cars – is now attempting to clamber onto the Biden bandwagon. They are desperately searching for someone who knows someone who knows someone close to someone who knows someone who works for someone with a passing acquaintance with someone in the Biden operation.
Newspapers are flooded with celebratory op-eds praising America’s heroic liberator and welcoming the country’s rescue from isolation, poverty, fascism, and worse. Webinars are filled with policy nerds preening for the camera, treating dull policy talks as presidential screen tests. Those seeking administration jobs, meaning all of them, spare no opportunity to praise America’s miraculous salvation from a future that threatened a tsunami of racism, sexism, nationalism, xenophobia, conservatism, corporatism, capitalism, religion, and most every other vice known to man and woman. As one, they chant: "Please hire us, oh exalted one!"
Sixth, Trump’s valuable policy innovations, though usually crudely expressed, will be lost. Set aside the president’s strange bromance with Vladimir Putin. America’s president understood that Russia does not threaten the US The bizarre vision of Putin as Adolf Hitler reborn, prepared to conquer Europe and sweep across the Atlantic – or whatever Biden & Co. imagines Moscow plans to do to live up to Democratic fear-mongering – is a huge step backward and creates a real risk of conflict.
The president saw a need to engage North Korea’s Kim Jong-un. Almost the entire Korean policy community was horrified. What, talk to one’s adversaries? Is Trump mad, they wondered? Alas, he didn’t understand what was necessary for a successful negotiation and handed policy over to officials, such as Secretary of State Mike Pompeo and National Security Adviser John Bolton, who would have preferred to bomb the North. Nevertheless, Trump moved the issue forward.
Most important may be the president’s professed desire to halt "endless wars." Of course, he threatened to attack Iran, triggering retaliation which caused Pompeo to warn that he might close Washington’s embassy in Baghdad. Moreover, Trump didn’t end any of the other conflicts, though there is speculation that his recent personnel moves at the Pentagon are preparation for bringing US forces home from Afghanistan. Biden felt the need to make a similar pledge but made clear that he wants to leave residual forces of undetermined sizes. And there is evident opposition from many Blob members among the president-elect’s policy entourage to even limited withdrawals.
Finally, both parties are likely to move in a pro-war direction. The extremist Republican congressional leadership hesitated to challenge Trump over foreign policy, though did so occasionally when he was seen as insufficiently belligerent and hostile toward other nations. Now the Neocons and uber-hawks who dominate the GOP, especially the congressional caucus, will be utterly unconstrained. They will attempt to demonstrate their national security bona fides by pushing the Biden administration to sanction and bomb countries around the world for any and all perceived offenses. Only a handful of GOP lawmakers appear concerned about the deaths – hundreds of thousands of people around the world – caused by their war-first policies.
In contrast, progressive Democrats, ever ready to criticize the Trump administration on foreign as well as domestic policy, already lost the internal struggle over international issues within the Biden transition. Almost all the names mentioned for prominent and important positions are liberal hawks, as enthusiastic as Republicans in spreading death and destruction far and wide in the name of humanity.
Many progressives simply aren’t much concerned about the harm imposed on others, irrespective of their routine rhetoric about solidarity, imperialism, socialism, and peace. Equally important, the Left will be focused on implementing redistributionist economic promises from Biden and battling Republicans in a closely divided Congress over domestic priorities. If the Obama era is any guide, left-wing activists won’t protest a new Democratic president even if he starts another conflict. And despite the Left’s added clout within the House caucus, there will be enormous institutional pressure on individual members to unite behind the congressional leadership and President Biden.
The more administrations in Washington change, the more they stay the same, with the notable exception of the outgoing Trump team. The president was defeated for many good reasons, most of which had nothing to do with his foreign policy. His approach was a flawed, inconsistent mess, but nevertheless offered some hope of further change, unlike the incoming Biden team. All we can say for sure is that the next four years will feature more unnecessary interventions and wars, additional needless death and destruction, and minimal hope of desperately needed change and reform in the future.
At which point most Americans also may come to miss Donald Trump.
Doug Bandow is a Senior Fellow at the Cato Institute. A former Special Assistant to President Ronald Reagan, he is author of Foreign Follies: America’s New Global Empire.