Experts examine significant challenges and offer projections on the US President’s four key policy areas – the US political system, Russia, China, and the Middle East.

ABU DHABI, May 10 – TRENDS Research & Advisory has published a collection of essays analyzing and examining the US President’s first 100 days in office and the challenges related to his key policy priorities. Part of the TRENDS Strategic Studies Series, the publication – Deconstructing President Biden’s 100 Days in Office: Outlook and Prospects – five prominent international experts have looked at the new US administration’s different dimensions.

The authors seek to thoroughly thrash out the US President’s first 100 days in office by examining the challenges and offering projections on four key policy areas of the US President: the US political system, Russia, China, and the Middle East. They discuss Biden’s domestic and foreign policy directives and offer some predictions of the possible implications of these policies.

The authors concur that Biden’s “domestic agenda will be far more radical than was anticipated,” says Dr. Stephen Blackwell of TRENDS Research & Advisory. Dr. Blackwell commended Biden’s policy toward the global pandemic and predicted that the “next period of his presidency would see domestic policy taking precedence over foreign affairs.”

According to him, though there have been fewer surprises in foreign policy, the administration has also demonstrated that it is committed to a multilateral approach that is also less tolerant of governments hostile to the West and is willing to undermine what Washington sees as essential values underpinning the US national interest. “In the months to come, the domestic sphere is likely to take priority over foreign policy initiatives. However, there is little doubt that global challenges and crises will at some point call on President Biden to show that he can maintain his transformational agenda and restore US global preeminence,” Dr. Blackwell said.

Experts also agree that Biden “inherited profound societal divisions as reflected in huge disparities in access to education, wealth, job opportunities, healthcare, and infrastructure. After three months in office, it is clear that although Biden faces a long struggle to draw the poison from US political rivalries, his domestic agenda has shown him to be more radical than many expected.”

Justin B. Dyer, a Professor of Political Science and Founding Director of the Kinder Institute on Constitutional Democracy at the University of Missouri, writes in his paper that Biden has inherited a US civil society that is “sharply divided on a range of political and social issues, including the integrity and fairness of US election procedures.” He expresses his conviction that “President Biden and his team see this moment, coming out of a global pandemic and with Democratic control of the federal government, as a once-in-a-generation opportunity to fundamentally transform the federal government and American society.”

Prof. Dyer cites an executive order issued by Biden that highlights the US administration’s significant priorities over the coming period: “It is the policy of my administration to prevent and combat discrimination on the basis of gender identity or sexual orientation, and to fully enforce Title VII and other laws that prohibit discrimination on the basis of gender identity or sexual orientation,” the order reads.

Prof. Yossi Mekelberg, a Professor of International Relations at Regent’s University, describes Biden during his first 100 days as an “extremely proactive president and a rather radical one.” According to him, “domestically, the president set clear priorities for a vaccination program and introduced a substantial coronavirus relief package complemented by a massive investment in infrastructure.”

China & Russia Policies

Dr. Blackwell says, on foreign policy, Biden has dissociated himself from Trump’s emphasis on transactional relations and emphasized the ideological importance of the US’s leadership of the democratic nations. However, the author believes the situation differs when it comes to China.

“The new administration has identified China as a potentially vital partner in addressing global challenges such as climate change and the US’s key systemic rival in the international arena. “Though Biden authorized direct talks between US and Chinese delegations in Alaska, he has also maintained Trump’s trade tariffs against China, condemned Beijing’s policies in Hong Kong and the Xinjiang province, and signaled increased support for the Republic of China in Taiwan,” says Dr. Blackwell.

However, Dr. Cheng Li, a Non-Resident Fellow & Director and Senior Fellow at the Brookings Institution’s John L. Thornton China Center, claims that Biden “has largely continued the Trump Administration’s hawkish approach toward China.”

Dr. Li cites a warning by veteran US statesman Henry Kissinger, wherein he said, “Endless competition between the world’s two largest economies risks unforeseen escalation and subsequent conflict that is more dangerous than that in the Cold War era.” However, with regards to Russia, “Biden has dispensed with the personal rapport evident between Trump and Putin. The new administration sees the Kremlin as intent on undermining the international legal order when it suits it while also conducting covert operations designed to weaken and divide the US and its western allies,” says Dr. Blackwell.

Prof. Mekelberg agrees with this view, saying, “Biden has also displayed a robust and assertive streak in confronting his country’s main rivals, China and Russia.” Mekelberg believes that Biden is bent on restoring the role of the US as a major player in foreign affairs. He also said that “the return of the US as a major actor in foreign affairs, abandoning the over-simplistic, reductionist, and nationalist notion of ‘America First’ and instead wholeheartedly embracing multilateralism, has characterized the Biden Administration thus far.”

The Middle East Policy

Concerning the Middle East and South Asia, Dr. Blackwell says an essential focus for the new administration is likely to be ending the “forever wars” in the region. “Biden’s initial room for maneuver in relations with Iran is likely to be severely constricted by the legacy of Trump’s term in the White House… In keeping with his commitment to a more multilateral approach to US foreign policy, Biden has also rejoined the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action (JCPOA) and reengaged with Tehran through ongoing talks at the official level taking place in Vienna on the Iranian nuclear program,” he said.

Biden’s ambition to recalibrate relations with its main Arab partners in the UAE, Saudi Arabia, and Egypt, Blackwell believes, “will be constrained by geopolitical circumstances and the long-standing commitment to defending its key regional allies. Although the White House is actively seeking to resolve the civil conflict in Yemen, it will continue to supply arms and maintain its intelligence and security relationships with these countries. Regarding Israel, Biden will seek to build on the momentum toward formalizing Israel-Arab relations created through the Abraham Accords. While the new presidency officially favors a two-state solution, it is unlikely to apply extra pressure on Israel to recognize Palestinian statehood officially.”

James A. Russell, an Associate Professor in the Department of National Security Affairs at the Naval Postgraduate School, US, agrees with Dr. Blackwell in this regard. He believes that the Biden Administration’s approach to the Middle East must deal with new realities as it moves from enunciated campaign policy priorities to actual implementation.

“The first reality is that the US is now playing a less direct and influential role than in the past in a region increasingly divided between rival competitive blocs…The second is that the country’s politics remain bitterly divided – a division that complicates and undermines the conduct of foreign policy… The third is a growing consensus in the Washington DC foreign policy community that the United States should reduce its involvement across the Middle East. Instead, it should prioritize rebuilding frayed partnerships in Europe and across the Indo-Pacific to address more important challenges from Moscow and Beijing,” Russell writes in his paper.

Talks on JCPOA, Russell believes, “face daunting obstacles. Iran’s announcement to start increasing uranium enrichment to 60 percent and indications that the US might continue the Trump Administration’s sanctions related to Iranian terrorist activities illustrate the difficulties faced in returning to the agreement.”

The US-Arab relations is the Biden Administration’s other regional priority. According to Russell, the US President is determined to “recast US relations with its main Arab state partners – within limits. …. A review of the Saudi sale occurred due to another regional foreign policy priority: The Biden Administration’s desire to end the civil war in Yemen. However, the Biden Administration is expected to continue supporting the Saudi US-supplied missile defense systems,” he says.

On relations with Egypt, Russell believes that it remains unclear whether the Biden Administration will “subject future Egyptian sales to closer scrutiny due to annual State Department’s human rights report noting Egypt’s “unlawful or arbitrary killings… forced disappearance, torture, and cases of cruel, inhuman or degrading treatment by the government…”

On Israel, the Biden Administration, “seeks to continue the Trump Administration’s momentum in formalizing the Israeli-Arab state partnership exemplified in the August 2020 Abraham Accords. While Saudi Arabia formally remains outside the agreement between Israel, Bahrain, and the United Arab Emirates, it has itself become an unacknowledged informal partner with Israel in the region’s anti-Iran coalition,” says Russell.

Russell concludes that the Biden Administration’s regional plate is full of a complicated problem. “If history is any guide, the region will remain unstable and full of surprises, which will require a complicated foreign policy juggling act for the remainder of Biden’s first term. The first 100 days is only the beginning of what is sure to be an exciting and interesting four years,” he writes.

 

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TRENDS Research & Advisory strives to present an insightful and informed view of global issues and challenges from a strategic perspective. Established in 2014 as an independent research center, TRENDS conducts specialized studies in international relations and political, economic, and social sciences. It undertakes rigorous analyses of current issues and global and regional developments, especially in the Middle East and North Africa.

The Center analyses opportunities and challenges at various levels of the geopolitical spectrum. It evaluates scenarios and prospects to find scientific and objective answers and seeks to influence the decision-making process. TRENDS Research & Advisory aims to champion national and regional causes and build a strong network with research centers, organizations, and institutions worldwide. It also seeks to benefit from the expertise of international research and academic institutions.

10 May 2021