President-elect Joe Biden has made clear in his staffing plans and public remarks that he intends to return America to many of the foreign policy positions championed by his former boss, President Barack Obama.
While American mainstream media has largely cheered this – and glowered at President Donald Trump for defending his achievements by making regression more difficult under Biden – many of America’s allies, and some of its foes, around the world are making moves suggesting they expect a full return to the state of global affairs in 2016.
The Obama administration’s foreign policy was defined by the tension between the president’s message, repeated routinely over the years, that America’s involvement in geopolitics made the world worse, and his regular, violent interventions abroad. His apologetic words – “America has shown arrogance” to its neighbors, “We sometimes make mistakes. We have not been perfect” – clashed dramatically with his routine drone strikes on civilian targets, the invasion of Libya, and the widespread arming of Syrian “rebels” that ended up handing those weapons to jihadists.
The approach produced widespread death and chaos, perhaps most emblematically in the eruption of the “Arab Spring” a decade ago.
What began as a reaction to a Tunisian merchant setting himself on fire, resulted in the election (and violent removal) of a Muslim Brotherhood extremist in Egypt, open-air slave auctions in Libya, and the bloody rise of the Islamic State in Iraq and Syria.
Closer to home, communist and socialist dictators used Obama’s carte blanche to violently repress citizens.
Venezuelan protests beginning in 2014 against socialist dictator Nicolás Maduro resulted in thousands of casualties, including the deaths of many children at the hands of state security. In Cuba, the Castro regime took advantage of a windfall in tourism profits following Obama’s “thaw” policy – despite the fact that U.S. tourism to Cuba remains technically illegal – to commit about 10,000 politically-motivated arrests in 2016.
Under Obama, American enemies like China, Russia (which annexed a giant chunk of Ukraine with impunity), and Iran expanded their global influence.
Allies that could have played a role in mitigating the advance of American rivals were told to “share the neighborhood” or otherwise snubbed. Taken by surprise during Obama’s term, it appears that at least Saudi Arabia, Japan, Taiwan, and India are preparing for a third Obama term.
Saudi Arabia – Iran’s biggest geopolitical rival – took no time following Biden’s electoral victory to declare that, if Biden’s policies result in Iran acquiring a nuclear weapon, Riyadh would immediately launch its own nuclear program.
A Saudi nuclear weapons program, Minister of State for Foreign Affairs Adel al-Jubeir said in November, was “definitely an option” under Biden. Al-Jubeir had made similar remarks in the past.
“If Iran acquires nuclear capability we will do everything we can to do the same,” al-Jubeir said in 2018, shortly after Trump withdrew the United States from the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action (JCPOA), otherwise known as the 2015 Iran nuclear deal.