But across the Atlantic, societies and governments seem eager to turn the page. A recent Morning Consult poll found that news of President-elect Joe Biden’s victory almost immediately boosted the U.S.’s net favorability by more than 20 points in Britain, France, Germany, Italy and Spain.
During a parliamentary session last week, British Prime Minister Boris Johnson referred to Trump as the “previous president.” German Chancellor Angela Merkel welcomed Biden’s election and hoped he would reinvigorate transatlantic ties. The United States and the European Union “must stand together in order to face the great challenges of our time,” Merkel said.
Those challenges include climate change. Biden is expected to return the United States to the Paris climate pact upon his January inauguration. French President Emmanuel Macron said a Biden presidency presented a new chance to “make our planet great again.”
In an interview with Today’s WorldView, the European Union’s top diplomat expressed a similar confidence. “The world will be different with the U.S. in the fight against climate [change],” said Josep Borrell, the E.U.’s foreign affairs chief. He added that it is “extraordinarily good news” that Washington will be back on the “same side of history” as other governments that seemed more committed than Trump to curb emissions and wean their economies off fossil fuels.
Borrell didn’t mince words about the broader toll that four years of Trumpism had exacted on Europe. “For the first time, we had a president of the United States who publicly and explicitly declared his animosity for the European Union,” said Borrell, pointing to the well-known catalogue of barbs launched by Trump at the continental bloc. Trump championed Brexit and urged other European nations to also quit the E.U.; he listed some European countries as “national security” threats to justify slapping tariffs on them; and he showed constant scorn for myriad institutions and organizations that for decades underpinned U.S.-Europe relations.
Borrell, a veteran politician who once served as Spain’s foreign minister, said that the “national populism” reflected in Trumpism and kindred far-right movements in Europe still poses “a threat” to the “stability of liberal democracies.” But Trump’s bruising behavior also served as a “strategic wake-up call” for many European policymakers, Borrell said, accelerating a reckoning on the continent that “we have to take some of our problems in our own hands without expecting the Americans to come and solve them.”
Still, Europe’s political elites are relieved that a less polarizing figure may soon take his seat in the White House. “The very idea of the Western world was falling apart and it has to be rebuilt,” Borrell said. “We don’t expect President Biden to do miracles. But we want to make the most of this new chapter.”
That begins with a Biden administration returning — or trying to return — to the multilateral pacts or international organizations that Trump rejected. Borrell said the Europeans have struggled “to keep alive” the Iran nuclear deal, in part because of the Trump administration’s threat of sanctions on European companies that sought to do business with Iran.
Under Biden, he hopes for a return to economic concessions to coax the Iranians back on their side. Since Trump imposed a vast regime of sanctions on the Iranian economy, the country’s stockpile of enriched uranium has increased. Borrell said that arresting this trend is “mutually beneficial for everybody, for the stability of the region and for common security.”
Borrell also expects a change in the U.S. posture toward the Israeli-Palestinian conflict. Under Trump, the United States pinned its flag to the mast of right-wing Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, embittering Palestinian interlocutors. Borrell said that Trump’s cutting off funding to U.N. programs that support Palestinians was “more than a mistake.” He said that any increased rapprochement between Arab states and Israel “has to be part of a process in which the Palestinians aren’t made to feel abandoned or pushed to a corner” — which was what happened under four years of Trump.
Then, there is the matter of China. While noting that Western governments may have been “a bit naive” about Beijing’s manipulation of global trade rules, Borrell said that relations with China have to be approached in a more “intelligent way” than what we have seen under Trump.
“The trade war is a failure,” Borrell said. “The deficit between the U.S. and China hasn’t been reduced, it’s increased. There has not been a reshoring of jobs from China to the U.S.”
In Borrell’s view, a Biden administration that tries to strengthen institutions such as the World Health Organization — rather than abandoning them — and finds greater points of convergence with E.U. countries would be better at ensuring that China’s rise doesn’t jeopardize the “interests and values” of liberal democracies.
“We don’t want to live in a world where might makes right,” Borrell said. “A rules-based international order — I know it’s less sexy than to say ‘America First.’ But it’s much better.”
By Ishaan Tharoor – www.washingtonpost.com