With January 20th at hand, I have been thinking more and more about what I assume will be a great shift back toward normalcy in American foreign policy. Despite the failures of the last four years, I have confidence that the Biden administration, along with incoming Secretary of State, Antony Blinken, will reclaim America’s soft power influence and return to multilateralism. The Trump administration sought to undermine the Obama administration’s legacy by removing the U.S. from several important foreign policy initiatives purely on the basis of partisanship and isolationism. So reestablishing America’s international presence and signal the resurgence of U.S. leadership could be accomplished early on with these three foreign policy initiatives.
1. Rejoining the JCPOA Iran Nuclear Deal
Despite Trumps withdrawal from the JCPOA in early May of 2018, the seven other original parties still remain in the agreement. The decision to withdraw from the agreement was purely political and undermined faith in U.S. negotiations. Considering the recent easing of tensions in the Middle East in regards to Israel, I can’t help but think that Iran, Israel’s chief regional adversary, would’ve been better poised to get aboard the peace train had we not abandoned the agreement. The UAE, Bahrain, Morocco, and Sudan all have agreed to normalize relations with Israel. Normalized relations between Israel and Iran is only impossible if people in power believe it to be.
By withdrawing from the JCPOA, Trump signaled that the U.S. prefers a state of heightened hostilities. Knowing the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) had consistently confirmed Iran’s compliance with the agreement, I can not think of anything the U.S. could desire of Iran other than economic collapse. Despite how you may feel about Iran, I myself am Jewish, a collapsed Iran does not benefit the U.S. You would think by now we would have learned our lesson on toppling governments. Every time we removed a leader and toppled a government, we created a vacuum where extremists rise to power. If our goal is to end islamist terrorism, we should be focused on deescalation and a normalization of relations. Iran used to be our closest ally in the region and its people are not as illiberal as conservatives would have you believe. There is an opportunity to finally establish a grand strategy in the region focused on economic growth and liberal values. The Iran Deal provided the start of that strategy, but also left roam for punishing the funding of terrorism.
The JCPOA had stipulations that the U.S. and others could keep in place any non-nuclear related sanctions and also impose new ones if appropriate. Additionally, the agreement was also a show of good faith in multilateral negotiations between western powers and China and Russia. The pettiness of the U.S. withdrawal undercut the country’s ability to address the issues cited for its decisions to leave in the first place. Normalizing relations with Iran and integrating into their economy is the best option for reducing Iran funded terrorism.
President-elect Biden has already said he would rejoin the JCPOA. Despite how U.S. politicians try to leverage this domestically, this is a foreign policy win. It signals to the world that America is ready to engage in multilateralism again, and that we are willing to make peace with adversaries.
2. Renegotiate the Trans-Pacific Partnership
Biden has expressed interest in reentering negotiation on the TPP free trade deal. The TPP was revised and rewritten into the CPTPP or Comprehensive and Progressive Agreement for Trans-Pacific Partnership. Most economists agree that free trade is a net positive for all parties, however they do acknowledge that the gains are usually distributed unequally. While I am aware that the President-elect wants to renegotiate for more labor and agricultural protections we should be aware that China has already created its version of TPP named the Regional Comprehensive Economic Partnership (RCEP), with 15 Asia-Pacific countries expected to sign this year. The TPP would have comprised 40% of the worlds GDP, and it is not too late as the member countries have expressed favorable attitudes towards the U.S. returning to the negotiating table.
The real reason the U.S. abandoned the TPP, like the JCPOA, was domestic politics. Contrary to claims that the TPP would benefit China, it would actually have reduced China’s economic control in the region. If the U.S. used the economic gains to invest in workers who’s industries would be adversely affected, it would be able to counteract the inequality that often occurs with free trade while both increasing it’s own GDP and developing close economic ties in the Indo-Pacific. Conservatives drastically reduce tax rates and remove regulations for large corporations that in turn strangle small and medium sized businesses, reducing competition. To then turn and politicize free trade as harmful to the labor and agricultural class is shameless.
The TPP, while not perfect, would have significantly increased U.S. GDP, created favorable economic ties in the Indo-Pacific region, and would have put pressure on China. The Biden administration should push for the labor and agricultural protections, but it must also include legislation that redistributes the gains of free trade to those who are adversely affected. The Democrats now control both chambers of congress and the executive branch. Getting the trade agreement passed should not be difficult for them if they are unified. Creating a winning narrative and properly framing the deal should be a key focus. However, if Democrats are unable to beat back Republican misinformation and fear mongering, the inclusion of economic support for adversely affected industries will be of great importance. The Democrats will be able to point to the GDP gains and those who held jobs that were negatively impacted would come out better for it as well.
3. Paris Climate Agreement
Lastly we come to the issue of our time: Climate Change. It is an indisputable fact of science that humans are negatively impacting the global environment. Instead of grasping the mantle of leadership, the U.S. has abdicated its moral responsibility and reveled in pseudo-science and corporate propaganda. There was a time when progress and capitalism went hand in hand. Now conservatives, and even some liberals, cling to the past, subsidizing dying industries and deregulating environment destroying externalities. This global crisis can never be properly addressed if those in power still seek to obfuscate the truth and mislead the public.
The Paris Climate Agreement was adopted by 196 Parties. The U.S. was not one of them. It is a landmark international treaty on climate change and it is well passed time the U.S. signs on to it. Now more than ever, we need strong leadership. There can be no progress if Democrats give any political leeway to climate change deniers and corporate lobbyists dressed as politicians. The act of signing the Paris Agreement would do more than commit the U.S. to enacting sound policies to curb greenhouse emissions, it would signal that U.S. leadership is back.
The Agreement also developed a framework for how developed countries can provide financial, technical, and capacity building support to those that need it. This would be a smart way for the U.S. to reemerge as both a leader and a global force for good. Increasing both our standing in the world and positive ties with developing nations. The only requirement is the political will to do what is right.
There was a time when the U.S. wanted a strong global presence and the world in turn wanted the U.S. to be present. We must return to that again, but this time focus on economic cooperation and diplomacy. In doing so we can create a more progressive and moral global society.
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