Will Biden Push the U.S. toward a Softer Foreign Policy?

To Understand Biden’s foreign policy, first we should answer this key question “Will Biden push the U.S. toward a softer foreign policy?” No doubt that both the style and the substance will be softer.  Unlike Trump, Biden’s speeches and public statements will be conciliatory and welcoming to all foreign governments and on most global issues.  Having the U.S. appear as a helpful friend and solid global citizen will also evoke better personal relationships with other world leaders.

As for the substance of his policies, they too are likely to be softer.  He will try to better fit the U.S. into a global system, like the Paris Climate accords and generally more open trade (tariffs on UAE aluminum and labor standards are the likely exceptions). Unlike Trump’s unilateralism, Biden will take a far more multilateral path.

Regarding Iran, Biden will be both verbally and substantively more conciliatory.  He would like to have Iran and the Europeans and the U.S. all involved in a mutually beneficial agreement and will make concessions in that direction. Indeed, Biden’s re-instatement of U.S. tariffs (which Trump had recently rescinded) on UAE aluminum exports and his pause on U.S. weapons sales to both Saudi and UAE are no doubt the wave of an olive branch to Iran, an attempt to reduce hostility and increase the likelihood of fruitful negotiations.

Regarding Blinken’s statement that Iran must move first, that should again be interpreted as an American desire to restore an agreement.  His wording that Iran must move first is largely for the American political audience so that Biden does not appear ‘soft,’ as Trump often depicted him.  In terms of ‘reasonability,’ what seems reasonable to one party is often unreasonable to another, and this is the current condition.  “Reasonable,” like beauty, is in the eyes of the beholder.

Deals must have meaningful benefits to both parties. On the U.S. side there appear many flaws in the original deal—insufficient inspections, ICBMs, and a clear path to nuclear weapons too soon. Nonetheless, Biden might soften somewhat on those demands in negotiations with Iran.  With a Democratic controlled House and Senate, he is able to do what he wants without fear of unrelenting Congressional opposition. The best foreign policy negotiations are always done behind closed doors. Accordingly, there can always be such American-Iranian discussions, and if they are productive it will hardly matter who took the first step.

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