Belmont Club

Biden's Two-Front War

AP Photo/Chiang Ying-ying

Joe Biden’s focus on ensuring populism never rises again in America through the institutionalization of mail-in voting, social media deplatforming, gun control, and Curleyism may have to compete with challenges from the global world. The Democratic Party has “near enemies” but it also has “far enemies.”

As Gideon Rachman of the Financial Times points out, Biden, in a Foreign Affairs article, saw Washington as leading not only America but the global world. To capture Washington was to capture a global empire. If that empire is lost, then a Democratic domestic “permanent majority” would be hollow. Joe’s problem is that the world he wants to recover has broken away, something Trump suspected but Biden rejects.

Simply rejoining international groups  … does not put America “at the head of the table”. The cost of participating in international negotiations may be accepting compromise outcomes that are unpopular in Washington. …

Donald Trump came to power in 2016, claiming that international bodies such as the World Trade Organization no longer worked for America. The US had been hoodwinked and “globalists” were impoverishing ordinary Americans, he said. Strip away the Trumpian hyperbole and paranoia and there was a real point underneath the rhetoric. In a world in which power is more evenly distributed, a rules-based order and a US-led world are not the same thing.

That unresolved tension runs through the Biden approach to international affairs.

There are three main challenges to the restoration of the status quo ante:

  1. The slow emergence of the Third World from the Covid pandemic;
  2. The disruption of the global supply chain by lockdowns; and
  3. The direct challenge to Joe Biden by Xi Jinping for leadership of the international system.

While the Covid-19 pandemic is declining in Western Europe and America due to the availability of effective vaccines, it is likely to rage on in the Third World until 2022 or later due to shortfalls in pharmaceuticals and the emergence of resistant variants. Most poor nations “will take until 2024 to achieve mass Covid-19 immunization,” says the Guardian.

Lockdown policies promoted by Western governments distorted demand so much they created a crisis in a global logistics chain designed to meet former patterns of consumption.

People in lockdown spent little on international holidays and dining out and more on consumer goods and home improvements. Consumers increased their use of online shopping, which affected some supply chains …

These factors provide for the current situation, where the demand for empty containers in Asian exporting countries exceeds supply, while empty containers are held in the ports of developed countries. China and other countries in Asia are shipping more exports in containers to the U.S. and Europe than they are importing (estimated at a 3:1 ratio). …

“more than one-third of the containers transiting the world’s 20 largest ports failed to ship when scheduled.” Ocean Insights GmbH December 2020. For example, congestion at Shanghai port resulted in exporters waiting up to a week for shipments to be loaded.

China is the “big trade winner” from lockdowns in the West, says the Telegraph. Chinese goods exports have gained ground on the U.S. and eurozone, reaching 110% of pre-virus levels.

A giant container ship stuck crosswise in the Suez canal provided a visual illustration of the logistics crisis caused by the wholesale shift in demand patterns. “The blockage is creating long tailbacks in the waterway, with more than 150 vessels currently waiting in the area to pass. About 12% of global trade passes through the canal, which connects the Mediterranean Sea to the Red Sea and provides the shortest sea link between Asia and Europe.”

But perhaps most significantly, Beijing is explicitly challenging Washington for leadership of the world. At a top-level diplomatic meeting in Alaska, the Chinese envoy said: “The United States does not have the qualification to say that it wants to speak to China from a position of strength.” The New York Times reported:

The extraordinary rancor aired by China’s top diplomats in Alaska reflected a newly combative and unapologetic China, one increasingly unbowed by diplomatic pressure from American presidential administrations.

Just as Washington’s views on China have shifted after years of encouraging the country’s economic integration, so have Beijing’s perceptions of the United States and the privileged place in the world that it has long held. The Americans, in their view, no longer have an overwhelming reservoir of global influence, nor the power to wield it against China.

Just when the progressive coalition was getting ready to crush the “near enemy,” the “far enemies” are making their play. Bloomberg writes: “The Suez mishap Is a foretaste of the New Cold War stakes …but other waterways will play much more serious roles as the rivalry between China and the U.S. heats up.” As tugs were struggling to unblock the Suez, Taiwan reported the largest ever incursion by the Chinese air force into its air defense zone.

It marked the largest incursion to date by the Chinese air force since Taiwan’s defence ministry began disclosing almost daily Chinese military flights over the waters between the southern part of Taiwan and the Taiwan-controlled Pratas Islands in the South China Sea last year.

Some of the Chinese aircraft flew in the airspace to the south of Taiwan and passed through the Bashi Channel which separates the island from the Philippines, Taiwan’s defence ministry said in a statement.

The Bashi channel is not only a heavily trafficked waterway to the Western Pacific, it is also a chokepoint for undersea fiber optic cables connecting Asia, Australia, and the U.S. West Coast. The challenge is not confined to China. Russia, Iran, and North Korea are piling in. As the Stars and Stripes tweeted:

The old progressive world of Barack Obama, of which Biden was part, is no more. In 2012, Obama ridiculed then-Republican presidential candidate Mitt Romney for suggesting that foreign threats were back. “The 1980s, they’re now calling to ask for their foreign policy back because, you know, the Cold War’s been over for 20 years,” Obama replied. In 2021, not only is Russia a threat but China is making a play for the top spot.

Obama’s world was probably already over in 2012 but Biden promised his constituency a return to the past. “Let me try again,” was the progressive cry in the face of the populist revolt. There is no alternative to “we just need to try harder” because without that past they really have no future.  And so they will try again.

BooksWake Up: Why the World Has Gone Nuts. Wake Up is Piers’ rallying cry for a united future in which we reconsider what really matters in life. It is a plea for the return of true liberalism, where freedom of speech is king. Most of all, it is a powerful account of how the world finally started to wake up, and why it mustn’t go back to sleep again.

When Politicians Panicked: The New Coronavirus, Expert Opinion, and a Tragic Lapse of Reason Hardcover – March 30, 2021. In When Politicians Panicked, economics commentator John Tamny tells the heart-wrenching story of a time when politicians were tragically relieved of basic common sense in their response to the new coronavirus.

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