Biden in the UK

Glyn Ford questions whether Johnson’s UK will be back of the queue or in the game at all

Biden’s was a ‘good’ bad win. He took the Presidency, held the House – albeit with a reduced majority – and finally in early January, with two run-off wins in Georgia, saw the Senate deadlocked. This means it breaks to the Democrats for two years, with Vice President Kamala Harris’s casting vote, before it’s swept back into Republican hands with the 2022 mid-term elections. They’ll probably take the House as well.

Even with the welcome wins in Georgia Biden has his excuses written for him, hostage as he will be to the Senate’s most right-wing democrats – and that they are! Joe Machin (West Virginia) describes himself as a “moderate conservative Democrat”. He votes with the Republicans on guns and abortion and since 2017 has voted with Trump’s positions 52% of the time.

Biden’s victory over Trump’s nativist xenophobia, blithe racism and shiftless authoritarianism is pause – not cause – for celebration. Biden will be – in custom and practice – a snap back to the bad old days of Washington politics. It’s the view of Trump’s departure in the rear-view mirror that misleads as a rosy glow. Half a century in politics never saw the next president dressing to the left. He’s not going to start now. Biden has delivered the most balanced cabinet by sex, race and community possible. The only thing missing is political balance. They are, to a man, woman and minority, closer to traditional British conservatism than even Keir Starmer’s Labour.

Trump might just have broken his lock on the Republicans with his incitement of his cult supporters to ‘Stop the Steal’ and the ensuing fiasco. The next six to nine months will tell. He had threatened to emulate and reprise Grover Cleveland, the only president (1885-89, 1893-97) to recapture the White House after a defeat. Trump’s mobs of devotees – unless beaten by biology – still make him the favourite for the 2024 Republican nomination if he wants it. After all, half of Republican voters supported the invasion of Congress.

The result is a de facto domestic deadlock, with Biden needing to pay a high price dealing with the enemy in the form of the Senate Republicans. A huckster buying in a sellers’ market will pay an enormous ransom to Wall Street’s beggars and their ilk. Biden’s mark will be made abroad. It will be guns and better. The Brussels Deal leaves little on the trade table for Johnson. The issue is whether we are in the game at all or at the back of the queue. Biden’s fashion consciousness as to his Irish heritage makes the new Irish border – and threats of reneging – a bar, without the need to replay Johnson’s gratuitous references to Obama from Kenya.

Washington’s trade priorities will revisit membership of the Comprehensive Trans-Pacific Partnership (CTPP) – on Trump’s desk ready to be signed in 2016 – and attempt to breathe fresh life into the Transatlantic Trade and Investment Partnership (TTIP) with the EU that would constitute the world’s biggest trade deal. This second is an easy sell in Washington – if agriculture is in the mix – but fiercely controversial in Brussels, with threats to labour rights, food standards and the subordination of new EU legislation to the multinationals, the result of the privileging provisions of Investor-State Dispute Settlement. France’s farmers and films may have to ride to the rescue.

Washington’s central foreign policy focus will be Beijing. Trump’s tantrums were the response to the very dilemma Biden faces: how to contain a rising superpower closing in to successively break the three legs of American hegemony – R&D, the dollar and military monopoly. Biden will speak in a lower register, cloaking comprehensive containment in the language of conciliation and compromise. His underlying goal will remain the same. Biden wants to rebuild the transatlantic political relationship for export. NATO spending should surge to spend abroad, not at home. Here Britain remains – for the moment, before a second Scottish referendum – an important player on the UN Security Council and in NATO. 

Johnson’s recent £16.5 billion November bonus for Britain’s military is the buy-in to US security plans. The Queen Elizabeth, the UK’s biggest and best aircraft carrier due in service in 2021, has already trialled integrated operations with US forces. Deployment is to follow in the Gulf and Pacific. It would be a geographical surprise if that didn’t include joint ‘freedom of navigation’ operations in Chinese territorial waters that will have Beijing scrambling their fighter-bombers.

Biden is signed up to the Pentagon’s new Indo-Pacific Command and Trump’s enthusiasm to build ’NATO in Asia’. The Quad – an alliance of the US, India, Japan and Australia – had its first joint naval exercise in 2020 and now the pressure is on for a Quad Plus containment of China. The key is coercing Seoul into developing a ‘blue water’ navy, choosing US security interests over its biggest economic partner, Beijing. Washington via NATO wants the EU onboard. Does Labour see Britain in the role of ‘Judas goat’ – allaying entry inhibitions from Seoul and Brussels to triggering a new Cold War – as somewhere we want to go? The last time we played patsy it gave us Iraq.  

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