Joe Biden will officially become president of the United States this week. Washington, D.C., has been on high alert, even in the final days of the controversial transition period. The National Guard, which has been stationed at the Capitol Building to prevent a second attack by outgoing President Donald Trump’s supporters, became the latest symbol of America’s deeply divided democracy.
The Jan. 6 crisis is certain to make a deep impact on U.S. politics. Washington faces a challenge that goes beyond Trump’s impeachment or preventing him from running in future elections. How the white nationalist wave, which the outgoing president came to symbolize, will be kept under control is a crucial question. Bear in mind that the Republicans turned out to be less supportive of Trump’s impeachment than originally imagined.
The Biden administration is expected to initially concentrate on the home front, starting with the fight against the COVID-19 pandemic. Observers are wondering how the incoming president’s domestic focus will influence his campaign pledge to form an “alliance of democracies.”
Judging by the lack of heavyweights in his Cabinet, Biden will presumably oversee various foreign policy files personally.
Still, the appointment of several influential people from former President Barack Obama’s team to key positions suggests that democracy promotion will remain on the agenda.
An effort to repair the damage that the Trump presidency’s most recent crises – such as fraud allegations, the impeachment and the Capitol attack – inflicted on Washington’s global image will shape Biden’s rhetoric and practice in democracy.
The single most important question is whether the U.S. will try to address the crisis of its own democracy by focusing on the international arena or look for ways to handle it alone. My sense is that Biden will opt to combine domestic recovery with a renewed emphasis on international alliances. That means that democracy promotion will make a comeback within the framework of domestic and foreign policy interaction.
There is no reason to believe, however, that the incoming administration will go as far as promoting regime change in authoritarian countries. Instead, steps may be taken to strengthen solidarity among democratic nations.
The general view is that the Trump presidency revealed the problems that democracies tend to face when they find themselves isolated.
As such, Biden’s top priority may be to unite its democratic allies in Europe and Asia against China and Russia. That would be a fresh overlap between geopolitics and values like democracy, freedom and human rights.
A quick look back to democracy promotion under former presidents Bill Clinton, George W. Bush and Obama reveals no significant accomplishments.
Washington is experienced enough to know that such policy decisions do not yield results if the geopolitical interests of American allies are not taken into consideration. I find it hard to believe that the Europeans will jump on the democracy promotion bandwagon to burn bridges with Russia and China. Still, a new wave is on the horizon, and the Western allies should be expected to promote the human rights agenda anew.
The Biden administration’s potential policy of democracy promotion will be implemented through NATO solidarity or stronger relations with the European Union. On the campaign trail, the incoming president pledged to support government change in Turkey. Many wonder, therefore, where he will stand on Turkey upon assuming the presidency.
There are two options on the table.
Biden, as an experienced politician who knows Turkey and its neighborhood inside out, will engage in leader-to-leader diplomacy with President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan and isolate areas of disagreement, starting with the S-400 air defense system.
Turkey and the U.S. would thus make a fresh start in North Africa, the Middle East, the Mediterranean, the Black Sea and the Caucasus. That option leads to close cooperation on promoting stability in the Middle East, balancing Russia, and contributing to European security.
Alternatively, Turkey’s adversaries within the Biden administration will set the tone, as Washington targets Ankara as part of a “democracy” agenda – citing existing tensions over the Eastern Mediterranean, Syria and the PKK/YPG.
The second option leads to failure. The U.S., which could not even transform authoritarian governments through invasion, does not need to lose Turkey, a democratic Western ally. Quite the contrary, it serves the interests of all parties to make a reset with Turkey vis-a-vis NATO and the European Union.