“America First” is the core policy of the Trump administration. It pursues economic nationalism and de-globalisation, rejecting multilateral trade mechanisms and only emphasising US’ own unique trade advantages.
It refuses to undertake global responsibility, yet expects other countries to serve it. It denies the core position of the United Nations in the international system but tries to maintain the country’s monopoly based on its own selfish greed and arrogance.
This policy stance intends to create a chaotic international pattern that ignores existing rules and destroys the closely connected international system formed over the past few decades. It thus allows the US to be less restrained and more unilaterally interventionist in international affairs.
The Trump administration’s four-year practice of the “America First” policy has arguably brought disaster to the US and the world.
Withdrawals from the Paris Climate Agreement, UNESCO, the UN Human Rights Council and many other multilateral agreements and institutions have seriously struck down important efforts that all countries have made to address major challenges facing humanity and different regions.
The trade wars that Trump started with other countries in order to enhance US domestic economy and solve employment problems by setting trade barriers have failed. Actually, it has compounded US economy’s current recession, dampened employment prospects and dismantled a sustainable status quo that will be difficult to reassemble.
Upholding the “America First” policy has also allowed Trump to reject international cooperation in the anti-COVID battle – thus causing the US to become the worst hit country in the world with more than 266,000 fatalities.
The “America First” policy has led to widespread dissatisfaction both at home and abroad. It destroyed US’ international credibility and worsened existing domestic problems. Biden’s victory was based on a complete rejection of the “America First” policy. And his administration will be fighting tooth and nail to regain international respect and to advance US interests. Still, domestic politics may severely hamper this.
First of all, Biden will return the US to actively participate and lead international multilateral institutions to solve its internal and external problems.
The Biden team will also likely join international operations to combat the COVID-19 – something that the US must face domestically too as a first priority.
Secondly, Biden will embrace globalization and open the domestic market for more international trade flows. In fact, Trump’s disastrous trade wars will see a turning point under Biden administration as his team might work out some feasible ways to end them. Besides, he will try to promote the benign development of international trade as much as possible through more active interchanges with other countries.
Thirdly, Trump’ foreign policy towards China will be adjusted. Objectively, Biden team has an urgent need to cooperate with China on many issues, even though competition still exists between the two powers.
Issues such as solving pandemic challenges, economic recovery and climate change, which are all top priorities for Biden once he assumes office, have to be addressed through international cooperation, especially with China.
Pursuing cooperative efforts with China will be a key element of Biden’s future global strategic planning. It will be a far cry from the Trump administration’s morbid commitment to a total lose-lose approach to China.
Trump’s “America First” policy lacks consistency and strategic thinking. It clearly bears the characteristics of Trump himself as selfish and unpredictable. The mess that Trump caused with the “America First” policies in both domestic and foreign affairs will make it hard for Biden to mop up.
Still, Biden will be able to go along with current patterns of globalization, overtaking Trump’s blind and lame attempts at governance.
Overall, the US is at a crossroads with its domestic political and social divisions. These will set limits on any plans no matter who governs. But the “America First” policy has proved more harmful to the country than good. Biden’s time will make it possible for the US to have new ideas to solve its own problems. Some of these might be able to restore the damage done to US image and participation on the world stage.
The author is professor at the Institute of International Relations of the China Foreign Affairs University. Global Times