What a difference a day makes. America sat glued to their screens this week, watching Joe Biden’s inauguration as the 46th President of the United States with joy and hope. The rest of the world, however, let out a collective sigh of relief. The return of diplomacy and international relations came not a minute too soon.
Donald J Trump, over the last four years, destroyed America’s reputation across the globe. From unilaterally withdrawing from the Iran deal, despite significant rebuke from allies, to pulling out of the Paris Climate Agreement, the former president persistently chose to please his (minority) fanbase ahead of the global community. His efforts have, since 2016, caused US global trustworthiness to plummet by 50 percent, the sharpest drop of any country.
The swearing in of Biden sent an instant message that America is ready to bring back normalcy. Unlike the public mockery world leaders often displayed toward the chaotic previous administration, it feels like the world can once more take the US seriously.
Aware of the broken international relationships, Biden’s inaugural speech attempted to repair these ties. Addressing “those beyond our borders”, Biden proclaimed, “America has been tested and we have come out stronger for it. We will repair our alliances and engage with the world once again.”
Within hours of his official swearing-in, the Biden administration proceeded to implement swathes of changes. First and foremost, Biden acted to immediately reinstate ties with the World Health Organization. Today, Dr Fauci will be participating in a WHO meeting discussing plans to tackle Covid-19. With so many lives at risk, this administration, as Jen Psaki, the new White House press secretary, puts it, is “not wasting time.”
Biden also spared no time in rejoining the Paris Climate Agreement, signing an executive order as an instrument of ratification. The move tells the world that the US is once more dedicated to greener future and battling climate change.
A subtle change noticed by many Twitter users was the name of the US Ambassador to Israel’s Twitter being changed from “US Ambassador to Israel” to “US Ambassador to Israel, the West Bank and Gaza.” Although it was quickly changed back, the slip suggested America would once again taking a stand against Israel's illegal land theft, something long condemned by other countries but which had been greenlit by Trump. It’s a small detail, but an indication toward a colossal shift in policy. Biden has, throughout his transition period, proposed a return to the policy of appointing a consul to Palestinians separate from the Ambassador of Israel. It will be interesting to see if he does implement this when push comes to shove.
Global leaders have responded optimistically to the change in administration — and some have issued a couple of well-placed parting digs at Trump. Ursula von der Leyen, President of the EU Commission, tweeted, “The United States is back. And Europe stands ready. To reconnect with an old and trusted partner, to breathe new life into our cherished alliance.”
Iran was even more bold. President Hassan Rouhani, in a televised cabinet meeting, said that he was grateful “a tyrant's era came to an end.” Unnecessary tensions between the US and Iran led to a complete breakdown of relations during the Trump presidency, causing bilateral instances of violence. Rouhani seemed to imply that it was time to return to warmer, Obama-era diplomatic relations, after years of sanctions from the Trump team which affected ordinary Iranians the worst.
For those who still want to believe America is the “leader of the free world”, having a president who believes in science, data and facts is a welcome change.
Biden has shown his ability to flip the nation’s course and reputation on a dime, but greater challenges ensue. Maintaining the trust of foreign leaders will be difficult, given the ease with which Trump reversed prior agreements. Reversing Trump-era decisions also has its own consequences: the fact that Biden reversed the controversial Keystone XL pipeline on his first day without much discussion with Canadian officials, for instance, is said to have put some of Canada’s noses out of joint. Though it is not thought to have been a deliberate snub, Biden will have to proceed carefully as he undoes some of Trump’s promises, and bear in mind that much of Trump’s bombast will have been taken seriously by other world leaders.