Biden needs buy-in from the public to win back America's global respect

Biden needs buy-in from the public to win back America's global respect
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President BidenJoe BidenLawmakers, activists remember civil rights icons to mark 'Bloody Sunday' Fauci predicts high schoolers will receive coronavirus vaccinations this fall Biden nominates female generals whose promotions were reportedly delayed under Trump MORE sounded familiar themes in his inaugural address, promising to “repair our alliances and engage with the world once again” and pledging that, by the end of his time in office, history can proclaim “America secured liberty at home and stood once again as a beacon to the world.” However, the U.S. cannot regain its leadership role in the international system without conquering the pandemic and its economic challenges, and it cannot succeed in those tasks without looking to its allies for cooperation. U.S. global engagement must serve as the centerpiece of Biden’s foreign policy agenda. 

But it will take more than rhetoric about the importance of U.S. leadership to regain the trust of allies and partners who feel betrayed by the “America first” approach of former President TrumpDonald TrumpUS, South Korea reach agreement on cost-sharing for troops Graham: Trump can make GOP bigger, stronger, or he 'could destroy it' Biden nominates female generals whose promotions were reportedly delayed under Trump MORE, as well as convince the American public that engagement in other parts of the world is not only relevant but beneficial to their daily lives. Delivering this message to the public in an effective and impactful manner will be a major challenge for the Biden administration, especially at a time when so many families are focused on issues at home, such as the health care and economic fallout of COVID-19. 

With a slew of executive orders in the first days of his presidency, such as easing Trump’s withdrawal from the World Health Organization and rejoining the Paris Agreement on climate, Biden is laying important groundwork for changing the conversation. But that is not enough.   


Going back to Obama-era policies in an entirely changed world will not reignite support at home for a return of U.S. global engagement. It is not enough to “restore” a pre-Trumpian approach; the Biden team must set forward a positive, forward-looking agenda that can obtain buy-in from America’s partners around the world and the U.S. public. 

How can the Biden administration accomplish this? 

First, Biden must recognize that in the 2021 global order, the U.S. no longer holds the same moral high ground. The U.S. now must work with other countries to define new global frameworks that are more inclusive than the groups that led 20th century policymaking. A direct example of the need for evolving frameworks is the upcoming G-7 summit called for by U.K. Prime Minister Boris Johnson. Though it will be great for the U.S. to be at the summit, that fraternity is decidedly too Euro-centric for a world now dominated by Asian trade and where the global economic center of gravity is now the Indo-Pacific basin. 

Simply put, the Biden administration must look to forge alliances that reflect the 21st century globe. Much as Biden promotes diversity and multiculturalism in his domestic leadership team, he must mirror that approach in foreign policy by supporting new partnerships such as the D-10, which seek to connect Asian, African and Latin American democratic powers with America’s traditional European allies.  

Building on this, Biden needs to refocus on America’s soft power, as he acknowledged in his inaugural speech: “America shouldn’t lead by the example of the nation’s power, but by the power of example.” But there is significant work to be done on that front. Monocle magazine’s annual Soft Power Survey found that Germany, South Korea, France, Japan and Taiwan have overtaken the U.S. in soft power politics. By reigniting alliances, Biden once again can bring the U.S. into the conversation. It also helps that Vice President Kamala HarrisKamala HarrisWhite House says Biden would prefer to not end filibuster Biden takes victory lap after Senate passes coronavirus relief package It will be Vice (or) President Harris against Gov. DeSantis in 2024 — bet on it MORE has received exuberant headlines abroad as the first African American and Asian America female vice president, providing her with a platform to serve as a bridge to both the world and to those at home.  


It is that very important step of connecting global concerns to the doorsteps of American households that should remain the priority for the administration. This approach is especially critical in tackling the current trifecta of global problems — the health crisis, economic uncertainty and potential environmental collapse. If we are to address these issues, each must be met with a new model of democracy in the 21st century: Biden’s call for unity at home must extend to a unity of countries and democracies. Unity would mean partnerships in vaccine research and coordinated discussions on domestic policies so that the world does not have to shut down again when faced with a new pandemic or greater cooperation on climate efforts.  

And while traditional groups in politics, business, etc. remain key audiences and potential allies to Biden in selling his vision of global reengagement to the public, the administration, it seems, is also keenly aware of the growing influence of Gen Z and the emerging role of this group in domestic and foreign policy. There is a reason Biden chose 22-year-old Amanda Gorman as his inaugural poet and there is a reason 2020 brought even more protests led by young change-makers than 2019. Indeed, by 2025, Gen Z will make up more than 24 percent of the workforce, a powerful economic and political force just starting to exert its power. Reaching out to this group effectively is a critical factor of Biden’s U.S. global engagement strategy. Though he grew up in a Cold War setting, Biden must create a strategy for a post-Cold War generation. 

It is clear the Biden-Harris world order must look forward, not back, with an inclusive approach to U.S. global engagement abroad and at home. 

Tatiana Serafin, a journalism professor at Marymount Manhattan College, and Nikolas Gvosdev, a professor of national security affairs at the U.S. Naval War College, are senior fellows for the U.S. Global Engagement program at Carnegie Council for Ethics in International Affairs.