National Security

World holds collective breath over US election outcome

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A global audience is following the drama of the U.S. presidential election with heightened interest, anxiously watching to see how it plays out.

The days-long drama is captivating people around the world, from political leaders to citizens on the street, from major world powers to developing democracies.

Whoever wins the race will have an impact on governments around the world, given the global influence of the United States, raising anxiety among leaders waiting to see whether the Trump era will continue or a new administration led by Joe Biden will take over in January.

Foreign officials are preparing for either a second term under President Trump, who they worry could be more emboldened in attacking Democratic institutions and further turning away from global cooperation, or a Biden administration that is likely to return to familiar foreign policy norms.

“It’s felt like over the last few years we’ve had a lot of heavy metal music coming from the U.S.,” said one European diplomat. “I think geopolitics will appreciate a little bit of easy listening for a while.”

A Biden administration, in the eyes of foreign allies, would bring a return to established norms, though some hope there will be a continuation of some aspects of the Trump administration, particularly a recognition of the threats posed by China.

Democratic governments would also welcome a Biden administration pushing for reforms at international organizations like the United Nations but with more engagement rather than the blanket rejections from the Trump administration — its withdrawal from the World Health Organization, threats of pulling out of the World Trade Organization and antagonism towards NATO.

One country where the election will have a significant impact is Israel, where Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu has arguably gained the most of any world leader from his relationship with Trump.

Under the Trump administration, Netanyahu has benefited from a slew of reversals of U.S. policy: moving the embassy to Jerusalem; officially recognizing Jerusalem as the capital of Israel; and setting the stage for Israel to annex contested territory in the West Bank without having to give up any territory to the Palestinians.

Those moves have strengthened Netanyahu’s political position at home, as well as political clout for Trump, who helped broker diplomatic ties with the United Arab Emirates, Bahrain and Sudan.

Biden has committed to keeping the U.S. embassy in Jerusalem and welcomed the normalized relations between Israel and Muslim countries, but is likely to exercise a stronger hand against Netanyahu in pushing for engaging the Palestinians in negotiating a two-state solution.

Arab and Gulf countries likewise are likely wary that Biden will seek to limit arms sales that the Trump administration is looking to push through amid normalized relations with Israel. They are also concerned about Biden’s promise to rejoin the Iran nuclear deal, albeit with stricter measures.

Foreign policy discussions were never atop the priority list for American voters and rarely drew attention throughout the presidential campaign, said P. Terrence Hopmann, professor of International Relations at Johns Hopkins School of Advanced International Studies.

That’s left foreign leaders largely in the dark over what the next four years are likely to look like.

“What either party’s plans are for the future are not at all clear,” Hopmann said.

Regardless of who’s in power next year, the U.S. position on the world stage has dramatically reduced from four years of Trump’s “America first” foreign policy, characterized by whiplash decision making, policy by tweet and increased domestic strife.

“The world is watching very carefully wondering what the United States is turning into,” Kenneth Yalowitz, who served as U.S. ambassador to Belarus during the contested and weeks-long drawn out 2000 presidential election between George W. Bush and Al Gore.

“Everyone wants to see the result but is looking at us in a different way … wondering what’s going to happen to our role as world leader, who’s going to take our place if anything – it’s a trying time,” he said.

Some European leaders, however, say that while they have concerns with Trump’s approach toward international organizations, they haven’t seen a dramatic shift in foreign policy compared to the Obama administration.

“Generally speaking, the policies have not turned 180 degrees,” said Elin Suleymanov, Azerbaijan’s ambassador to the U.S. “I don’t see a major, dramatic change between four years ago and now, to be honest. I see it in Washington, in the rhetoric in Washington, in the personnel appointments in Washington, but it takes time — it’s a big ship, if you turn a big ship, it takes time for it to turn.”

A second European diplomat said the relationship between the U.S. and Europe is likely to be different moving forward, by virtue of changing attitudes among both populations, but stressed the importance of the engagement of the U.S.

“It’s a different relationship, but it’s important that the U.S. is there. The Europeans want to have this relationship with the U.S. Even when we disagree, we want to have this unique bond.”

At the citizen level, only 16 percent of an international population in more than a dozen Democratic countries have confidence in Trump to “do the right thing in world affairs,” according to polls from the Pew Research Center.

A survey of voters in the U.K. found that residents there overwhelmingly preferred Biden over Trump, with not a single British constituency of voters preferring the president over his challenger.

Trump’s handling of the COVID-19 pandemic, of which the U.S. is leading the world among the number of infections and deaths, has further contributed to the global community’s negative view of America.

The president’s latest attacks on the election and baseless accusations of fraud also sparked criticism from abroad.

International election observers rebuked Trump’s attacks on the vote counting process, his “deliberate attempts” to undermine confidence in the election process and said they found no evidence of fraud, calling his allegations “baseless.”

Whoever wins the election is likely facing a divided Congress, creating more uncertainty in the foreign policy world.

“It’s going to contribute to this sense of, ‘where is the United States going?’ Is it so polarized, so divided, that it’s not going to play the leadership role? That to me is the essence of it,” Yalowitz said.

Tags Al Gore Benjamin Netanyahu Donald Trump Joe Biden
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