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America tries to engage a scarred world

North Korea and its leader, Kim Jong Un,

North Korea and its leader, Kim Jong Un, above attending a Central Committee of Worker's Party of Korea in Pyongyang on Monday, remain a difficult challenge for the Biden administration. Credit: AP

If, like many Americans, you welcome the start of the Joe Biden era simply because it is much quieter than the four years of Donald Trump, then just imagine how most of the world feels: grateful, now that the United States is committed to again being a predictable and collegial leader.

We may not be entertained by unexpected spectacles such as our president smilingly socializing with the murderous dictator of North Korea, but those three summits did not bring that hostile Communist regime closer to giving up its nuclear weapons and missiles.

Trump’s apparent affection and even fealty toward Russia’s President Vladimir Putin has been replaced by Biden’s far more traditional reaction: suspicion and skepticism. A massive Moscow-directed hacking attack on U.S. computer systems was shrugged off by Trump, but Biden promises to investigate and likely retaliate. His longtime adviser, Secretary of State Tony Blinken, says America will work with allies on a suitable response to the poisoning and imprisonment by Putin of top dissident Alexei Navalny.

The Biden administration’s comments and actions, so far, consistently underline teamwork with allies. Trump seemed to enjoy bullying them. Leaders of Canada, Britain, Germany, France, and the NATO alliance winced as they tried to pose as Trump’s friends, but by his third year as president they were openly mocking him. Relations with Europe might not be smooth in the years to come, with friction over trade and even competition now for COVID-19 vaccines — but without the tweeted nastiness of Trumpism.

China was a unique challenge, after the pandemic hit the United States and Trump finally admitted that the coronavirus was lethal. He had started his term by cozying up to Beijing, oddly praising the Chinese for outsmarting previous U.S. presidents by flooding our country with imports. Trump claimed that he was a great negotiator who would reverse the import-export flow by compelling China to buy American products.

A trade war erupted, including tariffs on goods from China that Trump falsely claimed had no impact on consumers here. And then, having to blame someone for COVID-19, he became a critic of Beijing — suddenly seeming to care about human rights abuses in Hong Kong and against the Muslim Uyghurs of China.

For the many Americans concerned that the Biden administration will not be nearly as friendly toward Israel as Trump had been, Blinken said that the U.S. Embassy would not be moved back to Tel Aviv, that Jerusalem is Israel’s capital, and that there is no antagonism in the fact that Biden has not yet spoken with Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu.

More concerning to Israel and its U.S. friends is Biden’s desire to return to the Iran nuclear accord. Those who worry may find some comfort in a new, declassified report from Israeli military intelligence: It says Iran is two years away from building a nuclear weapon, if its leaders were to issue that order, which would afford plenty of time for Israeli and U.S. military responses if that is what they choose to do.

The world, scarred almost everywhere by COVID-19, is sure to have pockets of volatility, violence, and danger in the years ahead. There are reasons to hope, however, that Biden’s "America is back!" policies will win America more friends, cooperation, and success than Trump’s "America first!" slogan.

Dan Raviv’s books include "Friends In Deed: Inside the U.S.-Israel Alliance," and "Spies Against Armageddon: Inside Israel’s Secret Wars."