As President Donald J. Trump continued complaining about presidential election results that declared Joseph Biden the winner, analysts and observers are looking at what U.S. foreign policy under a Biden-Harris administration might look like and what challenges and roadblocks it faces.
The rocky transition of power comes as a deeply divided America appears to have reached another point of crescendo toward her end as a world power. America, however, offers a “false show of a glorious future” despite diminishing global influence and credibility. Observers say the world has watched the erosion of U.S. institutions and loss of international leadership.
“The world is looking at a country that is going to hell,” said the Honorable Minister Louis Farrakhan of the Nation of Islam in a speech earlier this year called, “The Unraveling of A Great Nation.”
The Muslim leader has consistently warned successive administrations concerning the ultimate fate of and fall of America if she persists in errant foreign policy measures, warmongering and global meddling.
Now the world is looking at Mr. Biden. Some are glad to see a chaotic Trump tenure end. Others have mixed feelings about Mr. Biden, who was vice president for eight years in the Barack Obama administration and is no stranger to the global arena.
“It’s unfortunately going to be a lot of the same,” said Medea Benjamin, a founder of the pro-peace group Code Pink. “The U.S. militarism, bullying, U.S. troops overseas, the bloated Pentagon budget (and) the 800 plus bases … I don’t see him taking a very refreshing look at U.S. foreign policy,” Ms. Benjamin stated.
The longtime peace activist said perhaps an upside to U.S. foreign policy changes under the Biden administration is the possibility of the U.S. rejoining the World Health Organization, the Paris Climate Accord, the START Treaty with Russia and varied international organizations.
Over the last four years America dismantled or walked away from multilateral pacts like the Iran nuclear deal and the UN Human Rights Council. Under Mr. Trump, U.S. foreign policy drastically changed. Some reasoned Mr. Trump’s penchant for the unconventional shaped how foreign relations were done, which also lent to alienation of traditional allies like France, Canada, Germany, and straining partnerships with NATO, the North Atlantic Treaty Organization, and the European Union.
Analysts expect Mr. Biden will reverse some of these policies and patch up the relationships. But formulating a Biden foreign policy strategy may not be a straightforward feat, they say.
It is important to recognize the ideological split within the Democratic Party between a progressive wing and centrist wing of lawmakers, said Phyllis Bennis, director of the New Internationalism Project at the Institute for Policy Studies in Washington, D.C. Mr. Biden has been pushed to the left on some issues like climate, immigration, and health care.
Mr. Biden announced Nov. 23 several Obama administration veterans for top national security positions, signaling a stark shift from the Trump administration’s “America First” policies that disdained international partnerships. Among other picks by the president-elect were diplomats and longtime government officials.
He selected former Secretary of State John Kerry as a special envoy on climate which signaled a recognition of the issue as an important one and world concern. For secretary of state, Mr. Biden chose his chief foreign affairs advisor Anthony Blinken. Avril Haines was the former vice president’s choice for director of national intelligence. He wants the new head of Homeland Security to be Cuban American lawyer Alejandro Mayorkas and Linda Thomas-Greenfield, a Black woman, was tapped for U.S. ambassador to the United Nations.
If confirmed, Mr. Mayorkas will be the first Latino to head the Department of Homeland Security.
“I would say that foreign policy is the arena where there is the biggest gap between the two wings and the area where Biden has a lot of experience,” Ms. Bennis said.
She isn’t optimistic Mr. Biden can be swayed further left reasoning that after decades of foreign policy experience, the president-elect may perceive himself as the “go to guy” on the subject and not be receptive to those who want to give him direction. “So, all of that means that it’s going to be a harder campaign to push him on more progressive positions,” Ms. Bennis said.
“What we’re seeing is that the people under consideration are very much cut from the old cloth,” said Ms. Bennis, “They are basically the Obama people,” she added.
As far as policy objectives such as returning to the Paris Climate Accords is also the possibility of returning to the JCPOA, Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action, also known as the Iran nuclear agreement.
Mr. Biden was vice president when the 2015 Iran deal was inked. Ms. Bennis said, Mr. Biden may be inclined to “defend the Obama legacy” by restoring an Obama achievement Mr. Trump eagerly eliminated.
“The problem is that for the last four years the U.S. has not just been outside of the nuclear deal,” Ms. Bennis noted. “It has attacked Iran with absolutely devastating economic sanctions,” she added.
Iranian officials often characterized Trump administration sanctions as “economic terrorism” that had a horrific impact on the Iranian people. Iranian Foreign Minister Javad Zarif, addressing a U.S. return to the table stipulated conditions such as first recommitting to the terms of the UN resolution that defined the deal and included recognition of the peaceful nature of Iran’s nuclear program and normalization of economic and trade cooperation with Iran.
“The U.S. is still a UN member. If it meets its obligations as such under UNSCR 2231, we will fulfill ours under the #JCPOA,” Mr. Zarif tweeted Nov. 16. “If the U.S. then seeks to re-join the JCPOA, we’re ready to negotiate terms for it to regain its ‘JCPOA Participant’ status,” Mr. Zarif wrote.
In an earlier response to the Biden-Harris victory, the Iranian foreign minister said “deeds matter most” and the world is watching to see if the U.S. will “abandon disastrous lawless bullying of outgoing regime—and accept multilateralism, cooperation & respect for law.”
Mr. Biden wrote in a March/April Foreign Affairs article, “I would rejoin the agreement” with the condition that “Tehran must return to strict compliance” with the deal.
Given the deliberate U.S. effort to destabilize Iran and force regime change, it cannot be presumed after Mr. Biden is inaugurated that a return to the deal would be automatic.
“I think they are going to have Biden to make up for some things,” said Ms. Bennis.
Observers predict lifting Trump-imposed sanctions on Iran would be difficult for Mr. Biden, who is not a fan of the Islamic Republic. He is on record saying: “Tehran is neither a friend nor a partner.”
Elsewhere in the Middle East, analysts say backpaddling Mr. Trump’s favorable policies toward Saudi Arabia will be more politically desirable for Mr. Biden, who publicly vowed to do so. Mr. Biden has said he would end U.S. backing of the Saudi-led coalition war in neighboring Yemen. “Whether he will actually do it or not is a much bigger question,” said Ms. Bennis. She noted there is a difficulty factor involving the lucrative sales for the U.S. defense industry that impacts the political equation. How much political capital Mr. Biden will expend to keep his word is uncertain.
For Israel, it’s generally agreed, Mr. Biden will likely tote the status quo. The U.S. Israel-Palestine position shifted far-right under Mr. Trump. Controversial moves like relocating the U.S. embassy to Jerusalem and declaring Jerusalem the capital of Israel are the new status quo. Washington supporting Israeli laws which officially legalize an apartheid-like system are now U.S. positions.
Vice President-elect Kamala Harris has previously expressed her support for Israel. “I pledge to you the Biden-Harris administration will sustain our unbreakable commitment to Israel’s security, including the unprecedented military and intelligence cooperation pioneered during the Obama-Biden administration and the guarantee that Israel will always maintain its qualitative military edge,” she stated during a virtual fundraiser with Jewish-American voters in August, reported middleeasterneye.net.
During an exclusive Q & A with a reporter from The Arab American News in October, Ms. Harris said she and Mr. Biden “believe in the worth and value of every Palestinian and every Israeli” and will work to ensure both “enjoy equal measures of freedom, security.
Reversing the U.S. positions will be challenging, predicted Ms. Bennis. She said the current U.S. policy in the Middle East is building a regional coalition against Iran with Israel and Saudi Arabia at the center.
Revisiting failed strategies?
In the Asia Pacific, Mr. Trump’s nativist “America First” trade philosophy sparked a mutual tariff war with China that pushed the powers to the brink of a new cold war. Friction in the region has dangerous implications, say observers.
“Some of the most important foreign policy challenges that the Biden-Harris administration will face is in fact connected to … Africa and the Asia Pacific,” said Ajamu Baraka, national organizer for the anti-war, anti-imperialist organization Black Alliance for Peace.
“It’s quite clear that there’s now a bipartisan consensus on identifying China as an international competitor that requires, not only intensified economic competition, but military encirclement,” said Mr. Baraka.
He believes it’s a dangerous position because it potentially heightens tensions in a region where there is increased saber rattling over nuclear proliferation.
“Under Biden, nothing is going to change,” he said. “In fact, there’s going to be an intensification of the anti-Chinese activity in particular around North Korea, which would be very dangerous.”
Biden advisors have spoken of returning to an Obama era “failed strategy” on North Korea, Mr. Baraka said. “They have this fantasy that they’re going to put ‘pressure’ on China to put pressure on North Korea. It makes no sense,” he argued. In a September interview, Mr. Blinken told CBS News a Biden administration would “work closely with allies like South Korea and Japan” and China to “build genuine economic pressure to squeeze” North Korea into negotiations.
“We need to cut off its various avenues and access to resources—something we were doing very vigorously at the end of the Obama- Biden administration,” said Mr. Blinken.
The Biden policy for the Americas is also an important question, say observers, especially on immigration where Mr. Trump imposed bureaucratic hurdles to curtail legal immigration.
For U.S. neighbors in the region, Mr. Trump used hardnosed diplomacy to pressure Mexico and Central American countries to obstruct migrants from traveling to the U.S. The rule included a “zero tolerance” policy that separated parents and children at the U.S. southwest border. Although Washington reversed the policy, parents of some separated children have still not been located. In what Mr. Biden called a “day-one down payment” on promised change, he pledged to “immediately reverse” the “cruel and senseless” policy.
Mr. Biden is likely to continue U.S.-Venezuela animosity where an active effort to oust President Nicholas Maduro exists.
Cubans told Reuters they doubt Mr. Biden will lift the decades-old embargo on Cuba or restore the bilateral 2014-2016 detente achieved under President Obama. Cuban President Miguel Diaz-Canel was among heads of states who recognized Mr. Biden’s victory.
“We believe in the possibility of constructive bilateral relations, respecting one another’s differences,” tweeted President Diaz-Canel on Nov. 8.
Mr. Biden says America must “lead the way again” and “reclaim our credibility” with optimism toward the future. Some believe change can only come from pushing for positive change.
“I think we have to do a better job as people who want to change the trajectory of U.S. policy to put pressure on them,” said Ms. Benjamin.
Is U.S. military mining user info from Muslim app?
The Muslim community was in an uproar with news recently reported by the online magazine Motherboard that the popular app Muslim Pro, used by nearly 100 million users in 216 countries, was allegedly among hundreds of apps that made money by selling users’ location data to third-party brokers, which were then purchased by the U.S. military.
The owners of Muslim Pro immediately responded to an avalanche of social media fury after the story was published Nov. 16. “Media reports are circulating that Muslim Pro has been selling personal data of its users to the US military. This [is] incorrect and untrue,” the popular app’s developers said in a statement posted on their website Nov. 17. Muslim Pro contains a variety of features including access to the Qur’an—the Islamic book of scripture, prayer times, short Arabic sayings, locations of mosques and masjids and much more.
“Every single feature of the Muslim Pro app is available without signing up or logging in. This contributes to the anonymity of data we collect and process,” its developers stated.
Some users responded by deleting the app and took to social media to express their discontent.
Sharmin Hossain posted on Twitter Nov. 17, “The news about #MuslimPro handing over 98+ million people’s data to the military has people reflecting on how horrifying Islamophobia is & U.S. empire’s role in imperialism & surveillance. So many don’t know the beginning of this violent history.”
Motherboard, a media platform within Vice Media, conducted an investigation that found Muslim Pro and other apps like Muslim Mingle, a dating app downloaded more than 100,000 times, had sold user location data to X-Mode, which then sold information to third-party contractors, including defense contractors and the U.S. military.
“We are immediately terminating our relationships with our data partners—including with X-Mode, which started four weeks ago,” Zahariah Jupary, head of community at Muslim Pro told the media.
Muslim Pro did not detail in their statement the specifics in the report that were “incorrect and untrue.” The Final Call received no response to questions on whether Muslim Pro knew X-Mode was selling their user location data to U.S. military contractors and why it was selling user location data in the first place.
Mr. Jupary said Muslim Pro had launched an internal investigation and was reviewing its “data governing policy to confirm that all user data was handled in line with all existing requirements.”
The Motherboard report found that U.S. Special Operations Command, a branch of the military responsible for counterterrorism, counterinsurgency, and special reconnaissance, bought user location data through Locate X, a product offered by Babel Street.
Locate X allows users to draw a digital fence around an address or area, pinpoint mobile devices that were within that area, and see where else those devices have traveled, going back months. Federal records show the U.S. Customs and Border Protection purchased Locate X and the Secret Service and U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement have also used the location-tracking technology.
Navy Cmdr. Tim Hawkins, a U.S. Special Operations Command spokesperson, confirmed the Locate X purchase, and explained in a statement: “Our access to the software is used to support Special Operations Forces mission requirements overseas. We strictly adhere to established procedures and policies for protecting the privacy, civil liberties, constitutional and legal rights of American citizens.”
X-Mode, one of the companies involved in selling the location data, said it tracks 25 million devices inside the U.S. every month and 40 million elsewhere—including in the European Union, Latin America, and the Asia Pacific region.
“X-Mode licenses its data panel to a small number of technology companies that may work with government military services, but our work with such contractors is international and primarily focused on three use cases: counterterrorism, cybersecurity and predicting future COVID-19 hotspots,” X-Mode told Motherboard.
Nihad Awad, executive director of CAIR (Council on American and Islamic Relations) quickly responded to the crisis stating: “We call upon Congress to conduct a thorough public inquiry into the government’s use of personal data to target the Muslim community here and abroad, including whether this data was used to illegally spy upon target Muslim Americans.”
He added, “We also encourage Muslim Americans to stop using these applications unless and until the companies thoroughly explain and fully end use of their data by government agencies.”
Other apps sending data to X-Mode include the “Accupedo” step counter app which was downloaded more than five million times according to the Google Play Store; the “CPlus for Craigslist” with more than one million downloads and “Global Storms,” an app for following hurricanes, typhoons, and tropical storms. That app has been downloaded more than a million times.
Many see smartphone apps as the new frontier for targeting Muslims. “Surveillance of American Muslims has proceeded through three distinct means: an increasing deputization of community members as ‘the eyes and ears’ of the state through which surveillance can be outsourced to the community itself; the use of sophisticated software to data-mine and geo-map Muslim communities; and targeted social media surveillance usually carried out by third-party contractors,” explained Waqas Mirza in a TRT World News/Opinion Piece.
“While the Vice (Motherboard) report provides a useful reminder regarding the realities of surveillance, it should be seen within the broader context of a growing surveillance apparatus directed at American Muslims which seeks to bring every facet of life under its purview,” he wrote.
—Nisa Islam Muhammad, staff writer