When Bob Marley sang the prophetic “So Much Trouble in the World” in 1979, the lyrics are just as prophetic for 2020. As the year concludes, the United States has a new regime, and lingering trouble on the world stage.
Although incoming President Joseph Biden is espousing an “America must lead again” position, contrasting his predecessor Donald J. Trump’s “America first” posture, observers say the world has witnessed the erosion of U.S. institutions and failure of international leadership, and other world leaders are not necessarily feeling America like that.
“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 in early 2020 called “The Unraveling of a Great Nation.” The Muslim leader has consistently warned successive administrations concerning the ultimate fate and fall of America if she persists in errant foreign policy measures, warmongering, and global meddling.
The year-end world review showed 2020 was a year of great change, however not for the better, and in several ways for the worse.
“2020 was a horrible year … for the planet,” said labor and human rights activist Bill Fletcher Jr., a past president of Trans Africa Forum. “In our current situation, we truly are living in a moment of empire in chaos,” he said.
Mr. Fletcher was referring to global capitalism being in chaos. He said, the Trump administration contributed to the condition and believes it will continue til the day Trump is out of office.
As 2020 ends, political turmoil gripped the U.S. with Mr. Trump flirting with the idea of a possible coup to snatch power back after a failed reelection bid. “The world is looking at the United States to see whether the U.S. can survive,” said Mr. Fletcher.
The advent of 2021 enters a time of world confusion, uncertainty about peace, and a deadly coronavirus pestilence sparing no nation.
The global mitigation of Covid-19 dominated 2020 since March and closes December with a vaccine scramble and world leaders still challenged to fight the yet relatively unknown, constantly mutating virus.
By year end, the “invisible enemy” killed more than 1.7 million and had stricken more than 81.2 million worldwide. Though the United Nations and other world bodies pleaded all year for government-to-government solidarity in the fight, the pandemic became a source of great contention. Human rights leaders said the contention has cost lives and time.
The year 2020 has taken its toll, not only across all regions and virtually all countries, but also on the full range of our human rights be they economic, social, cultural, civil, or political. Covid-19 has zeroed in on the fissures and fragilities in our societies, read a Dec. 9 press statement for the 70th year commemoration of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights.
While world bodies like the World Health Organization and local agencies like the American National Institute of Health and Centers for Disease Control struggle to explain, govern and control the fight against Covid-19, nations like the U.S., and China saber-rattled and blame shifted each other. However, in the midst of geopolitical tug of wars and multi-billion-dollar vaccine competition, the world closes out 2020 in terrible shape.
“This year was full of bad news,” said Phyllis Bennis, director of the New Internationalism Project at the Institute for Policy Studies. Particularly in the Middle East and Africa where war is either in motion or brewing in different regions. Everything from growing war in Ethiopia, continued conflict in Yemen; deterioration of conditions in Gaza and the abandonment of concern for Palestinian rights are examples.
All year the U.S. exercised its “maximum pressure” campaign aimed at destabilizing the Islamic Republic of Iran. Moves of hostility such as increased sanctions which Tehran characterized as “economic terrorism” were exponentially increased as late as December by the outgoing Trump administration.
Other moves that worsened prospects for peace was the January assassination of Qassem Soleimani, the head of the Iranian Revolutionary Guard Corps Quds Force, under the orders of Mr. Trump. This was the leadoff of a tumultuous year of global banter that brought the nations to the brink of conflict. Near the years’ end in late November was the assassination of Mohsen Fakhrizadeh, an Iranian professor of physics at Imam Hussein University of Tehran, who headed the Iranian Defense Ministry’s Organization of Defensive Innovation and Research. Iran blamed Israel for the act. Dr. Fakhrizadeh was one of a number of scientists believed to be killed over the years by Israel.
Ms. Bennis said in a Final Call interview earlier this year that the U.S. was “building a regional coalition against Iran with Israel and Saudi Arabia at the center,” and significant change depends on what political capital Mr. Biden is willing to spend challenging the current policy. Mr. Biden expressed returning the U.S. to the multilateral 2015 nuclear deal with Iran that his predecessor walked away from.
In a Final Call telephone interview Dec. 22, she said there is optimism among the myriad of problems going into 2021. “I think where there is some good reason for hope is around Iran which has been a major threat of possibility of new war that the U.S. and Israel … has been trying to provoke,” said Ms. Bennis.
She said if Mr. Biden is successful in returning the U.S. to the agreement, it could be a game changer. “However, that’s not going to happen by itself,” she explained.
Iranians suffered four years of devastating economic sanctions that hindered the Islamic republic from effectively treating Covid-19 and access to medical care, equipment, and global trade.
“Despite what Biden and others say, that isn’t viewed as ‘Trump’s sanctions;’ those are U.S. sanctions,” she said.
In November Iranian Foreign Minister Javad Zarif stipulated a U.S. return must include recommitting to the terms of the UN resolution that defined the 2015 deal; acknowledging the peaceful nature of Iran’s nuclear program; and the normalization of economic and trade cooperation with Iran.
A joint statement signed Dec. 21 by ministers representing China, France, Germany, Russia, the UK, Iran and the EU High Representative for Foreign Affairs and Security acknowledged the prospect of a U.S. return to the deal and underlined their readiness to resolutely address it in a joint effort. However, Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu already expressed to Mr. Biden that restoring the Iran deal would be a mistake.
With the new U.S. administration, some observers expect little change in 2021. “On a number of key foreign policy issues, the Biden administration will remain status quo,” said Mr. Fletcher.
Mr. Biden gets inaugurated January 20, 2021. He won on a campaign “to restore sanity.” which resonated with many people, said Mr. Fletcher. However, he argued, “it wasn’t a forward-looking” campaign and is still unclear what route Mr. Biden will take us.
“This is really a moment when it comes to both domestic and international policy, where there must be intense pressure,” reasoned Mr. Fletcher.
Pressure that includes the Congressional Black Caucus, who overwhelmingly supported Mr. Biden. Mr. Fletcher criticized the lawmakers as being weak on foreign policy. “The CBC needs its own foreign policy wing,” he said.
They should help more on international issues, particularly in Africa, he said. Analysts told The Final Call going into 2021 there are global flash points that are intensifying, such as the U.S. “on again, off again” provocation against China; a new cold war with Russia; and the rise of right wing populist movements that Western governments are ambivalent about confronting. A different kind of American foreign policy is needed, they said. “One that is engaging … promoting the idea of partnership, rather than bullying,” said Mr. Fletcher.
Antagonism between the U.S., China, and Russia may potentially heat up in 2021.
“On the issues around … China and secondarily Russia … Democrats have claimed a position to the right of Trump, in terms of warmongering,” said Ms. Bennis. “They’ve tried to out warmonger Trump.”
Ms. Bennis agrees a strong movement is needed in 2021 to counter any warmongering, and bear pressure to focus on diplomacy. Whatever happens in foreign policy in 2021 will have more to do with effective movements domestically and globally.
She pointed out 2020 brought in a political movement and a new administration elected largely by a progressive wing of the Democratic party, that is ideologically split with party centrists.
Ms. Bennis predicts the divide will impact U.S. foreign policy because it is the area where the biggest gap exists between the centrist and left wings of the party. And a divide on racial justice may have international implications given the spread of the Black Lives Matter movement around the globe.
As a former chairman of the Senate foreign relations committee and experience as President Barack Obama’s vice president who interacted with all of the world leaders, Mr. Biden is less likely to respond to pressure from anyone on foreign policy.
“On the question of foreign policy; I’m afraid that we’re in for a very hard four years,” said Ms. Bennis.