Other’s opinion: A wary world watches U.S. election turmoil

Published 6:30 am Saturday, November 14, 2020

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Star Tribune

In Ballina, Ireland, champagne corks popped after an ancestral son, Joe Biden, became U.S. president-elect.

In Berlin, German Foreign Minister Heiko Maas said in a statement that, “During the election campaign, Joe Biden made it clear that he believes in Team Play when it comes to the United States on [the] international stage instead of acting on its own. We want the West to play as a team again.”

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Without mentioning President Donald Trump by name, a similar sentiment seemed to take hold across the continent, as allies offered quick congratulations to a man they’ve known from his years on the Senate Foreign Relations Committee and as vice president for another trusted transatlantic advocate, Barack Obama.

Leaders from Asian allies India and Japan, Mideast nations Israel and Jordan, as well as countries such as Canada were quick to congratulate Biden, too, as were leaders from some Latin American and African nations.

But in some consequential capitals such as Beijing, Moscow and even Mexico City, Biden’s win merited silence, perhaps as a hedge against Trump’s refusal to accept the will of the American people.

The intransigence is evident among most Republicans in Congress, too — a stance that isn’t just staggering an incoming administration but the country itself. “It’s impossible to overstate how damaging it is to the short-, medium- and long-range interests of the United States to have a president who appears to be fundamentally rejecting the legitimacy of our political system,” Evan Osnos, a nonresident senior fellow in foreign policy at the Brookings Institution, told an editorial writer during a virtual panel discussion this week.

Osnos, the author of a recently published book on Biden, said that his campaign team anticipated Trump’s intransigence, and that the development was concurrently “shocking” but “not surprising.”

And impactful, added Tamara Cofman Wittes, a Brookings senior fellow in the Center for Middle East Policy. Wittes, who served as deputy assistant secretary of state for Near Eastern Affairs during the Obama administration, added that “the lost time for a transition team on getting cooperation from an administration matters.”

A new administration, Wittes said, needs to consider “which international actors might try to take advantage of the transition period to test the United States or to undertake activities where they might otherwise face challenges from the U.S.” In other words, a domestically distracted America leaves itself and its allies more vulnerable.

Another panelist, former Ambassador Eric Edelman, who served in senior positions in the State and Defense Departments under Republican and Democratic administrations, has experienced several presidential transitions. He said that “transition time is equal to three times governing time.”

It’s critical, Edelman added, to take the time to assess situations in order to position the administration — and the country — most strategically. “The ability to try and think through these problems that you are going to inherit calmly, and without being forced to take immediate action on them, is a luxury that we have in our system that we’re squandering.”

Formidable foreign-policy challenges await Biden, including managing the coronavirus pandemic and responding to climate change and the global migration crisis, among other direct threats.

Squandering the necessary time to respond isn’t putting America first but Americans last while also projecting dangerous doubt about the country’s capacity and resolve.