Pent-up global wish list of hopes, demands awaits Biden

Published 6:45 am Tuesday, November 10, 2020

Associated Press

LONDON  — Spare a thought for the people who’ll be managing Joe Biden’s presidential appointment diary.

Four years of inward-looking “America First” leadership by outgoing President Donald Trump have generated pent-up global demand for a more engaged and amenable America.

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The leaders of governments and global institutions will likely be hammering on White House doors and email inboxes with a long wish list of priorities they want American help with — which, on issues big and small, from climate change to taxing Internet companies, Trump’s administration often refused to provide.

Beating back the coronavirus pandemic and slowing the rise in global temperatures are top priorities for America’s partners. Beyond them: a dizzying array of other issues vital to specific regions and nations now hoping to be heard by the incoming administration.

“Tackling climate change, trade, international security,” British Prime Minister Boris Johnson said, listing in an interview on Sunday with The Associated Press just some of the things that he wants to talk about.

“Many, many, many, many, many other issues.”

Overall, there are broad expectations for a White House that will be easier to work with, and that solutions will flow from there.

“The big difference will be in the communication, that we treat each other again with full respect as partners, allies,” said Peter Beyer, a German lawmaker who coordinates trans-Atlantic contacts for the government of Chancellor Angela Merkel, whose relationship with Trump never really developed beyond frosty.

“President Donald Trump didn’t always differentiate between friends and foes.”

Here’s a look at some of the big issues that world capitals want Biden’s help with:

The pandemic

Those involved, from World Health Organization experts to doctors and nurses on front lines, argue that nations will beat the coronavirus faster by working together.

But that proved a tough sell with Trump, whose presidency was ultimately, in part, undone by his refusal to heed scientific advice. His administration dealt a blow to global coordination by announcing a U.S. withdrawal from WHO.

Biden’s election immediately raised hopes that the world will now benefit more readily from U.S. investment in treatment efforts.

“You cannot have a country by country approach. You need a global approach,” Dr. Soumya Swaminathan, the WHO’s chief scientist, told the AP.

She said she hopes the United States will join with a WHO-led project, the Covax Facility, which aims to deploy vaccines to the world’s neediest people.

The head of the Africa Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, John Nkengasong, also told the AP that he has heightened expectations.

“The world has always been a better place in terms of fighting diseases when America has played a key leadership role,” he said.

A chief doctor at a front-line hospital dealing with the explosion of COVID-19 cases in Paris said he doesn’t expect that U.S. pharmaceutical companies will share any medical breakthroughs for free, but is hopeful that people outside the United States might now benefit more readily.

“Although Biden is a Democrat, he is still the U.S. president (-elect), so we shouldn’t expect free philanthropy if the patents and copyrights for all of the medicines that emerge come from the United States,” said Dr. Philippe Montravers, head of critical care at Paris’ Bichat Hospital.

But Montravers, himself recently recovered himself from a nasty bout of COVID-19, said he expects the Biden administration will be “less aggressive.”

“Less oriented on ‘America First’ and ‘Nothing but America,’” he said.

Climate change

Licypriya Kangujam, age 9, is among those hoping the United States will get back in the fight against global warming.

“The United States and India can do more together,” the Indian child activist said.

Now, multiply her voice by countless others around the world who are looking forward to Biden making good on his promise to plug the United States back into climate protection efforts from the get-go in the Oval Office.

“America is a leader. Where America goes others follow,” said Desmond Majekodunmi, an environmentalist in Nigeria.

South Asia, home to almost one-fourth of the world’s population, and other regions are already seeing the effects of climate change. Major cities are becoming increasingly prone to devastating floods. Longer-than-usual summers are bringing unbearable heat waves and disruption in rainfall patterns that impact agriculture. For island nations, delayed action brings mounting concern.

“Together, we have a planet to save from a #ClimateEmergency,” the prime minister of the Pacific island nation of Fiji said in his tweeted congratulations  to Biden.

“Now, more than ever, we need the USA at the helm of these multilateral efforts.”

Building alliances

After the disruptive “America First” diplomacy of Trump, world leaders want Biden to revive Washington’s role as a leader of alliances. Among their priorities are containing Chinese and Russian strategic ambitions and North Korea’s nuclear program.

“American leadership is indispensable to meeting these challenges,” Australian Prime Minister Scott Morrison said, referring to fears of Chinese encroachment in the South China Sea.

Asian governments on edge about China’s growing military power invoked their “shared values” with the United States and expressed hope for close relations.

In Europe, Biden has pledged to strengthen U.S. alliances and supports NATO, which Trump showed disdain for.

But it’s unclear if he will reverse Trump’s order to reduce the number of U.S. troops in Germany from 36,000 to 24,000, seen as Trump’s punishment for Germany’s failure to spend 2% of its annual economic output on defense.

Russia is looking for Biden to extend the last remaining arms control agreement between the two nations. Ukraine is expecting increased military and humanitarian aid, and anticipating that it could again be drawn into the invariably multifaceted, delicate and frequently complex ballet of relations between Washington and Moscow.

“Biden’s geopolitical game includes Ukraine as a significant player,” said Vladimir Fesenko of the Penta analytical center in Kiev. “It will be important for Biden to have this strategic trump card.”


The continent of 54 countries and 1.3 billion people is, for starters, looking for more respect.

“A return to an American president who doesn’t insult African countries,” South African columnist Barney Mthombothi said, referring to Trump’s remarks in 2018 that likened African countries to filthy toilets.

Africans are also looking for American leadership to promote democracy.

“Many in Africa recognized Trump as someone who acted like an authoritarian leader, like some leaders here in Africa,” author and human rights activist Elinor Sisulu said. “It was a pernicious influence.”

Livingstone Sewanyana, head of the Uganda-based civic group Foundation for Human Rights Initiative, said he hopes Biden will “restore that sense of civility among nations, but also among the people of nations.”

“He is experienced,” he said. “He has demonstrated empathy for ordinary people.”

The Middle East

The region presents Biden with opportunities to set himself apart from Trump, but few easy solutions.

Among Trump policies that Biden’s team has pledged to reverse, one of the most widely felt is a ban that limits travel from five majority-Muslim nations — Iran, Libya, Somalia, Syria and Yemen.

World powers hope Biden will work again with them on curbing Iran’s nuclear program — without the brinksmanship that Trump pursued, almost to war in January.

The mood in Tehran’s streets after Biden’s victory was cautious optimism.

“It has offered us hope,” passerby Jaber Nejati said. “Now it depends on us and our statesmen on how they can use this opportunity.”

What the former vice president to Barack Obama will do in Iraq and Syria remains in question.

“We saw what Obama did to Iraq when he was the president, his decision to withdraw American troops from Iraq is an example. It led to increased Iranian intervention in Iraqi affairs,” said Yousif Emad, a 26-year-old dentist. “Biden will bring us back to Obama’s era or even worse!”

Further afield, Biden inherits America’s longest war in Afghanistan. While pledging to “end the forever wars,” Biden has said he’d keep a small contingent of U.S. troops there. Peace talks between the Taliban and the Afghan government have stalled in Qatar.

The Taliban itself described the U.S. election as “internal changes.”