By Scott Lucas
Two weeks after the storming of the US Capitol by the followers of his predecessor, in the middle of an out-of-control pandemic that has killed more than 400,000 Americans, Joe Biden — the 46th president of the US — tried to contain the blaze in his inaugural address.
As aspiration, the speech was pitch perfect. Biden rightly took on the present of America’s most serious domestic crisis since the Civil War. Coronavirus, the Capitol attack, economic loss, immigration, climate change and social injustice were confronted:
But what distinguished the speech beyond the essential was the sincerity with which it was delivered. Since the election, there has been a commingling of Biden’s personal narrative of loss with the damage that America has suffered. When he spoke of the “empty chair” and relatives who have died, it was from the heart and not just the script.
So, as he said in front of the Capitol: “My whole soul is in this”, there was no doubt — in contrast to the statements of his predecessor — that it is.
Complementing Biden’s rhetoric are the executive orders and legislation set out in the days before the inauguration. Immigration reform will be accompanied by protection of almost 800,000 young Dreamers from deportation. There is a mandate to reunite children separated from parents and a path to citizenship for millions of undocumented immigrants.
The US has rejoined the Paris Accords on climate change. The “Muslim Ban” is rescinded, Donald Trump’s wall with Mexico suspended. And coronavirus will finally be confronted with coordination between the federal, state and local governments and a US$1.9 trillion “American Rescue Plan”.
Words to a waiting world
But where is America in the world in all this? In Biden’s attention to domestic crises, there was little beyond his intention to re-engage with the world on climate and reverse the previous administration’s myopic immigration measures. Even the invocations of American greatness, with one exception, stayed within its borders:
There is historical precedent for the exclusive focus on home. In 1933, as the Great Depression raged, Franklin Delano Roosevelt also made no reference to the world as he said at his first inauguration:
Perhaps even more pertinently, in 1865, Abraham Lincoln said in his second inaugural address, a month before his assassination and two months before the end of the Civil War:
Beyond the inaugural, there are clues in Biden’s appointment of Obama-era pragmatists: Antony Blinken as secretary of state, Jake Sullivan as national security advisor, John Kerry in a special post for climate change. There will be no sweeping “Biden Doctrine”, nor a grand speech such as Barack Obama’s in Cairo or Ankara in 2009.
Instead, the pragmatists will try to restore alliances, reestablish the “rules of the game” with countries such as China, Russia and North Korea — and work case-by-case on immediate issues such as the Iran nuclear deal.
The article was first published in The Conversation
About the Author
He began his career as a specialist in US and British foreign policy, but his research interests now also cover current international affairs – especially North Africa, the Middle East, and Iran – New Media, and Intelligence Services.
A professional journalist since 1979, Professor Lucas is the founder and editor of EA WorldView, a leading website in daily news and analysis of Iran, Turkey, Syria, and the wider Middle East, as well as US foreign policy.