Point of no return: the 2020 election and the crisis of American foreign policy

Author: Thomas Wright (Brookings Institute)| published on the Lowy Institute website, 2 October 2020.

This article presents a comprehensive analysis of the likely future foreign policy direction under either a Joe Biden or Donald Trump presidency. Thomas Wright is a well-credentialled and intelligent observer of the contending camps struggling over foreign policy in the US, not just between the Democratic and Republican presidential candidates, but also within each party. He gets beyond the superficial accounts of ‘Biden the internationalist’ and ‘Trump the aggressive nationalist’ to examine the differences over some specific and important foreign policy issues, such as the relationship with China, economic policy, and the Middle East.

Wright provides an excellent account of the basis and evolution of Trump’s foreign policy and predicts that a victory for the incumbent will represent crossing a “tipping point”, beyond which “alliances may come to an end, the global economy could close, and democracy could go into rapid retreat”. With a win, Wright says, Trump will have the last remaining constraints on his actions removed.

With regard to Biden’s policies after election, Wright argues the question is not how different from Trump his policies will be but “whether he will differ from President Barack Obama”. Wright suggests a successful election outcome for Biden will “greeted with relief and enthusiasm internationally as America’s democratic allies will see the United States as returning to its traditional role”. It is undoubtedly true that a change in the White House will be welcomed internationally.

This is an important and informative analysis on an important issues, because the path the US attempts to take after the election will have ramifications for the rest of the world. However, the question still hanging at the end of this article is, has the structure of the international environment changed so much in the past four years, and not just because of Trump’s policies, that it is no longer possible for the US to resume its past position in the international order.

Read the full article (external link to the Lowy Institute website).

Image: Original photograph AP Matt Rourke