Essays on American politics and foreign policy

By Donald E. Nuechterlein

Donald Nuechterlein is a political scientist and writer who resides near Charlottesville, Virginia. He is the author of numerous books on American politics and foreign policy, including

  • Defiant Superpower: The New American Hegemony, 2005
  • America Recommitted: A Superpower Assesses its Role in a Turbulent World, 2000
  • A Cold War Odyssey, 1997


Donald Nuechterlein



Most of us are ready to welcome a new team in Washington to run our huge government. But how much change will President Joe Biden bring with him?

Without question, this will be the most diverse collection of cabinet members that's ever been assembled by a new president. Biden's aim resembles that of President Franklin Roosevelt in 1933. He put together a wide-range of political groups that he expected to gave his Democratic Party control of the presidency for many years. In fact, he and his successor, Harry Truman, occupied the Oval Office for the next twenty years.

A striking omission from Biden's cabinet appointments is the left-wing of his Democratic Party. Senator Bernie Sanders lobbied for a cabinet appointment because Biden needed support from young people who liked Sanders' socialist ideas. Senator Elizabeth Warren was another liberal who was passed over. She represents the anti-Wall Street segment of the party. A far-left liberal firebrand, Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez (AOC), vocal advocate of massive change in Washington, didn't get a job in Biden's administration but she will continue her campaign to move the party leftward.

A major reason for Biden's omission of left-wing appointees became obvious when congressional elections were tabulated. Instead of gaining seats in the House of Representatives, as predicted, the party lost them. They did gain control of the Senate when Democrats won two run-off elections in Georgia on January 5. As a result; Biden will need to deal with the big spenders in his Democratic Congress.

The president-elect stated last week that he intends to govern from "the center," meaning he doesn't plan radical changes. But he will need to court moderate Republicans, including Senate Republican leader, Mitch McConnell, to get his agenda enacted into law.

If Biden intends to pursue moderate instead of radical change in policy, what should we look for in his domestic and foreign policies?

Domestic policies

He will start by insisting that Congress provide more funds for the unemployed and others experiencing the effects of the Covid-19 pandemic. Donald Trump's recent demand that pending legislation should provide $2,000 for individuals will help Biden. He will also reinstate many environmental regulations that Trump dropped, charging they stifled the economy. The new president will also give labor groups more say in formulating policies that benefit workers. Democrats learned from the elections that the party lost traditional labor support because of erosion in its appeal to working people.

President Biden's toughest domestic problem will be persuading Congress to raise taxes on the middle class and plug countless loopholes in the tax code that favor special interests. Conservatives deplore spending trillions more dollars on domestic programs by simply adding to the massive national debt. As a result, Biden will need to persuade a tax-averse public and a reluctant Congress that raising taxes is essential if America expects to remain a global power.

Foreign Policy

The first thing he'll do, Biden says, is rejoin the Paris Climate Agreement that Trump abandoned in 2017. That's an easy decision because it costs the U.S. little and enhances its international reputation. It also supports the new president's domestic program of focusing attention on environmental issues.

Biden also wants to rejoin the Iran Nuclear Agreement which Mr. Trump denounced because, he said, it didn't include long-range missiles and curtail Tehran's military support for Syria's brutal regime. Biden says he will press for renegotiation of the 2015 agreement to ensure Iran doesn't secretly produce nuclear weapons that could endanger Israel.

Still, these major foreign policy issues remain: How to deal with a China that practices predatory trade policies and expands its territorial waters to encroach on Vietnam, Philippines, and Japan. Even more dangerous, China builds up its military to force a showdown over Taiwan, which it claims as Chinese territory. Mr. Biden must decide whether defending a democratic Taiwan is a vital U.S. interest and whether to counter China's moves.

Another danger is Russia's policy under Vladimir Putin. He uses all means short of war to expand Russia's influence in Eastern Europe and Baltic Sea countries. Mr. Biden needs the cooperation of Europe to counter Putin's pressure in Eastern Europe, and the E.U. may not be as cooperative as before.

The new president may find that dealing with these foreign policy threats comes closer to Donald Trump's policies than many in his party admit. The foreign policies pursued by Secretary of State Mike Pompeo, Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin, and Commerce Secretary Wilbur Ross, with Trump's support, were realistic ones that many Democrats who preceded them would appreciate.

Realism rather than American idealism in foreign policy is fully appreciated abroad, especially in Beijing and Moscow. Biden seems to fit that role.

File last modified on Sunday, 10-JAN-2021 07:25 PM EST

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