Hiredesai: Restoring America’s soul abroad will be an uphill battle

Annika Hiredesai, Columnist

Since the inauguration, President Joe Biden’s White House has been a flurry of activity. From extending the eviction and foreclosure moratorium to launching a “100 Days Mask Challenge,” steps are already being taken to restore what Biden has long promised: the soul of America. This administration faces its fair share of domestic challenges, but a cornerstone of Biden’s campaign was reclaiming the mantle of America as a world leader.

It’s a definitive shift in tone from the previous administration, which operated with an America First mindset. Withdrawing from long-standing partnerships and levying sanctions at record rates signalled a willingness to punish allies and foes alike. It’s no wonder the Biden administration is rushing to repair the damage to relationships they view as crucial to maintaining a peaceful world order and promoting democratic ideals.

Biden re-entered the Paris Climate Agreement on the first day of his presidency, and also rejoined the World Health Organization, signalling an American readiness to step back into its role of leader on the world stage in the fight against climate change and the pandemic.

Despite these shifts toward global cooperation, restoring America’s reputation abroad won’t be so simple. In a 2020 Pew Research Center survey of people from 13 different countries, U.S. favorability was at an all time low in the 20 years since they first began this survey. When it came to handling the global pandemic, every country ranked the U.S. response below WHO, the EU, China and their own governments. Most damning of all is the assessment of U.S. leadership. When participants were asked about their confidence in world leaders to “do the right thing” on the international stage, 83 percent had no confidence in American leaders, ratings below even Russia and China.

Biden might be stepping into the office with decades of experience and close ties to leaders abroad, but personal amiability only goes so far in restoring America’s soul abroad. Many nations remain skeptical of the U.S. after watching our leaders drop the ball on the coronavirus response time and time again. In this moment, being a world leader means demonstrating that we are capable of following common sense community health measures, while also ramping up our vaccine rollout, which is currently one of the slowest when compared to our peers, a shame given the billions of dollars we have poured into the effort. With the rampant disinformation on social media about all things COVID-19, I worry that individual choices will continue to obstruct the collective goal of stamping out the virus and saving lives.

The administration will also be inheriting an ongoing trade war with the next largest economy in the world, China. Like his predecessor, Biden holds a hawkish view on China, citing the ongoing genocide of Muslim Uighurs, the suppresion of democracy in Hong Kong and an escalation of tensions with Taiwan as concerns. These are sensitive topics for the Chinese government, with a top Chinese diplomat issuing a statement warning the U.S. to stay out of these affairs. Tackling these issues will require a coordinated effort alongside allies in the region and around the world, but even Biden acknowledged the hurdle of our current reputation in an interview with The New York Times interview.

“The best China strategy, I think, is one which gets every one of our — or at least what used to be our — allies on the same page,” Biden said in the interview. “It’s going to be a major priority for me in the opening weeks of my presidency to try to get us back on the same page with our allies.”

Renewing and fortifying alliances in the Asia-Pacific region will be a tough task. The Trump administration’s withdrawal from the Trans Pacific Partnership was considered by our regional allies — and rightfully so — as American abandonment. The TPP could have been the centerpiece of our Asia policy, a chance for American leadership to steer an area of immense economic growth towards free market values and democratization. It would have also allowed us to maintain a presence in a region where China has continued to wield its vast power and influence over other nations. Instead, the U.S. will be forced to deal with this threat without a foothold in the region.

Perhaps all incoming presidents struggle with pursuing their goals in an environment very much shaped by their predecessors. Biden has set urgent goals that must be tackled with a multilateral approach. It’s unfortunate that he will be doing so with four years of tattered alliances and reputations as his groundwork. It will require significant time and effort to rebuild these partnerships before any significant steps may be taken to address all-encompassing issues like climate change and sustainable development. It’s my sincere hope that world leaders will be receptive to these efforts. More than ever, the world needs America at its best.

Annika Hiredesai is a Weinberg sophomore. She can be contacted at [email protected]. If you would like to respond publicly to this op-ed, send a Letter to the Editor to [email protected]. The views expressed in this piece do not necessarily reflect the views of all staff members of The Daily Northwestern.