No, Joe Biden, America is not back. It will take time.

Ian Bremmer's Quick Take:

Hi everybody, Ian Bremmer here, kicking off the week as we head into spring. And I thought I'd talk a little bit about where US foreign policy is and is not heading.

We keep hearing from President Biden and the Biden administration that the United States is back. And certainly when you talk about the fact that the United States is rejoining and recommitting to a lot of institutions like the nuclear agreement on START, five-year extension, trying to get back into the Iranian nuclear deal, Paris Climate Accord, World Health Organization, where there's been a lot of criticism of late from Secretary of State Blinken saying the Chinese are all over that, and were writing basically the report that came out from the WHO, my God, that's a hit, but they're still engaging with WHO as they should. Internationally, that means that the level of diplomacy looks a little bit more normal than it did under the Trump administration, but that's not the United States is back.

I'll give you an example, under Obama and Biden by far the most important piece of strategic foreign policy initiative was the Trans-Pacific Partnership. If it had been signed by the US it would have been by far the most important, largest, highest standard multilateral trade deal in history. And the United States failed to get it done. Trump left. So if the United States is back, then obviously that means we're re-engaging with the TPP, right? All of our allies want us to do it. No, no we're not. Why aren't we? Well, because there's no support for it among the American population. And so, as a consequence, you can't say the United States is back. When you look at global trade, you look at the EU-China investment deal. You look at RCEP, which is not as high standard as TPP, not as deeply integrated as TPP, but massive and multilateral. You would look at the EU-Mercosur deal, that probably happens next year, well in train. All of the multilateral work on trade happening, absent the United States. So the United States is not back.

Look at the ceasefires going on in Syria, in Libya, Nagorno-Karabakh, these are largely being driven with the United States at the margins. The US wants to leave Afghanistan. Biden is not going to announce a May 1 full withdrawal, he'll kick the can a bit, but the intention is get the Americans out. That's not the United States is back. Now, by the way, I personally am glad that we're finally going to end the war in Afghanistan, but I also want to be clear, the reason the United States is not back is because foreign policy of the United States for decades from the Democrats and Republicans was largely in service of the top 1% of Americans. And as long as the average American believes that to be true, it's very hard for a political leader in the United States to go back to those sorts of policy. Whether you're talking about free trade or foreign wars or open immigration, the average American working class, middle class, feels like none of these things benefited them.

And so the most important thing that the Biden administration can do in order for the Americans to be back, first, is make sure you're coordinating well with allies, which is increasingly challenging. And the reason you need to do that is because the Americans aren't going to do, don't want to do, the same kind of lifting they've done historically. But secondly, and most importantly, you need to work on the underpinnings of that foreign policy to get buy-in from the average American. In other words, the American foreign policy needs to be seen as increasingly in service of the middle class. And I don't think that means ending free trade forever, I think it means investing in these people.

By the way, I am actually getting a little bit more optimistic about what the US is doing on this front, at home. I'm a big fan of the trillions of dollars that are now being spent. I wish it was bi-partisan, it's not, it's largely party line vote and we'll see that again at the end of this year on infrastructure. But certainly the idea of the government making pre-K education free, public school, and community college education free, subsidized. The idea of investing massively into say broadband access to underserved rural areas of the country. These are things that will disproportionately benefit the middle class, and those that have been forced out of the middle class over the last decades. And that's a really good thing that's massively overdue, and it will matter, in over time, making these average American feel like US foreign policy is something they are invested in. That when the United States does better economically that they do better too. But that's been the principal failing.

Right now, despite being the most powerful and wealthiest economy in the world, the US is also the most unequal of all of the G7 economies. Obviously that means governance has kind of failed a lot of Americans. And as much as what Biden and the Biden administration is now doing is more than just a band-aid. It will matter for generations, but it's going to take a lot longer than one or two or four years. I mean, the money that's going to be allocated later this year is going to be spent over 10 years. And the level of displacement that has occurred and is occurring, especially not just from free trade but also from technological displacement, which is speeding up, which is accelerating dramatically given coronavirus and how advanced technologies are the ones that are doing the best, as people are pulling out of lockdown and the brick and mortar economy is doing so much worse, that means that these people have a bigger hole that the American government needs to support.

Now, how much of that is redistribution and how much of that is deficit spending? That's an open question. I mean, can you do a lot of this trillions of dollars on the back of increased taxes. We've already seen from people like Senator Manchin from West Virginia, Senator Sinema from Arizona, that there is an unwillingness to raise taxes significantly on corporations or on the wealthy in the United States to pay for all of that. We'll see where it ends up. I would certainly be happy to pay more in my taxes and in Eurasia Group's taxes if that meant there was a better shot of quality of opportunity and real infrastructure improvements over the next generation. But none of this is going to have an impact tomorrow. None of this is suddenly going to make the Americans feel like foreign policy is working for them. And so that means that America being back is going to take a lot longer.

The funny thing is that "America First," which of course Trump grabbed as the title for his foreign policy and so Biden can't use it, but actually so much of what the Biden administration is doing now is indeed "America First." It is indeed trying to focus on what the average American needs. I mean, you want a buy American policy with teeth, that if the US spending trillions of dollars, you want to make sure that money goes to American corporations and American workers. As much as I believe that we should be exporting vaccines all over the world because the faster you do that to the most vulnerable populations, the more capable you are in getting the global economy back up and working and opening, I am sympathetic to the fact that the Biden administration didn't talk about exporting a single damn vaccine until it was proven that the US had the best vaccine rollout of any major economy in the world and was getting it to their citizens first, because he would have been destroyed if he had done anything else domestically. I get that. And the fact that the first vaccines being exported just this last weekend to Mexico is AstraZeneca, which hasn't even been approved yet in the United States. Perfectly safe, works perfectly well, but again, I get it.

And I get it because after decades of destroying that legitimacy and making so many people feel like the folks they were voting for didn't really care about them, you've got a big hole you have to dig out of. So the allies can help, coordinating with the allies can help, it's going to be more challenging in some parts of the world than it otherwise would have been, the US will be constrained. But also focusing more at home will help too. And that is something that this year, at least, we can all get a little bit more optimistic about it.

By the way, very happy to see that the ships are moving again in the Suez. That does make a difference. That's globalization at work, 10% of all global shipping goes right through the Suez, wasn't for a week, now it's moving again. Good stuff. Everybody be safe. Avoid fewer people. We're getting out of this. Talk to you soon.

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Can "the Quad" constrain China?