Could the shift from Donald Trump to Joe Biden be seen in the larger perspective as the US doing a ‘good cop, bad cop’ routine on the rest of the world? Even an expansionist nation like China has heaved a sigh of relief at not having to deal with the uncertainties of dealing with Trump. In fact, the country has conceded, recently, that it does not wish to take the place of the US in the international order. Indeed! China is eager to exploit the potential that has emerged from globalisation but it certainly does not wish to take on the responsibilities that the US has shouldered for so long.
Having tasted the result of US transactional and self-serving politics during the Trump years, the world has heaved a sigh of relief. Iran, which had to face sanctions and the resultant economic difficulties, is only too glad to offer resumption of its nuclear obligations. Earlier, it had behaved it was doing the world a favour by adhering to the accord. Europe had for long been condescending towards the Americans and taken their support for granted. It became apparent very soon that many global accords, such as those on climate change, were almost meaningless without US participation.
While there is relief at the return to the old ‘normal’ so that conventional diplomacy and politics can be practiced, the question is whether the bad cop routine changed attitudes to the required levels. India had not been too unhappy with Trump because it has for long been taken for granted. The fact that it is the world’s largest and most diverse democracy has not won it the respect that is its due. A large number of the established ‘clubs’ had kept it on the periphery. A good example is the UN Security Council, which is in desperate need of reform. India’s clout became more visible in the changed environment where old loyalties and alliances collapsed. In the process, many unexpected power equations were built favouring India – the warm embrace of the Arab world is one and the further marginalisation of Pakistan is another. Another four years of Trump would have been of further benefit as the anti-China alliance would have been solidified. There is concern, now, that ‘good cop’ Biden may cuddle up to China a bit too much. It is the belief of some that Chinese money and influence were used to build up the anti-Trump alliance in the US. (Similar interference is taking place in India.) In all this, it is important that the lessons learned during the last four years are not forgotten with the same complacency taking hold in global affairs as before.