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Britain braces for Biden

President elect Joe Biden - Credit: AFP via Getty Images

Joe Biden is renowned for his experience in foreign policy – yet he has a far from unblemished record. BONNIE GREER reports on what the world can expect

Anne Hidalgo, the first woman elected mayor of Paris always manages to catch the moment. 

She came to London to congratulate Sadiq Khan, the first Muslim elected mayor of London, soon after he was sworn in, in 2016. Just recently she tweeted out a message of congratulations to president-elect Joe Biden. It read: “Welcome back America!”

Her words reminded me of those at the end of Casablanca when Resistance leader Victor Laszlo tells Rick, after he has done his noble deed: “Welcome back to the fight. This time I know our side will win.”

Biden – elected to the senate for the first time in 1972, then elected vice president under Barack Obama in 2008 – has served as chair of the senate foreign relations committee. He has travelled widely and met many leaders over the years. They all know Joe, and they know what he thinks.

He’s been called the guy who understands the ‘sausage-making’ bit of foreign policy. This is the ugly, sometimes brutal, decision-making part before the treaty is signed in the White House Rose Garden.

If the Republicans win the special election in Georgia in early January, in which two senate seats are up for grabs, and therefore take control of the senate, Biden may well make more of an impact on foreign than domestic policy.

Yet Biden for all his experience, his bad calls have been really bad: He supported the US invasion of Iraq, a disaster that dragged on for years with dire consequences. There are no guarantees that he will not mess up again.

But we do know, from what he has said and from his own track record, how things could be. Perhaps, above all, we can expect the idea of ‘the West’ to be back.

Biden will re-join everything that Trump left, and he will be full-on mates with Angela Merkel and Emmanuel Macron. He is very connected to the traditional idea of the ‘transatlantic relationship’, which had the UK at the heart. But that idea saw the UK as gateway, a mentor, a partner and a Big Brother in relation to Europe. A UK outside of Europe makes no sense to Biden.

In his dealings with Europe, he will try to resurrect the close relationship that Trump almost killed. For decades, this relationship has been one of the most powerful weapons the US had. Yet it suffered from the America First rhetoric and policies of the last four years.

Trump once said that he was the elected to represent the citizens of Pittsburgh, not Paris, and that was a large part of his appeal in the Upper Mid West Rust Belt that went to him in 2016.

Biden has now won those states back, but as he rekindles relations with Europe he will need all his street-corner oratory and working man sensibility to show that listening and working with Paris will not hurt Pittsburgh. After all, the voters in those states elected him to find a domestic response to the pandemic ravaging America, not because of a pledge to realign US foreign policy.

Yet we will see such a realignment. Biden will shore up Nato, where Trump belittled it. He will explain to the American people that the alliance represents a pillar against Russia. And he will make the UN a vital piece, once again, of American engagement and concern.

Such international institutions will be the second language of his administration. Re-engagement with the 2015 Paris Agreement on climate change, designed to save the planet for now and future generations, is key. He will re-visit START, the arms control treaty with Russia due to end soon.

Look forward to him leading from the front, with vice president Kamala Harris travelling the world to show the kind of democracy that America is, and can be.

Biden sees the Big Three: Britain, France, Germany, at the table with him, along with China and Russia to find a way back to the Iran nuclear deal. If this can happen, it will be Joe who will make it happen.

Human rights is an area that Biden champions. Look for him to extend this drive for equality. Autocrats are off the menu as Saudi Arabia may find itself having to account for the murder of the journalist Jamal Khashoggi, and Russia for its attempt to poison opposition leader Alexei Navalny.

And what of Ireland? On an edition of the BBC’s Question Time in 2019, I stated that nothing will happen with a US/UK trade deal if Brexit disturbs the Good Friday Agreement or Ireland, or in any way brings bad consequences to that country. Watch out for this. The point is even more relevant now that Biden will be in the White House.

Many people on the English nationalist wing of Brexit cannot seem to fathom what Ireland means to Americans. Of course, there is loads of sentiment involved.

A lot of the supporters of Trump extol their connection to Ireland. But there are exactly no votes on either side of the aisle for anything that goes against Irish national interest. Joe Biden is 5/8 Irish and is serious about it.

He goes to Mass and he says things like “malarkey” and “God love ya”. He  chose the poetry of Seamus Heaney to help him calm his stammer. There is a video of him online when he is moving through a room and a reporter yells asking for a “quick word for the BBC”. Joe yells back: “The BBC? I’m Irish!” and keeps moving.

Great Britain is a romantic entity to Biden; a good place – to work together. For him, Ireland is visceral and real and passionate. The Taoiseach is the only foreign leader who has a standing invitation to the Oval Office. Get ready for a St. Patrick’s Day that will be legendary.

Above all, for some of us expats and renegade Americans from the left of centre and holed up in London, Winfield House, the glorious Regent’s Park residence of the US ambassador, may be open to us again. 

It boasts the second largest private garden in London outside Buckingham Palace. Once owned by an heiress who married Cary Grant (they were known as Cash and Cary) , I have seen almost every room.  It would  be wonderful to celebrate the Fourth of July there again. Wonderful to look out over the wide expanse of lawn and know that America is back in the world.

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