Kai: You're listening to The Takeaway. I'm Kai Wright in for Tanzina Vega.
President Joe Biden: All my colleagues I served with in the house in the Senate up here, we all understand the world is watching, watching all of us today. Here's my message to those beyond our borders, America has been tested, and we've come out stronger for it. We will repair our alliances and engage with the world once again. Not to me yesterday's challenges, but today's and tomorrow's challenges.
Kai: That was, of course, President Joe Biden yesterday speaking during his inauguration, and his olive branch to the traditional allies of the United States stands in stark contrast to the inaugural address four years ago when Donald Trump made his nationalist pledge to put America first. Joining me now to talk about the global relationships that need repairing and how President Biden plans to approach this is Ishaan Tharoor, foreign affairs columnist at the Washington Post. Ishaan, thanks for being here.
Ishaan: Pleasure to be with you.
Kai: What alliances exactly is Biden talking about here?
Ishaan: First and foremost, we're obviously looking across the Atlantic at Europe. As you pointed out, President Trump came into office four years ago and really upset the applecart. He looked at Alliance systems like NATO, the world's most important military alliance. He looked at the European Union as a strategic bloc that was a competitor to the United States, as opposed to how Biden and successive American presidents have seen it, which is as a force amplifier for American interests on the world stage.
He really led to a lot of jitteriness in Europe. Now, Europe is a key component now in terms of how Biden will address the world. He wants to show the US and allies there, as well as in Asia and elsewhere, that America is back and happy to lead in a more conciliatory, humble fashion than what Trump posed.
Kai: What about beyond Europe and in China we hear a lot about those places? What about South and Central America, for instance. I'm talking about how the mess Trump left behind there has affected those countries take Venezuela, for instance.
Ishaan: Well, this is where there may be a degree of continuity as opposed to radical change. You're not going to see a very left-leaning Biden administration in this instance. They're going to maintain a pretty hostile front toward, say, Nicolas Maduro in Venezuela. You may see them try to restart the thought that had begun with Cuba under the Obama ministration. In many of these arenas, the Trump administration has kind of boxed in Biden and his allies, and any moves to take a softer approach on these putative adversaries in Latin America is going to be read as too soft and as weak in Washington.
It's setting the stage for a lot of domestic [unintelligible 00:03:24]. In general, I think the major departure that we may see when it comes to the western hemisphere is first, Biden has already signaled that he wants to face Central America and recognize that the root causes of migration can be addressed in Central America as opposed to by building this physical barrier on America's southern border. Then he may really have to have a showdown with far-right Brazilian President Jair Bolsonaro who really counted Trump as a very close friend and who will probably be Biden's climate enemy number one when it comes to thinking through collaborative measures on climate change.
Kai: Ishaan, as Biden said the world was watching, what are we actually hearing from global leaders so far?
Ishaan: I think there's there is a genuine degree of relief, especially as we were talking about in Europe. Biden is a known entity. He's somebody who can be more predictable who can offer a degree of reassurance when it comes to thorny shared geopolitical challenges. At the same time, I do think Biden himself and a number of prominent lawmakers in Congress have overstated the degree to which the rest of the world needs America to be this example. There's this belief here, especially in Washington, that America is in everyone else's eyes as a shining city on the hill. That has not been the case. Of course, not in the past few months, but for some time before.
The rest of the world has experienced this past half-decade, beginning with the rise of Trumpism. They've seen it not necessarily as an aberration, which is how it's been cast by some here in Washington. As a reflection of where American democracy is and where American politics is, and it's not necessarily a good place. They see the dysfunction, the division, the unleashing of populist passions. America's adversaries say China, they view the situation as evidence of the failures of the American system.
Kai: Do you think they understand that and say, "Okay, well, we need to lead into a different world in which we're not quite the leadership that we were," or are they trying to reverse that?
Ishaan: I think you heard a future Secretary of State Tony Blinken specifically pointed the need for humility on the world stage in his prepared remarks during his confirmation hearings, and that probably is an ethic that was completely absent when you have someone like Mike Pompeo talking about swagger. I think there is a recognition that the United States is no longer this hyperpower or hyper superpower that it once was, and that it does need to be. At the same time, Biden himself said that we've been tested and we've come out stronger. I think you when you talk to a lot of folks abroad, they're not placing much stock in the belief that the US has necessarily come out stronger.
Kai: In our last moment here, what are you watching in terms of first big moves?
Ishaan: What we've seen with these executive orders, Biden already signal a return to major international organizations like the WHO and returning to the Paris Climate Agreement. What I'm interested to see is, there has been talk about him leading a new kind of geopolitical bloc of like-minded democracies, and that will be the vehicle through which he addresses a lot of challenges from climate change to reckoning with the rise and potential threats posed by China. We'll see in the next few months, whether that kind of alliance of democracies take shape and what role the US plays in shaping it.
Kai: Ishaan Tharoor is a foreign affairs columnist at the Washington Post. Ishaan, thanks for joining us.
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