International Policy Digest

Stuart Isett/Fortune Brainstorm Health
Politics /28 Oct 2020
10.28.20

The Unspoken Issue of the 2020 Election: The Future of U.S. Foreign Policy

The 2020 U.S. presidential election hasn’t fallen short on keeping viewers on the edge of their seats. 2020 as a whole has provided a series of events to keep even the most seasoned political pundits on their toes. Thus it was no surprise that the two presidential debates and individual Biden and Trump town halls drew so much attention. However, despite covering numerous topics, from racism and BLM to COVID-19 and even climate change, one quintessential issue remained relatively unspoken: foreign policy.

For decades American foreign policy has shaped the world in various ways; often said ways come back to influence domestic policy regarding hot button issues such as national security or the economy. Nevertheless, in both of the debates and the town halls, foreign policy was rarely mentioned, if at all. This is exceptionally problematic because if it is anything that the president has near-complete power over, it’s the way we conduct ourselves in the global arena.

Granted, while President Trump and former Vice President Biden briefly argued over Hunter Biden, as well as Trump’s Chinese bank account- these discussions only amounted to mindless political banter.

With all of that being said, we must consider the key reasons why foreign policy matters for this specific election and potential consequences that may arise should we choose to ignore foreign policy before next week. First, we have to consider how the next administration will respond not just to COVID-19, but also to its global effects. It is, after all, a global pandemic.

When looking at the baseline approach, one must consider two things; the health response and the economic response. In the last debate, Biden made a solid case solidifying him as ‘the candidate of science’ and what he would do differently to respond to the health crisis. Internationally, however…not so much. So far, the Biden campaign’s only mention of global health policy was a promise to rejoin the World Health Organization, a reversal of Trump’s recent decision. Moreover, besides lacking a specific funding and research and development plan to assist the WHO in its efforts, the Biden campaign made zero mentioning of global health policy during the debates.

Granted, although Biden’s promise to reverse Trump’s recent actions against the WHO is a good first step- it hardly counts as a substantial policy plan. On the other hand, we also have to look at global economic policy. Will Biden restore aid packages for vulnerable nations? What about trade? Will Biden’s America rejoin the new TPP? The short answer is yes, but with various grey areas.

First and foremost, Biden has publicly vowed to rejoin trade agreements that Trump has pulled the U.S. out of. However, he noted in a recent op-ed for Foreign Affairs how he won’t join any new agreements before having “invested in Americans and equipped them to succeed” in the global economy. The former vice president also refused to negotiate new trade agreements unless labor and environmental leaders helped in a “meaningful way” and that nations met specific guideline requirements.

Without a doubt, the U.S. should not be blindly joining any and every free trade agreement. However, Joe Biden’s vague criteria for joining portends potential problems later on. When it comes to foreign aid, Biden provides some more insight into some hopeful policies. One promising policy is the revival of a former Obama era initiative to reinvest in Central America.

According to Biden, “As president, I will build on that initiative with a comprehensive four-year, $4 billion regional strategy that requires countries to contribute their own resources and undertake significant, concrete, verifiable reforms.” Moreover, the Biden campaign has promised to restore funding to USAID and start bridging partnerships with our European allies and extending out to Latin America and Africa.

Conversely, the Trump administration has outlined no clear foreign aid plan for the next four years. Which only leads us, the American people, to assume that Trump will continue the status quo. Policies such as cutting foreign aid, and determining support for nations’ based on “allegiance” to the president himself- regardless of whether they continuously violate democratic norms, will probably continue unabated.

Subsequently, although the Trump administration has encouraged autocratic leaders and normalized tragedies such as China’s persecution of the Uyghurs, Biden has laid out one specific policy initiative that may gradually restore power to the once prominent “liberal international order.”

Biden’s grand plan to promote geopolitical change is to create a global Summit for Democracy. The summit would invite the world’s democratic countries and civil society organizations to collaborate on key goals. The former vice president describes the summit as a way “to strengthen our democratic institutions, honestly confront nations that are backsliding, and forge a common agenda.”

Furthermore, the Biden campaign has also promised to issue a presidential policy directive to combat corruption, illicit tax havens, and hidden channels that finance poor governance and allow those in power to oppress their people on a global level.

Nevertheless, American voters have been done a great disservice by excluding Trump and Biden’s contrasting views in the debates and town halls. Since the debates and town halls didn’t prompt discussions regarding foreign policy, both Biden and Trump’s international community plans have been vague with very few specific policies. Without said details, it will be challenging for policymakers, non-profit organizers, and international policy activists to hold the next president accountable. Thus with the election only a few days away, it’s essential to keep our eyes peeled for the next commander-in-chief.