WASHINGTON — As it exits, the Trump administration is enacting new rules, regulations and ordinances that it hopes will bind President-elect Joe Biden’s administration on many foreign policy issues and cement the legacy ” America First” by President Donald Trump in international affairs. .
Still, the push may not work, as many of these decisions may be reversed or significantly changed by the new president when he takes office on January 20.
In recent weeks, the White House, State Department and other agencies have been working overtime to produce new policy statements on Iran, Israel, China and elsewhere that seek to lock in Trump’s vision for the world. Some have attracted considerable attention while others have largely escaped the radar.
And, while Biden could reverse many of them with the stroke of a pen, some will demand his administration’s time and attention when he comes to power along with a host of other priorities that may require a rethink. more urgent attention.
The most recent of these moves came last week when Secretary of State Mike Pompeo made what may be his last visit to Israel as Secretary of State and made two announcements in support of the government’s claims. Israel on territory claimed by the Palestinians.
Biden’s team has been silent on these announcements, but Biden has made it clear that he supports few, if any, and will reverse many as he intends to return to a more traditional policy toward Israel and the Palestinians.
The Trump administration’s determined efforts to thwart Biden’s potential policy reversals actually began months earlier, half a world away from the Jewish state, with China, even before the former vice-president. president is officially declared the presidential candidate of the Democratic Party.
As opinion polls began to show Biden as the clear favorite to beat Trump in November, the administration began to move even as the president maintained a public face of defiance and absolute confidence in his re-election.
Some officials point to a July 13 statement by Pompeo that the United States would now reject virtually all of China’s territorial claims in the South China Sea, a 180-degree shift from previous administrations’ positions that all such claims should be settled by arbitration.
While many of Trump’s foreign policy decisions were designed from the start to blow away the previous administration’s foreign policy achievements – withdrawing from the Iran nuclear deal, the Paris climate accord and of the Trans-Pacific Partnership on Trade – the South China Sea decision was the first to be linked by administration officials to the possibility of Biden being the next president.
An administration official said at the time that decisions made after that would all be made in view of Biden’s nomination for the presidency. So fear that Trump could be a one-term president began to take hold in July and was followed by an acceleration of statements aimed primarily at thwarting any U-turn by Biden.
A look at some of these moves:
On Thursday, before making an unprecedented trip to an Israeli settlement in the West Bank, Pompeo announced that the United States would now consider groups that defend Palestinian rights as “anti-Semitic” by supporting the Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions movement against Israel. .
He also announced a change to import labeling rules that will require products made in the settlements to be identified as “made in Israel.” The product labeling will take some time to take effect, and so far no group has been hit by the anti-Semitic designation. But, even if implemented, Biden could reverse them on day one.
These moves followed many other pro-Israel moves the administration has taken since taking office. They include recognizing Jerusalem as the capital, moving the US embassy from Tel Aviv, and cutting aid to the Palestinian Authority and the UN refugee agency that works with the Palestinians. While Biden is unlikely to bring the embassy back to Tel Aviv, the other measures can be undone quickly.
Pompeo and other officials have spoken of a new push for sanctions against Iran, but the fact is that the administration has stepped up those sanctions since Trump pulled out of the 2015 nuclear deal two years ago. years. New sanctions could potentially target supporters of Iran-backed militias in Iraq and Afghanistan, as well as the Shia Houthi movement in Yemen, which has been embroiled in a disastrous war with the country’s internationally recognized government.
Biden has spoken of wanting to join the nuclear deal, and Iranian officials have said they would be prepared to return to compliance with the deal if he did. Biden could eliminate many of the sanctions reimposed by the Trump administration by executive order, but it’s still unclear how high a priority that will be for him.
WIDER MIDDLE EAST
While the withdrawal of significant numbers of US forces from Afghanistan and Iraq – bringing the numbers down to 2,500 in each country – is a clear indication of Trump’s intentions, Biden’s approach remains less certain. Withdrawals could be delayed or slowed by the Pentagon, and it remains unclear how the State Department will manage staff at its embassies in Baghdad and Kabul, both of which rely on US military support.
Pompeo has threatened to close the US embassy in Baghdad unless rocket attacks by Iran-backed militias on the area it is in are stopped. However, despite the decision to withdraw troops last week, there has been no announcement on the status of the embassy.
Although the administration’s most vocal actions against China began more than a year ago, they have gained momentum since March, when Trump determined he would immediately blame China for the spread of the virus. novel coronavirus and would accuse Biden of being soft on Beijing.
Since then, the administration has steadily tightened sanctions against China over Taiwan, Tibet, trade, Hong Kong and the South China Sea. He also opposed Chinese telecommunications giant Huawei and called for restrictions on Chinese social media apps like TikTok and WeChat.
Last week, the State Department’s Bureau of Policy Planning released a 70-page document on China’s political strategy. Although it contains few immediate policy recommendations, it pleads for increased support and cooperation with Taiwan. Indeed, at the time the document was published, US officials were meeting with their Taiwanese counterparts in Washington to discuss economic cooperation.
Sunday marked the official withdrawal of the United States from the “Open Skies Treaty” with Russia, which granted each country overflight rights to inspect military installations. The withdrawal, six months after the United States informed the Russians of its intention, leaves only one arms control pact still in force between the former Cold War enemies – the New START treaty, which limits the number of nuclear warheads each can have. This treaty will expire in February.
The Trump administration had said it was not interested in extending the New START treaty unless China also joined, which Beijing rejected. In recent weeks, however, the administration has softened its stance and said it is open to considering an extension. As the transition to the Biden administration approaches, these negotiations remain a work in progress.