Day one, if I win, I’m going to be on the phone with our Nato allies saying, ‘We’re back,’” US president-elect Joe Biden told Arizona TV in July. That really ought to be a group call that the whole world joins. For, with a few notable exceptions – like his fellow-populist, Jair Bolsanaro, president of Brazil, and no doubt his chum, Russian president Vladimir Putin – the globe is immeasurably relieved at what it hopes is the impending departure from the White House of Donald Trump – the aggressive and offensive unilateralist who turned his back on the world.
That departure, however, is not quite assured yet, as Trump refuses to concede defeat, even as Biden has racked up 306 votes (at the time of writing) in the electoral college – 36 more than he needs. Trump’s challenge to the results in five battleground states will, at the very least, ensure a difficult transition and distract Biden from his difficult task of repairing damaged relations at home and abroad.
And even some sober analysts still fear that Trump may yet pull off some legal or political trick to stay in office. But if Trump fails, as seems likely, Biden’s foreign policy priority will be to restore America’s relations with its allies. Its European Nato allies feared the organisation would not survive a second Trump term. “We need a leader who will be ready on day one to pick up the pieces of Donald Trump’s broken foreign policy and repair the damage he has caused around the world,” Biden tweeted earlier this year.
Globally, there are other calls Biden can make on day one. Like one to Geneva, to tell the World Health Organization that the US is back. And another one to reinstate the US in the Paris Agreement on climate change. He could, and might very well, also return the US to the Iran de-nuclearisation deal, rejoining European allies. And so on.
Where does this all leave South Africa and Africa, though? Neither ever features very high on Washington’s agenda, and Trump aggravated the neglect and added gratuitous insult. Assuming Biden is sworn in on 20 January, he will have many other priorities, domestic and foreign.
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