Illustration by Adina Maratkyzy

President Biden: Our Long International Nightmare is Not Over

While Biden’s victory should be welcomed, he symbolizes the return of an old western establishment with its lack of vision, incompetence and amorality.

Nov 8, 2020

As the final votes came in from Pennsylvania, it became clear that Joe Biden will be the next president of the United States. If one were to read op-eds around the world before the election, one would expect Biden to be some sort of transformative president, especially for the world. The New York Times laughably suggested that Biden would not “court foreign autocrats” and applauded his foresight. The Economist predictably hailed Biden’s centrism and consensus-building. “[His presidency] would signify the return of the West as a moral force in the world,” said novelist Aatish Taseer. To paraphrase Gerald Ford after the resignation of Richard Nixon, it might appear as if our long international nightmare is over.
Such arguments may be true on the domestic front, where Biden’s plans are relatively ambitious and visionary. In terms of foreign policy, however, Biden is an improvement over Trump’s malice, but much in the same way that Barack Obama’s bombing campaigns represented an improvement over George Bush’s wars and military invasions.
More than specific policy positions, Biden is the ultimate symbol of what the conservative writer Ross Douthat described as the West’s “Age of Decadence,” an era marked by stagnation and the absence of new radical ideas. For outsiders, this equilibrium would be comforting, if the current state of the world did not involve constant conflict and erosion of democracy around the globe, often initiated and encouraged by the United States.
On the few occasions where Biden has offered a policy position on foreign affairs, he has either endorsed the status quo or offered no plan to change it. Twelve years after his former boss promised to do so, Biden has offered to close Guantanamo Bay’s brutal prison but has offered no specific plan to suggest why he might succeed where Obama failed. He has traditionally been a proponent of drone strikes, and has given no indication that he would stop the extrajudicial murders in Pakistan, Afghanistan, Yemen and Somalia. On the proposed peace deal in Afghanistan, Biden has only offered a range of vague platitudes. The age of decadence will continue to be an age of carnage for the rest of us.
It is not that Biden offers a poor vision, but that he offers no vision at all. Bernie Sanders often gets criticized for his idealistic policies, but the utopia Biden puts forward suggests that vibes and healing will fix a conflict-stricken world.
Biden is not alone. While the world was affixed on the malice of the populists, an anemic Western establishment has displayed its bumbling incompetence and amorality, especially during the pandemic. In the United Kingdom, Boris Johnson treated his country like a behavioral economics experiment, resulting in the highest death toll in Europe. In France, Emmanuel Macron represents the opposite, as he is yet to find a bad idea that he does not like, with disastrous interventions across the Middle East. And he has also overseen one of the worst Covid-19 responses in the world, with more than a million active cases.
There is a leftist argument that would agree with much of this analysis and suggest that the United States and its Western partners have always been the Evil Empire. As the writer Mohammad Hanif described in The Guardian, “[e]ven mild-mannered US presidents have been mass murderers on the world stage.” Most of that criticism is accurate and is useful from an academic standpoint. But it is also irrelevant because it ignores the absence of an alternative in the world’s superpowers.
On one hand, you have Xi Jinping’s China, a state which freely commits ethnic cleansing at an impunity and scale last seen in the 1930s. And on the other, you have Vladimir Putin’s Russia, a state that has gone to every extent to meet its quasi-imperialist ambitions. The sins of the contemporary West pale in comparison. It might not be a moral force, but it is the only superpower that even offers that possibility. At the end of the day, if the United States and its Western partners are an evil empire, they are also the least evil empire.
It is that conundrum that makes the present moment so unfortunate. A conflict-stricken world with democracy in retreat requires new ideas and a radical paradigm. Instead, we will receive a return of the same old establishment — an old kind of nightmare.
Abhyudaya Tyagi is Managing Editor. Email him feedback at
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