Biden’s Battles: From Facemasks to Iran’s Nuclear Weapons, from Trump Pardons to U.S. Unemployment, every Solution Contains a Problem
Biden’s mountain of challenges looks even more daunting when you look closely. Also: China locks up Hong Kong heroes, Venezuela’s opposition setbacks, Dutch antisemitism exposes itself.
Highlights This Week – Scroll Down for:
Biden’s Battles: From Washington to Tehran, from Trump to the Ayatollahs
China Crushing Hong Kong: Strangling Dissent
Venezuela: Tougher Times Ahead for the Opposition
Netherlands: A Scandal Reveals Antisemitism in the “sophisticated” far right.
Biden Challenges: From Pandemic to Middle East - Steep Mountains, Hidden Landmines
As the clock ticks closer to his inauguration, President-elect Joe Biden has been offering more details of what he views as his priorities and how he intends to address them. The more we see, the more apparent it becomes that Biden has a steep mountain to climb, and that mountain is sodded with landmines.
When he takes office, he will inherit the most calamitous conditions any U.S. president has faced in almost a century. But even when Roosevelt became president, he didn’t contend with an outgoing president shouting that the election had been stolen, riling nearly half the country, undermining his successor’s legitimacy, and intimidating members of the rival party, whose support will be indispensable for Biden to address the urgent crises affecting the country.
In a series of interviews, Biden outlined his domestic and foreign policy priorities, beginning, not surprisingly, with the growing challenge of tamping down an out-of-control pandemic — two people dying every minute — while supporting the economy. Without urgent action, Biden argued in the interviews, the crisis will cause damage to individual lives and to the system that could become much more difficult to repair.
The contrast with President Donald Trump was striking in many respects, not only in content but also in tone. And even more so because Trump has spun out into an ever more harmful and mendacious assault on the truth and on America’s democracy.
Biden, who named a pandemic taskforce only hours after he was declared the election’s winner, said he will ask Americans to wear masks for 100 days, and he has already offered Dr. Anthony Fauci a position as his chief medical adviser.
Because a president has limited powers in the states, Biden’s efforts to persuade Americans to change their behavior will be actively countered by the disinformation campaign already unleashed by Trump and his acolytes, a campaign that is thriving across the country with deadly consequences.
Biden said his top priority, even before he takes office, is getting Congress to approve a big economic package.
His choice for treasury secretary, was a stroke of genius, as I wrote for CNN
“There's a reason why when news that Yellen was going to Treasury got out the stock market rocketed to new heights and praise arrived from all quarters. It's not often that you hear admiration for the same person from rightist and left-leaning economists…Assuming she is confirmed by the Senate, a safe bet, she will come to the office with that unmatched experience.”
For those who enjoy economic security and have delighted in stock market gains, it’s easy to overlook the calamity that has befallen much of the country. Millions are facing eviction, foreclosure, unemployment. Savings accounts are running dry, and emergency protections are running out. The same is true for businesses that managed to survive thanks to financial assistance that has now run out.
Biden — the country — needs Republicans and Democrats to work together to craft solutions.
On foreign policy, Biden repeated his vow to return the United States to the Iran nuclear deal — clunkily named the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action, or JCPOA. But returning to the deal is much more complicated than it sounds.
Biden reaffirmed his intention to return the U.S. to the 2015 deal as long as Iran agrees to strict compliance and to follow that reengagement with negotiations on strengthening it and on other contentious issues, such as Iran’s arming of its aggressive paramilitary proxies across the region; its support for terrorist groups, and its development and deployment of precision guided missiles, which are already being used against U.S. allies and others.
When you look more closely, reentering the JCPOA requires solving a series of complicated issues. Will Iran dismantle all the facilities and nuclear materials developed in the past few years? What happens to the timing of the JCPOA? Will the timeline be extended to compensate for the suspension?
Then there’s the matter of the new U.S, sanctions. Iran wants them lifted — it even wants compensation for the losses it suffered. But many of those sanctions are related to issues other than the nuclear program. Will Biden lift sanctions linked to Iran’s support for terrorist organizations or other malign activities?
Restarting diplomacy is the right course. Biden wants to reconstitute the international alliance that pressured Iran to negotiate and later unraveled under Trump.
But he would do well to drive a hard bargain with Tehran. For all his failings, Trump is leaving Biden with a strong hand there. The Iranian regime is dangerous and is already a source of instability. It would be a mistake if Biden squandered the advantage.
Biden’s Iran dealing will be closely scrutinized at home, where Trump is likely to criticize his every move, even as he battles an endless series of lawsuits and criminal cases against him. His impending barrage of pardons, including possibly for himself and his family, will not protect him from state cases.
Despite his problems, Trump remains a threat to Biden’s efforts to solve the country’s problems by healing its pernicious partisanship.
“We’ve got to figure out how to work together,” Biden said. If we can’t do that, “we’re in real trouble.” That’s the biggest challenge of all.
Hong Kong Democracy Heroes Sent to Prison
If you’ve followed the pro-democracy movement in Hong Kong for any amount of time, you’re familiar with Joshua Wong, the 24-year-old activist who is one of the leading voices against Beijing’s tightening grip. Wong first rose to prominence as a teenager, during protests against China’s plan to change the school curriculums to turn Hong Kong’s youngsters into loyal followers of China’s Communist Party. Since then, he has been in and out of prison, along with other activists, whose battle to preserve a measure of autonomy and self-rule Beijing has tried to crush.
This week, three of Hong Kong’s best-known activists were sentenced to new prison terms for participating in pro-democracy demonstrations: Wong, along with Agnes Chow and Ivan Lam.
Wong’s crime, which led to his 13 1/2-month prison sentence, resulted from his use of a megaphone last year, when he led a huge rally in chants of “No riots, only tyranny!” That was deemed a violation of the draconian new national security law, which allows authorities to impose prison sentences for almost any reason at all on grounds of “endangering national security.”
China’s authoritarian rule, its repression in Hong Kong and brutality in other parts of its territories, is sure to become a more visible part of America’s multi-faceted, hyper-complex, interactions with Beijing during the Biden presidency.
Venezuelan Opposition Set to Lose Another Battle
The long-suffering Venezuelan people are about to endure yet another setback, with President Nicolas Maduro strengthening his already formidable control of all levers of power even as Venezuela sinks deeper in poverty and lawlessness.
The Organization of American States this week called on the International Criminal Court to investigate the Venezuelan regime for committing crimes against humanity, but the regime shows no sign of relenting.
For a moment back in 2019, opponents of what is a dictatorship in Venezuela thought they detected a light at the end of the tunnel. The opposition to President Nicolas Maduro had managed to win an election years earlier, taking the majority in the legislature. Maduro and the supreme court he controls, removed all power from the National Assembly.
Still, Juan Guaidó, the head of the legislature, moved to become interim president citing irregularities in Maduro’s election. Much of the democratic world — beginning with the Trump administration — lined up behind him. The plan was that the Venezuelan military would support Guaidó, and Maduro would have to leave. That did not happen.
Now Venezuela is holding new elections for the National Assembly. The elections are sure to be rigged, and the opposition is boycotting them. It is unclear what the path forward is for Guaidó and Maduro’s critics.
Trump’s gambit, complete with threats of military action, did not work for Venezuela, even if helped him in Florida, where many viewed him as a champion of the Venezuelan people.
Biden has promised to take action to address Venezuela’s humanitarian crisis, and use “intelligent sanctions” to target the key players in Maduro’s regime.
The Oldest Hatred Brings Down the More “Sophisticated” Dutch Far-Right Party
In my World Politics Review column this week I told the story of the upstart far-right party in the Netherlands, led by an academic fond of quoting from the ancient Greeks. The Forum for Democracy had stunned the country with a huge victory in the provincial elections last year.
Well, it turns out the new far right is not unlike the old one. The party is collapsing spectacularly after revelations of deep-seated antisemitism and a dollop of QAnon style conspiracy theories.
Members have been found praising the Nazi economic model, and its leader has been accused of claiming the pandemic is a Soros plot for domination. The more things change…
That’s it for now. See you next time.
Until then —
Stay safe; stay informed; stay engaged.