Foreign Policy

Biden Speech Pairs Nationalism With Optimism

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Here is today’s Foreign Policy brief: The foreign policy priorities behind Biden’s congressional address, Colombian workers strike nationwide, and Northern Ireland’s Arlene Foster resigns. 

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Biden Cites China Competition to Tout Plans

U.S. President Joe Biden paired nationalism with optimism in his pitch for an ambitious domestic agenda before a joint session of U.S. lawmakers on Wednesday night, as he leaned on economic competition with China to persuade conservatives in both parties to back his trillion-dollar plans.

Biden declared the United States “in competition with China and other countries to win the 21st century.” When he called for wind turbines to be built “in Pittsburgh instead of Beijing,” he received a bipartisan ovation. China, “closing in fast,” was also used as a reason to increase funding for domestic research and development.

On Russia, Biden said he would not “seek escalation” with President Vladimir Putin but would respond proportionately to any transgressions. By not mentioning jailed dissident Alexei Navalny or the recent build-up near Ukraine, Biden may have sought to keep relations smooth ahead of a planned bilateral summit.

The “new” terrorism. Biden again brought up his decision to end the “forever war” in Afghanistan, holding it up as an example of U.S. leadership. He pre-empted concerns of a terrorist revival there, arguing that the threat had “evolved way beyond Afghanistan,” and anyway, Biden said, the “most lethal terrorist threat to the homeland today” came from white supremacists, rather than Islamic extremists.

Threat perception. Biden has been under pressure from conservative-leaning Democratic Senator Joe Manchin to show a commitment to reaching across the aisle in order to receive his crucial vote in a 50-50 Senate. In framing U.S. domestic priorities alongside a competition with China, Biden appeals to Republican voters. In a survey conducted by the Chicago Council on World Affairs in December, Republicans named China’s development as a world power as the number one threat to the United States. Democrats didn’t include China in their top list of threats.

That’s not to say Beijing-bashing doesn’t hold bipartisan appeal. A Gallup poll conducted in March found that 45 percent of Americans perceived China as the country’s “greatest enemy,” a 23 percent increase on the previous year. In the same poll, 50 percent of respondents said China was the leading global economic power.

What We’re Following Today

Colombia on strike. Tens of thousands of workers in Colombia went on strike on Wednesday to protest new tax proposals put forward by President Ivan Duque. Union leaders have called for protests to continue today and have planned another demonstration for May 19. The tax plans—which include hikes on both individuals and businesses—have proved unpopular in Congress, leading Duque to reduce his revenue target on Wednesday from $6.29 billion to $5.38 billion to attract more support from lawmakers. 

Biden’s team heads to Mideast. White House Middle East coordinator Brett McGurk and State Department Counselor Derek Chollet will lead a U.S. delegation to the Middle East this week, Bloomberg reports, as Biden’s team seeks to establish relationships with partners who had grown close to the previous Trump administration. The tentative itinerary includes stops in Saudi Arabia, the United Arab Emirates, Egypt, and Jordan. The trip comes as talks in Vienna over a U.S. return to the 2015 Iran nuclear deal enter a third round this week.

Foster takes Brexit fall. Arlene Foster, the leader of Northern Ireland’s devolved government, has resigned from her post under pressure from within her own pro-British Democratic Unionist Party. Foster’s departure was largely fueled by her failure to prevent the imposition of the Northern Ireland protocol, a workaround born of the EU-U.K. Brexit deal that created an economic border between the island of Ireland and Great Britain. Writing in Foreign Policy, Dan Haverty explains why the Brexit agreement has sparked a new wave of violence across Northern Ireland.

Saudi-Iran ties. Saudi Arabian Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman said he wishes for “good relations” with Iran in an interview with Al Arabiya television, marking a softening in tone to his regional rival, adding that he wanted the two countries to push the region to prosperity. The crown prince’s comments differ starkly from those he made in 2017, when he likened Iran’s Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei to a “new Hitler.” The comments come amid reports of secret meetings between Saudi and Iranian officials in Baghdad aimed at cooling tensions.

Glacial melting. The world’s glaciers are melting faster than ever before, according to a new study published in the science journal Nature. By using NASA satellite imagery to examine the world’s nearly 220,000 glaciers, the scientists found that the ice formations lost almost 270 billion tons of ice per year from 2000 to 2019 and have been responsible for 21 percent of the world’s sea-level rise. The pace of glacial thinning has doubled over that period, and such rapid changes could disrupt food and water access in communities near glaciers worldwide.

“Ten years ago, we were saying that the glaciers are the indicator of climate change, but now actually they’ve become a memorial of the climate crisis,” World Glacier Monitoring Service Director Michael Zemp, who wasn’t associated with the study, told the Associated Press.

The Brazilian soccer star Marcelo, who plays for the Spanish giant Real Madrid, is on course to miss his team’s crucial Champions League semifinal game in London after being named as a polling station monitor in the city’s upcoming assembly elections.

Under Spanish law, all citizens on the country’s electoral register can be called up to work at polling stations unless they can prove mitigating circumstances. The Spanish electoral commission has already denied an appeal from Marcelo, who earned Spanish citizenship in 2011, to shirk his civic duty.

If a compromise cannot be reached, Marcelo would at least be safe in the knowledge that he’ll be compensated for his work. The star player, who earns an annual salary of roughly $11 million, would receive 65 euros ($79) from the government for his services to democracy.

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