Most Americans view domestic policy as separate from foreign policy. But it is not.
When Barack Obama, an unproven, relatively young president, was first elected to the White House in 2008, many world leaders assumed he would fail. Whatever one’s opinion about Obama’s presidency, the moment he got his Affordable Care Act (ACA) enacted, many world leaders took notice. Obama’s legislative victory indicated to them that he was a capable leader, one who should be taken seriously.
It gave Obama a degree of cachet with foreign leaders early in his presidency.
More generally, domestic policy concerns can impact foreign policy by either strengthening or weakening the country’s overall attraction and reach globally. This is a concept that Chinese leaders have referred to as Comprehensive National Power (CNP).
So an infrastructure bill is not just about getting better roads and bridges to Americans. It’s also about creating something that will make America more efficient in terms of global competition and more attractive to the rest of the world than many of its competitors (like China).
The Joe Biden administration’s attempt to pass sweeping infrastructure legislation in its first year is akin to the Obama administration’s ACA rollout in its first year. Unlike Obamacare, though, Biden’s infrastructure program is doing more damage to Biden’s image than it is helping. What’s more, Biden’s failure to get his infrastructure bill passed is damaging America’s CNP.
Biden’s chronic bumbling
The United States has needed to upgrade its infrastructure significantly for decades. Yet the political situation has never allowed a president to accomplish this vital task.
President Joe Biden believed he could be the American leader to change this dynamic. In fact, he has staked much of his early presidency on the notion that he alone can get this most essential job done.
Thus far, the 46th president – the man who claimed he was more competent than his maligned Republican predecessor, Donald Trump – has failed to achieve the goal of getting the most ambitious American infrastructure bill since the New Deal era passed.
The fact that Congress is controlled by Biden’s Democratic Party makes his failure all the more damning for his political future. And both Biden and his party will pay dearly for this enduring failure in the 2022 midterms. If this pattern of unmitigated failure continues over the entirety of Biden’s first term, it could mean he is defeated in 2024.
Biden is a career politician who rose to the highest points in the Democratic Party establishment. As a former leader on the powerful Senate Foreign Relations Committee and, later, as vice-president, he should have been able to take the reins of power effortlessly from the supposedly unstable naïf he accused Trump of being.
Yet less than a year into Biden’s presidency, the country has known nothing but catastrophe.
To compound matters, Biden has no one other than himself and his own party to blame for the catastrophic failure that has been the infrastructure bill. And Biden’s infrastructure bust, on top of the recent disasters at the US-Mexico border or the US withdrawal from Afghanistan – to say nothing of the decrepit state of America’s economy since he became president – further weakens Biden on the world stage.
This, at a time when the world is being divided between democracy, as led by the United States, and autocracy, as represented by China.
A historical precedent
President Biden’s failure on all levels portends one thing: The United States is still deep in the throes of seismic sociopolitical and economic changes the likes of which the country has not endured in 80 years, since the halcyon days of Franklin D Roosevelt’s presidency.
What’s more, America’s ruling elite appear completely blinkered by the changes under way in the country. And Biden, as the scion of America’s patrician ruling elite, is poorly matched to the systemic changes under way in the United States (and throughout the West).
Far from being the next FDR, Joe Biden looks to be playing the role of John Quincy Adams to Donald Trump’s version of Andrew Jackson.
In 1824, Adams defeated the populist president Andrew Jackson through what Jackson and his supporters dubbed a “corrupt bargain.” Claiming to be more competent and stable than the fiery Jackson, Adams planned sweeping infrastructure programs to revitalize the United States.
Yet despite his years of elite education and government experience, president John Quincy Adams never lived up to his promise. Jackson ended up returning in 1828 with a vengeance and unseated the blinkered Adams in that election – with Adams being considered by many to be a “failed president.”
While Joe Biden has rightly identified his presidency as occurring during a fulcrum point in America’s history – a time of momentous change where failure to act boldly will result in major damage to the United States – his inability to live up to his own claims of competence and greatness indicate that, for Biden and the Democrats, failure is an option. And America will pay dearly for each foundering.
With every misfire, the US declines and is made less competitive on the world stage, leaving open an opportunity for an upstart rival, such as China, to challenge America’s primacy more effectively.