America's Breath Of Fresh Air And President Biden's Many Rivers To Cross - THE DAILY CRUCIBLE



Wednesday, February 10, 2021

America's Breath Of Fresh Air And President Biden's Many Rivers To Cross

                         •Joe Biden 

By:  Amb Godknows Igali
The recent inauguration of the Joseph Robinette Biden as the 46th President of the United States of America, arguably the world’s unipolar power, has continued to dominate global attention. The set date January 20, 2021, when the 78-year old took his oath of office, was itself foreshadowed by rather unnerving and somber national outlook due to the uptight ambience of the preceding days. 
Biden became the 8th US President to take office on the 20th day of January, following the Ratification of the 20th Amendment of the Country’s Constitution on January 23, 1933. The law specifies, amongst other things, that the actual investiture holds exactly at midday on 20th January after the “lame-duck period” of four months following the Presidential elections, which statutorily holds on 3rd November. 
The storied inaugural ceremony of President Biden was worth the celebratory air across the US for many salutary and perhaps symbolic reasons. First, the activities of the day called attention to how far that country, rather replete with sensitivities, and entrenched diversities had progressed. Biden became the second person of Roman Catholic Faith, after 35th President, John F. Kennedy (1917-1963) to mount office in the country’s 245 years history. This in a way, underscores the veiled schism which had and still exists within Christendom especially in America. Catholics are about 21 percent of the US population and could, despite their white-Caucasian heritage, be regarded as cultural minorities in a country dominated by Protestant Christians. Interesting enough, Blacks, (about 13.4 percent) produced the 44th President, Barrack Obama, but Hispanics (18.3 percent), Jews (1.7 percent) and Moslems (1.1 percent) are yet to taste power.
Perhaps a brighter spot which raised ample sanguinity was the inauguration of a woman of color, Kamala Devi Harris as the country’s 49th Vice President. Having often puffed its own buzzer, repeatedly, as the bastion of global liberal charm, it had been a paradox of colossal proportions that women still suffer some levels of exclusion in areas of the country’s national life. Until now, the nearest effort by a woman to occupy the White House was, Hillary Clinton, who in 2016 became the candidate of a major political party and actually won the majority of the popular votes. Mrs. Harris’ emergence as Vice President and in that sense the de facto second most powerful person in the world, is a strident forward march, especially for the women folk worldwide.
While the glitterati and glitzy optics of the inauguration simmered, Biden’s mind was obviously preoccupied with many issues.

Chiefest of all, with over 100 million people infected globally, the US has become the prime victim of Covid-19 pandemic with over 450,000 deaths. Sadly, in Biden’s first days, news came to light that the virus mutates itself to fight against immunological pressures, both domestically and coming in from other jurisdictions as the United Kingdom, Brazil, South Africa. Indeed, the virus is adapting through a defiant evolution into new strains and variants to surmount scientific pressure to stamp it out thorough vaccines and remedial therapies. 
But Biden seems to have studied history correctly as he remembers that during the previous big global pandemics like the Spanish Flu (1918-1920), the victory only came through aggressive pursuit of Research, Development and scientific innovation. In this respect, the swift move towards the production and deployment of vaccines has created great hope. Even before the Johnson and Johnson single dose serum, with boasts of better shelf life and a record of 66 percent efficacy in infection prevention and 85 percent in curative terms, other big US vaccine producers Pfizer, Madonna, Novovax, have upscaled their efforts in improving upon the efficacy, safety and roll-over of their products.  With Biden’s added decision to conscript active troops to join the healthcare teams in reaching the population, his ambition of inoculating over 100 million people in the first 100 days appears to be the silver bullet against the ravage of COVID.
On the social side, to make life easier for his fellow citizens, a fundamental obligation of responsible governments, he has proposed a robust 1.9 trillion COVID Relief Bill. Although this still has to be finalized by Congress, this health crisis emergency law is intended to ensure that small businesses stay afloat, schools remain open, students receive more money to study, working families are able to stay safe and feed. 
On the heels of the conspiratory and aggressive events of January 6, 2021, when the city of Washington and the American Capitol – the seat of its legislative branch of government were invaded by well-planned violence from right wing extremists, Biden took over power. The belligerents were many, drawn from such nonconformist groups as QANON, Antifa, Oath Takers, neo-nazists and self-styled “truth movements”. In a rather ludicrous manner, the seeming insurgents consider themselves as “patriots” and “freedom-fighters” bringing up the real under-belly of the deep-seated cultural divide in the country. This traces right to the foundational days when the earliest fathers argued on the vexed question of “patriotism” and who the real citizens   were in the peculiar polarized racial setting.
Underhanded and devious, the tap-rooted gulf has for the entire history, existed between urbanism and rural America, elitism and semi-educated folks, conservatism and liberalism, as well as between segregationists and unionists, between social values and class and a crescendo of the politics of fear and mutual distrust. Sadly several of these far right persons are once celebrated military veterans, serving security personnel, intellectuals and a coterie of evangelical religious leaders. 
How, the roles have switched, between the now perceptibly troublesome Republican supporters and the Democrats. In the 1800s, it was the Democratic Party which dominated the country’s “South”. (Alabama, Georgia, Florida, Mississippi, Oklahoma, South and North Carolina, etc) that fought against 16th President, Abraham Lincoln, (1808-1865) who became a Republican over his neo-liberal and humane policies. Added to that, it was the Democratic Party that in the past was behind the segregationist Jim Crow Law and also the foundation of the devious Ku Klux Klan, one of the most xenophobic organizations that humanity every saw.
In the history of the country, the last time internal divisions were so heightened was during the American Civil War (1863-16) that was fought over the moral issue of Slavery. This included the rights of states over federal laws on the issue and on the minutiae factors associated with such means of production and the economy in general. Added to this, the South wanted to expand their influence with the odious tradition of slavery to the newly joined states of the west, a position which the Republican Party and the North (New York, Indiana, Massachusetts, North and South Dakota, Maine, etc) led by Lincoln opposed sternly.
The main dividing line between the two political parties has become exacerbated in recent years by cable media which followed the fault lines of left and right. Whilst popular television channels such as Fox, CBS championed the conservative credo, others like the CNN, MSNBC, fiercely hold on the forte on the liberal end. Sadly, the match of information technology, especially social media, that is Twitter, Facebook, Instagram and other more cloudy platforms are being prowled upon by political “war-lords” including several former Presidents, Senators and leaders of the US Congress many of whom still spread rather insidiously the message of hate.

Relatedly, Biden has to deal with how to exorcise and dehumidify the present-day body politics of the country from the seeming haunting apparition of his immediate predecessor. In a legislature that is sharply divided along partisan lines, Trump still appears to call the shorts as it concerns members of his Republican Party. Worse still, several influential members of Congress who are openly associated with radical right-wing groups, also continue to blatantly affirm their allegiance to Trump.  Even outside Congress, despite his seeming disgraceful exit, former President Trump maintains overwhelming control of about 75 percent of the party and about 46 percent of the national voting population, a rather ominous plight for the GOP Party and the country’s political and social ecology. This is like a fish bone in Biden’s throat.
Since after the end of the First World War (1914-1919), the world has come to realize in a more profound manner, the inter-connectivity and inter-dependency among nations. Interesting enough, it was the US that led the global community into this new age of greater internationalism and multi-lateral diplomacy. At the height of the Cold War (1947-1991), political rivalry between the Eastern and Western blocs, there was robust level of the United States tour-de-force in sustaining dialogue and forming alliances between nations.
This is plausible as America learnt its lessons in realizing that its isolationist policy in the 1930’s worsened the Great Depression (1929-1933). At then, the global economy totally tumbled to a fall in GDP by minus 26 percent. Indeed, its isolationism is also regarded as the direct lightening rod for the outbreak of World War Two (1939-1945).
It was therefore inconceivable that within such a short span in history of the country, the US would adopt a quarantine, secluded and foreign autarky policy under President Trump. This saw America disentangling itself from popular global concerts both at bilateral and multi-lateral levels.
From the commencement of his Presidency, Trump withdrew from the 195 countries Paris Agreement on Climate Change of April 22, 2016. This is despite the Science which makes very clear the reality of Climate Change, the need for urgent steps to mitigate it and provide finances to curtail the continued emission of Greenhouse Gases. It targeted all nations working together to keep global average temperature at below 2 degrees centigrade above pre-industrial levels. Sadly, President Trump denounced the agreement and gave notice on intention to withdraw, effective 4th of November 2020. Besides the impact of this on the environment, it was a major blow to the world as the Americans would have been expected to also contribute $3 billion dollars to funding mitigation activities especially in developing countries.
Another major move of xenophobe posture was the US stance on Iraq. Following the fall of Iraqi President Saddam Hussein (1937-2006) in 2003, the global community led by the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) started a programme to reduce the capacity of the country to develop nuclear bombs and reduce its stockpile of uranium by 98%. This deal was negotiated for a period of about 10 years by United States, Britain, France, Germany, Russia and the European Union. The final agreement - Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action was signed in Vienna on 14th July 2015. It was therefore incredulous that, the US pulled out of this agreement on May 8th 2018.
The situation between the US and the World Health Organization (WHO), followed a similar pattern. Founded in 1948 with the US playing a robust role, the WHO has continued to champion concerted human efforts in tackling some of the greatest health and medical emergencies that have confronted the world. In the last 70 years therefore, the US has been the backbone of WHO, catering for as much as about 15% of annual budget and is the main donor partner with an average contribution of about 5 million dollars in the programme funding.
The crisis of confidence however ensued with the outbreak of COVID-19 in early 2020, as then US leader, Trump decided to withdraw American support for WHO accusing it of being too acquiescent to China, whom he charged as being behind the spread of the deadly Corona virus. President Trump, therefore gave a one-year notice of American intention to withdraw by August 2021.
Similar to WHO, the US took lone-range positions in some other inter-governmental bodies such as the World Trade Organization (WTO). On October 28, 2020, the 159 member body’s highest decision body, the General Council, zeroed in on Nigeria’s Former Minister of Finance and foremost global economist, Dr. Ngozi Okonjo-Iweala, as “best poised to attain consensus” to become its seventh Director General. But for rather odd reasons, the last US administration took a forlorn stance of filibustering the global consensus. This has left WTO down for the count.
Another thorny area in the external arena is the question of North Korea. Trump held high profile meetings with the hermitic leader of the country, Kim Jong Un in April and June 2018, geared towards normalization of relations which have gone sour since the 1953 Korean War. However, the programme of denuclearization, the raison d’etre of the two summits has not been achieved and North Korea is continuing with its bellicose programme on ICBM and nuclear weapons development.
Next is the question of China whose relations with the US have been defined by guarded optimism, reciprocal suspicion and hegemonic rivalry. It was Emperor Napoleon Bonaparte who 200 years ago called China a sleeping giant. He then predicted and we have come to see most accurately that “let china sleep for when she wakes, she will shape the world”. China has rightly gotten out of slumber, and poised to provide credible competition in every sense. Although it is still regarded as coming next to the US in strength and influence, some experts believe that China is indeed the emergent dominant power. This comes against the backdrop of steady growth averaging 10% in the last 30 years. Even at the height of COVID-19 in 2020, when the entire world posted recession, China’s economy expanded by 2.3%.
With such a superlative economic performance and an aggressive global outreach policy, China was bound to have problems with the United States both at a bilateral level in terms of trade wars and matters pertaining to struggle over dominance in technology.
Added to this basket of problems, President Biden also inherits rather edgy relations with such traditional partners of United States as Europe, Canada and Mexico. With the Arab countries and even Africa’s power house, Nigeria, its restrictive visa and immigration policies have equally left a lot of soured relations and feelings of estrangement.
Americans jubilated and hived a great sigh of relief. That at last, a humane and dispassionate politician with many years of hands on experience has come on the saddle. The choreographed fireworks on the day of inauguration were metaphoric of the convivial mood across the country and indeed the entire world. But even more hopeful is the fact that on his first day in office, President Biden started the process of dismantling the various barriers to domestic and global appreciation which he inherited.
With regards to the myriad of international issues, President Biden has to work more concertedly to re-engage global confidence regarding US predictability. The steps taken to re-enter the Paris Agreement, endorsement of Dr. Okonjo-Iweala for the WTO top job, reopen talks with Iran and soften the ultranationalist immigration stance has already started to become visible signposts of a new activist role by the US in world affairs. His “American is back, Diplomacy is back” speech is therefore being given teeth and substance.
His effort to ensure that from 100-150 Americans get vaccinated against corona in first 100 days is already producing results in the first two weeks of his administration. In January 20, the US recorded her first monthly reduction in Corona death since the pandemic broke out a year ago. But then, the burden is on him to ensure more vaccine equity in terms of distribution around the world as against the present “vaccine nationalism” being pursued. At present, access to vaccines and even the best optimistic projections in terms of concerted efforts seem to be leaving behind the vast majority of humanity in the poorer parts of the world. America may need to combine its medical house-keeping with a manifest destiny of leading the world out of this seeming viral quagmire.
In all these, one major area which may be more heady for Biden is bringing back healing to his country. Rather ominous and unyielding, the cross-cultural dissentions, the class and social cleavages continue to fly around the ship of the country in what appears like an albatross in the middle of the tempest. This situation has not been made better by the hard line positions from Biden’s own Democratic Party, many of whose members insist on taking the political fight to its logical conclusion, rather than seek quick reconciliation. This is exemplified by the ongoing partisan divide in the Congress and the impeachment trial of the former President Trump which many consider as flogging the proverbial dead horse. Another worry from the other side is the nosedive towards ultra-liberal policies, including overt indulgent policies favouring, homosexuals, transgenders (LGBT) both domestically and avoidedly across the world.
But President Biden will need to conceptualize a holistic and demanding programme of deradicalization of the country, on both sides of the aisles, i.e both conservatives and liberals alike. He will also need to work more pointedly, perhaps more than any other of his predecessors had done in the last two centuries to attenuate the deep-rooted internecine suspicions and antimonies between various ethnic populations.
Be that as it may, the American system, like a phoenix, has developed the resilience and strength of rebirth from the ashes of what may appear as a precipe. So, through the various journeys of adversity which the country had experienced, it has always bounced back. With Biden who is a grandmaster of the nuances and the rough edges of Washington, there is great possibility that sooner than later, some form of reconciliation and national rebirth would be worked out and America’s dominant position rekindled.
While we must reawaken to the realization that the process of state-building and national development should be homegrown and indigenous, there is no denying that strategic and constructive diplomatic engagement with the US could be quite valuable to us in many areas. So, for Nigeria, rather than adopt a watch and see attitude, a more aggressive approach in engaging Biden and his foreign policy handlers using our best first eleven, will be a counsel that is well intended.

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