If the whole world could vote, who would win: Biden or Trump?

It's a tough choice between the duplicitous incumbent and his disruptive predecessor

US President Joe Biden, speaking in Atlanta on Saturday, has been trying to appeal to supporters of both Israel and Palestine. AFP
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As the US election season kicks into high gear, the world is dreading the prospect of either President Joe Biden or his predecessor, Donald Trump, running the country for another four years.

The election could be decisive, given the personalities and ages of the two men who embody the deep divide in American public opinion. What if either candidate experiences a health setback? What do their foreign policy stances mean for the world? And how might each campaign be shaped by international events, between now and November?

Global issues have taken a backseat for now, with domestic challenges – particularly immigration – dominating the campaigns. Moreover, neither contender finds it necessary to engage deeply on foreign affairs or make firm commitments on the big international issues because that could limit their room for manoeuvre in the long run.

They won’t be expected to stake out clear positions until their respective party conventions in the summer, although Mr Biden will find it more difficult to steer clear of such issues than Mr Trump, given his position as the incumbent.

That said, both leaders are clear in their absolute support for Israel and its determination to either eliminate Hamas or at least severely debilitate the group. Both leaders will want to increase US military and financial support to Israel. After all, both candidates believe that their electoral prospects hinge on their support for an ally at war.

However, they also recognise the element of surprise that may lie in votes from Arabs, Muslims, African Americans and youth who oppose Israel’s brutal campaign against Palestinian civilians. Consequently, they are closely monitoring states such as Michigan, as the election outcome could be influenced by as little as a 2 per cent margin of votes.

Both leaders are clear in their absolute support for Israel

Perhaps aware of this, the Biden team has been leaking information regarding the President’s dissatisfaction with the Israeli government. This is particularly as Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu belittles America, even as he receives billions of dollars and advanced weapons from it.

But recent revelations in The Washington Post about the Biden administration’s arms deliveries to Israel since the start of the Gaza war, which continued even as Mr Biden criticised Israeli military actions, exemplifies the duplicity behind misleading public opinion and voicing public approvals through the US Congress.

This does not mean that Congress would have halted assistance to Israel or that the US media would have turned public opinion against Mr Biden.

Those banking on a shift in American public opinion towards Israel should closely examine the organic US-Israel relationship. They should also expect significant investments in election advertisements portraying Israel as the “victim”.

Divisions within the Democratic Party have forced the Biden administration to put together an incoherent humanitarian strategy, with the President striving to appear compassionate towards Palestinian civilians. This explains why he has adopted the controversial tactic of air-dropping aid into Gaza as well as the idea of establishing a seaport in Gaza for the same purpose.

One might argue that Mr Biden is trying to make the best of a bad situation. However, his apparent inability to pressurise an extremist Israeli government exposes weakness. Mr Biden is attempting to navigate between two wings of the Democratic Party. On the one hand, his government vetoes UN Security Council resolutions to impose a ceasefire on Israel. On the other, it plays the humanitarian card.

With this being an election year, Mr Biden is avoiding decisive steps and serious commitments. His focus has been to take temporary measures and adopt a patchwork policy rather than work on a complete overhaul in the American strategy.

Some of this nuancing could benefit Mr Trump, who isn’t obligated to win over the Republican Party in the same way because he is essentially at war with it. But he understands the language of elections and sees it in his interest to emphasise major issues that would please the party’s rank and file, including Israel’s security. Thus, he has reiterated support for Israel without delving into the swamp of details.

For now, he will simply try to focus on talking about Mr Biden’s weaknesses. The presidential debate will be crucial for Mr Trump, as it could give him the chance to showcase his relative vitality and energy.

Meanwhile, the rest of the world is forced to contend with both candidates. It is already aware of Mr Trump’s impulsive nature, but it has also become acquainted with Mr Biden’s apparent duplicity regarding the war in Gaza.

But just as all politics is local in the US, so is the case in other parts of the world. And the coming months could be pivotal, not only from a US election standpoint but from those of Washington’s allies and rivals.

One development to keep track of is the rise in tensions between Nato and Russia.

These tensions could come to a head at the end of June, when Nato is set to deliver F-16 fighter jets to Ukraine. At that point, Russian officials hint that using tactical nuclear weapons could be on the table. President Vladimir Putin has himself spoken in revolutionary language in a recent speech, a departure from the usual method of leaning on former president Dimitry Medvedev to deliver such messages.

The Nato summit is scheduled for July 9-11 in Washington and will impose itself on the US presidential candidates. The European Parliamentary elections a month earlier could also be crucial.

Mr Trump has barely concealed his annoyance with Nato members. Over the weekend, he met Hungarian Prime Minister Viktor Orban who has had quarrels with Nato, even though his country is a member state. Mr Biden, on the other hand, boasts of uniting Nato members and expanding the alliance, challenging Russia, and insisting on supporting Ukraine in its war with Moscow through weapons and financial aid.

The leadership in China, meanwhile, has so far ensured that its competition with the US does not spiral into needless confrontation. And this is regardless of whether the White House is occupied by a Republican or a Democrat. So is the case with the Iranian regime, which as of today does not seek to provoke the West into a direct confrontation.

For these reasons and more, the world will wait and watch for the US election to take place before considering the next steps.

Published: March 10, 2024, 4:15 PM
Updated: March 14, 2024, 3:21 AM