Biden's old hands confront a new world

President-elect Joe Biden smiles as he meets virtually with the United States Conference of Mayors at The Queen theater Monday, Nov. 23, 2020, in Wilmington, Del. (AP Photo/Carolyn Kaster)

The Washington establishment is back in government. What is top of their agenda?

After some delay, outgoing US President Donald Trump has agreed to allow his successor, Joe Biden, to begin his transition to the White House.

Mr Biden’s incoming administration is widely expected to represent a return of Washington’s traditional policymaking elite to the Cabinet Room. It was a group that Mr Trump had shunned. Many of his supporters fear their reappearance will be a reversion to the proverbial “swamp” of political establishment and special interests in politics. Other Americans, and much of the global political elite, will be relieved.

Foreign policy appointments, pending confirmations by the Senate, include Antony Blinken as Secretary of State, who has worked with Mr Biden for 20 years. The UN ambassador is set to be Linda Thomas-Greenfield, an Africa specialist with a 35-year record at the State Department. Jake Sullivan is national security adviser; he carried out the same role for Joe Biden when the latter was vice president.

The team is diverse. A woman of colour, Ms Thomas-Greenfield graduated from a segregated Louisiana high school. Two Americans with Palestinian heritage are in prominent positions: Reema Dodin as deputy director of the Office of Legislative Affairs and Hady Amr on the transition team.

Critics will scrutinise controversy in appointees’ careers, including Mr Sullivan's involvement negotiating the divisive Iran nuclear deal and claims that Mr Blinken influenced Mr Biden's 2003 vote in favour of the invasion of Iraq.

For a nation struggling with large protest movements, an economic downturn and one of the worst outbreaks of coronavirus in the rich world, however, domestic policy will be scrutinised even more heavily.

America’s post-Covid-19 recovery plans will be paramount. Janet Yellen is in line to become the first female treasury secretary. At home, Ms Yellen faces the challenge of mass job losses and slowing economic growth. She reportedly favours an increase in public spending to tackle these issues.

FILE - In this Aug. 14, 2019, file photo former Fed Chair Janet Yellen speaks with FOX Business Network guest anchor Jon Hilsenrath in the Fox Washington bureau in Washington. (AP Photo/Andrew Harnik, File)
Trade wars with China, ubiquitous Trump-era sanctions, a return to multilateralism and rebuilding ties with old allies are some of the items on the agenda

Mr Biden's economic strategy is expected to revolve around a green recovery. His advisers will reconsider the Trump administration’s policies to relax environmental regulations in areas such as domestic coal mining. Abroad, Mr Biden will kick off his green policy by re-joining the Paris Climate Accords, which were initially signed by John Kerry, who returns to government as presidential envoy for climate.

The economic impact of US policy abroad will be far-reaching. Trade wars with China, ubiquitous Trump-era sanctions, a return to multilateralism and rebuilding ties with old allies are some of the items on the agenda.

In the Middle East, Mr Biden is considering a return to some form of the Obama-era Iran nuclear deal. With the old deal’s 10-year sunset clauses and its inefficacy in constraining Iranian influence in the region, a new, better deal should be sought.

This year, Mr Trump’s administration and US allies in the Middle East made ground-breaking progress with the Abraham Accords. Mr Biden should continue the spirit of this historic moment. The benefit of his more idealistic approach to foreign policy is a greater potential for detente between Palestinians and Israelis. After all, the conflict is not only about what have become the facts on the ground. It is also about decades of injustice. Mr Biden has a chance to build on the momentum created for long lasting peace.

Idealism could also re-centre the rule of international law in US foreign policy. Many in his new team, particularly Mr Sullivan, are specialists on the subject. This is an important moment to remind the world of its worth.

The benefit of reintroducing old hands to America’s reins of power is that their intentions will be predictable. But Mr Trump has fundamentally changed the political environment for the US, both at home and overseas. It will be for Mr Biden’s team to prove that its veteran expertise can still steer the world’s strongest superpower through an unfamiliar landscape.