With hefty promises of restoring normalcy after four years of turmoil under Donald Trump, Joseph R. Biden has taken the baton of the presidency. Engulfed with fears of armed protests and witnessed insurrections that took over the US Capitol in Washington, the transition to the new administration of the former Vice President was unaccustomed in the US. This coupled with the global coronavirus pandemic that killed more than 400,000 people in the US alone, the inauguration of the president along with the first female and black Vice President Kamala Harris was a rather quite scene. Organizers represented attendees that would have been at the Capitol Hill for Biden’s inauguration with 200,000 lighted flags.
But not all were left out of the inauguration as former presidents, except for the outgoing Trump, were present along with their spouses. Families of Biden, Speaker Nancy Pelosi, Senate Majority and Minority leaders and some members of the congress graced the event. The performances by stars like Jenifer Lopez, Lady Gaga, and Garth Brooks in addition to poem recitals by Amanda Gorman spiced the inaugural.
On his first day in office on January 20, 2020, Biden signed 15 executive orders that included the return of the US to the Paris Climate Accord and lifting of the travel bans on majority Muslim countries often dubbed as the “Muslim Ban.” These are recognized to be symbolic acts that depict the President’s intentions to return the US to the global leadership arena and change the much frowned at immigration policy of his predecessor.
While these seem to be bold and significant steps for the new administration, they were not a surprise for many that trailed Biden’s campaigns as well as his policy orientations during his Vice Presidency or his political career. But the administration’s challenges are far from being resolved by signing executive orders and congressional debates.
These challenges stretch from the local level extremism to the fragile multilateral platforms that require strong leadership at the global level.
Although the sources of the challenges the administration faces locally go far into history, the tense situation that put the US at the brink of political as well as democratic collapse was the Capitol Hill incident. The deadly insurrections that overtook the Capitol are feared by the Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI) that they could grow into armed rebellion. Addressing racial injustice and ensuring equal opportunities to the disenfranchised part of the society are what Biden’s administration planned to bring about, of course in addition to improving the nation’s migration policies in a way that does not affect local interests as well as repel talent.
But the most challenging experience that Biden’s administration faces is the non-orthodox alliances the previous administration created to advance some foreign affairs interests. One example among these is the Trump administration’s handling of the negotiations on the first filling and operations of the Grand Ethiopian Renaissance Dam (GERD). The Trump administration showed clear biases in the negotiations and presented a document of agreement to be signed which was vehemently opposed by Ethiopia.
The US and the World Bank entered the negotiation hall with the role of observers to later change to facilitators and then to mediators. The Ethiopian negotiating team opposed the role the two wanted to play in the process and rejected the documents prepared by the two. Later on, after leaving the US and WB involved negotiators, the then Foreign Minister of Ethiopia Gedu Andargachew stated the US and the WB overstepped their roles to favor Egypt.
For many analysts and observers, the reason for the US to side with Egypt is the interest it has in the Middle East mainly linked to the resolution of the long-standing Israeli and Palestinian quagmire. The plan also included initiatives for peace agreements between Israel and the Arab world. In this role, Egypt was taken as an important ally to the US with the potential to influence the Arab world. But the placement of the GERD negotiations as a collateral for this was not welcomed by Ethiopia.
In addition to this, the US Russia relations which are said to be at their worst stages now as well as the Iran Nuclear Deal are going to pose much more challenge to the administration that could require the energy and determination of the international community and multilateral platforms. The North Korea nuclear crisis is also part of this problem to the Biden administration.
The tit for tat with the Chinese government and corporations is also another area that would require the President’s attention.
However challenging these may seem, prominent individuals including officials from the Ethiopian government are hoping that the Biden administration would reverse the mess created by Trump and his team, especially the Secretary of Treasury Steven Mnuchin and Secretary of State Mike Pompeo.