Next February marks 50 years since President Nixon and First Lady Pat visited the People’s Republic of China and, in an effort to underpin peace and thaw Sino-American relations, met with Mao Zedong. Perhaps no diplomatic overture in history has been as transformative or bold, nor could anyone but Nixon have pulled it off. His unassailable reputation as anti-Communist hardliner made him immune to criticism from anyone espousing conservative values. Yet Nixon, born in a Yorba Linda, California farmhouse, was a self-proclaimed “moderate reformer.” He revolutionized foreign relations, curtailed the Cold War, reduced nuclear and biological weapons, set cornerstones of environmental protection, protected marine mammals, advanced women’s rights and raised stagnant wages by 40 percent. He was a groundbreaker, the last of the New Deal liberal presidents.
Now, because “America first” put alliances and global stability last, relations with China are hitting low ebbs, North Korea’s gone nuclear, and NATO’s lost strength. To Donald Trump’s credit, European allies upped their defensive spending and France expanded counter-terrorist efforts in Africa. But since his assault on NATO’s Article 5, the common defense principle on which the treaty stands since 1949, Angela Merkel, Emmanuel Macron and other NATO leaders have been loath to grasp the reins. As U.S. allegiances switched from ideological to transactional, a perceived slippage in global power emboldened Vladimir Putin, who’s used combinations of misinformation and rubles to influence elections towards Moscow-friendly candidates. Russian interests have thusly been embedded into Euro-continental politics. Fortunately, despite Putin’s shenanigans, the New Strategic Arms Reduction Treaty (set to expire February 5th) was extended by the Biden administration. Had it been terminated, it would have been the first such setback since Nixon and Brezhnev signed the U.S.-Soviet pact to reduce nuclear missile arsenals in 1972.
Although the Abraham Accords defused territorial expansion along the West Bank, the United Arab Emirates recognition of Israel could widen other rifts. Resuscitating Iran’s nuclear deal, on which Trump reneged, and a “two-state” solution to quell Israeli-Palestinian violence are challenging, as is America’s adversarial relationship with China. U.S. diplomats long considered ways to keep China from violating international trade and commerce rules. Trump’s costly and reckless trade war is patently inimical to bringing about compliance. So, China’s growing economic and military profile, not to mention Russia’s adventurism in Syria, Libya and Ukraine, will be constant bedevilments to Biden. More injurious, once Trump characterized Central and South America as Marxist base camps for drug lords and immigrant caravans, we ceded to China enormous influence in Latin America. During his presidency, Xi Jinping’s visited 11 Latin American and Caribbean countries, as well as numerous African nations. Trump went to one. So far, during the pandemic, China’s provided 179 billion protective masks as aid to 150 or more nations, selling 100 million doses of Sinovac COVID-19 vaccine to Brazil. Not only is China South America’s #1 trading partner, it’s building a port in Peru. In fact, 19 countries in this hemisphere have signed on to Xi Jinping’s Belt and Road Initiative, a $1 trillion road and infrastructure network to facilitate commerce. The U.S. has yet to address inadequacies of its own electrical grid, airports and bridges. Hopefully, Biden won’t be susceptible to inertia from past “triangulating” and conservative reflexes to public opinion that hindered our adaptation for nearly 50 years.
Scott Deshefy is a biologist, ecologist and two-time Green Party congressional candidate.