Mr. Biden could employ a similar approach to Mr. Trump’s China trade tariffs. Rather than taking Mr. Trump’s costly and unilateral approach to the trade war as a given, Mr. Biden could initiate a comprehensive review of all tariffs that would include close consultation with American allies on the best way to deal with China. It would result in both better relations with those allies and more leverage to wrest meaningful concessions from Beijing.
On Israel, Mr. Biden could state early on that the Trump plan is no longer U.S. policy and restore American assistance to and dialogue with Palestinians, reiterate longstanding — and internationally accepted — views on a viable two-state solution and make plain that his administration would oppose an outcome in which Palestinians were denied equal rights.
Even after taking these steps, Mr. Biden could still find that some of the damage his predecessor has inflicted is irreversible, because the Trump saga has projected an image of the United States as being demanding of others and unsure of itself, bullying and yet unreliable. The result has been to embolden China, distress Europe and leave all American allies and foes wondering about the durability of our commitments and the credibility of our threats.
Mr. Biden will also have to contend with the fact that the Obama to Trump to Biden cycle will have underscored the head-spinning, yo-yo quality of American politics in which the positions of one president can be wholly erased and defaced by those of another. Most of America’s partners will see in Mr. Biden’s radical correction of Mr. Trump’s approach evidence that any change, even one they welcome, could be ephemeral.
Mr. Trump will remain in office until Jan. 20. His refusal to concede, the abrupt replacement of his secretary of defense (with more high-level firings most likely on their way) and the announcement of new arms sales in the Middle East as well as a “flood” of additional Iran sanctions all suggest he will use his last days in the White House to try to make it harder for Mr. Biden to reverse course.
Mr. Trump, the lame duck commander in chief, could conceivably pursue withdrawing all American forces from Afghanistan, accelerating troop reductions in Germany, pushing through additional arms deals or issuing a travel ban on all members of the Chinese Communist Party. He could recognize Israeli sovereignty over West Bank settlements or designate groups such as Yemen’s Houthi movement or Egypt’s Muslim Brotherhood as terrorist organizations.
Even bolder and more damaging, he could overtly or covertly strike Iran’s nuclear facilities — or greenlight others to do so — on the theory that he alone can prevent a President Biden from allowing Iran to resume its nuclear march. The diplomatic malpractice, in other words, is not necessarily over yet.