Author: Jahangir HUSEYNOV
Thousands of people happily waving The Stars and Stripes, honoured guests including former presidents and even the one whose term will expire exactly at noon when the president-elect raises his right hand over the Bible and pronounces the text of the oath: "I solemnly swear..."
This 200 years old standard phrase should have marked the beginning of the inauguration of the 46th American president Joe Biden. But something went wrong...
Indeed, the COVID-19 pandemic has introduced adjustments to the usual procedure and tens of thousands of American flags fluttered lonely in the wind. But this is not the main thing. What else? Why did the president-elect take his oath before the noon, with Chief Justice John Roberts calling him “Mr. President"? And where is the incumbent president, at least for the remaining 10 minutes? Doesn’t it seem strange?
It seems that everyone in Washington, including the leadership of the Republican Party, was in a hurry to quickly turn the four-year page of American history, especially under the protection of 25,000 armed security men lined up around the Capitol behind a two-meter-high fence with metal barriers. Apparently, there was still a danger that the events of two weeks ago, which Trump's opponents regarded as an attempted coup d'etat, might repeat. The then acting President of the US was accused of active involvement in the coup. That’s why he was not at the inauguration ceremony. This was not his party.
On January 13, the House of Representatives voted to impeach President Trump for inciting rebellion, making him the first president in the American history to be impeached twice. The vote took place exactly one week after a crowd of presidential supporters stormed the US Capitol in an attempt to prevent the Congress from counting the electoral college votes and confirming the victory of president-elect Joe Biden.
As a result of inter-party negotiations, it was decided to start the Senate hearings on February 8.
According to a bipartisan group of constitutional scholars, former President Donald Trump could face an impeachment even he is no longer in power.
Under the US Constitution, the power of impeachment has two aspects – removal from the office and removal from the office in future. It means that it should also apply to former officials who may try to be re-elected in the future.
The guilty verdict requires the votes of 67 out of 100 senators. This level has never been reached in history, including during Trump's first impeachment in early 2020. Now Republicans and Democrats have an equal number of seats in the Senate - 50 each.
You can't please everyone
Soon after his election victory, Joe Biden found himself under great pressure from all sides to fulfil his promises to form a government that would represent the American people as fully as possible.
Although there are no official rules in the US requiring equal representation, almost all the presidents (there are exceptions, however) tried whenever possible, given the preparedness of public opinion at that time, to follow these principles.
230 years ago, the first US President George Washington also supported the idea of equal representation of different points of view. But at that time, the representatives were entirely white men.
Since 1933, 11 of 15 presidents have appointed women to government-level positions. Biden’s still forming his team. But even today, we can say that it will be the most representative in the American history.
For example, Kamala Harris became the first woman vice president of the US; Janet Yellen and Avril Haines – to head the Treasury and National Intelligence, respectively. Deb Haaland as Secretary of the Interior, the first Native American woman; Pete Buttigieg as Secretary of Transportation, the first representative of the LGBT community. For the first time, African Americans will chair the Economic Council (Cecilia Rose) and the Department of Defense (General Lloyd Austin). Cuban-born Alejandro Mayorcas, a son of Mexican immigrants Xavier Becerra and Miguel Cardona with Puerto Rican roots will become the secretaries of homeland security, health and human services and education, respectively.
Yet Biden received criticism from the left wing of the party, which called the government "too old and moderate." They would prefer, for example, to see another women as the secretaries of Defense, State Department and Agriculture. But you can't please everyone.
Fighting the coronavirus pandemic, mitigating the accompanying economic consequences, restarting the US economy, combating systemic racism and economic inequality are the main declared priorities of the new administration in domestic policy. How well the rest of the program materialises ultimately depends on whether the country is able to meet the first two challenges successfully.
According to American experts, the Biden administration has two years to get the country out of the crisis. While Democrats have a majority in the House of Representatives and a symbolic majority in the Senate, they need to submit to Congress bills that the president and his administration will consider important for solving the domestic problems.
The federal government has already spent over $2 trillion to date to stimulate the economy affected by the coronavirus. Biden said he wanted more spending: "Much more, whatever the cost." He believes massive public investment is the only thing that can ensure sufficient economic growth.
The new administration has prepared a $1.9 trillion stimulus package that includes direct payments to Americans, a $15 minimum wage per hour, small business assistance, a national vaccination program, and more.
However, the stimulus package faces major obstacles in the Senate, where many legislators, especially Republicans, are skeptical about the need for additional financial assistance. Another problem for the executive branch is that the upper house of the Congress is involved in Donald Trump's impeachment process.
Last spring, long before the elections, Joe Biden expressed his attitude to Donald Trump's foreign policy as follows: “By nearly every measure, the credibility and influence of the United States in the world have diminished since President Barack Obama and I left office on January 20, 2017. President Donald Trump has belittled, undermined, and in some cases abandoned U.S. allies and partners. He has turned on our own intelligence professionals, diplomats, and troops. He has emboldened our adversaries and squandered our leverage to contend with national security challenges from North Korea to Iran, from Syria to Afghanistan to Venezuela, with practically nothing to show for it. He has launched ill-advised trade wars, against the United States’ friends and foes alike, that are hurting the American middle class. He has abdicated American leadership in mobilizing collective action to meet new threats, especially those unique to this century.”
This statement shows clearly the tasks that Biden sets for his administration. He will try to restore the US' reputation, credibility and influence to effectively address the global challenges of the time.
But it's not that simple. He cannot reverse Trump's policies and turn the country 180 degrees or go back to the time of the Obama administration. In many cases, the reality is different, be it a confrontation with China, a nuclear deal with Iran, or global economic and political alliances.
And the Trump period did not pass without a trace. Although in general America's allies and partners welcome the new US government with optimism, scepticism and wariness cannot be avoided.
The Biden administration must rethink the role of the US foreign policy in the changed environment. It may well turn out that the old coordinate systems no longer work, and if you try to use them forcibly, the chaos in the world will increase no less than during the time of the impulsive and inconsistent Trump.
New realities in the South Caucasus
Among other things, the Trump administration also showed ignorance, and sometimes unwillingness to delve into the political and economic realities in different parts of the world. A striking example of this is the statement by John Bolton in Yerevan in 2018. The US president's national security adviser then advised Armenia to quickly resolve the conflict with Azerbaijan in order to join the US efforts to isolate Iran.
During the recent war in Garabagh, Trump's strange statements in support of Armenia can be explained very simply. When he saw a few Armenian flags at some of his campaign rallies, he suddenly decided that this approach would attract even more Armenian-American votes.
In principle, pre-election rhetoric that differs greatly from real decisions is commonplace. And professional politicians, as they call Biden, should differ from amateurs by the absence of impulsive actions and the desire to please someone.
Undoubtedly, the attitude of the Biden administration to events and realities in the South Caucasus will be shaped by the long-term interests of the US. The realities are as follows. First, Azerbaijan has reclaimed most of the previously occupied territories and is starting to bring them back to life, including with the assistance of international organizations. With the exception of marginal and clearly biased attacks on Azerbaijan, the international community has generally responded positively to this process. This is a reality. Both Biden and his assistants, if they had any erroneous ideas about the causes of the Garabagh conflict, will now have to reconsider them.
Secondly, the Washington administration has often turned a blind to the actions of Armenian authorities, which heavily relied on the Russian politics before the war in Garabagh. Now however the dependence of Armenia on the Kremlin has become simply critical. Certainly, this troubles Washington, which means that we should expect the Biden administration rethink its positions in this context.
Thirdly, while the US was busy with the elections, and France, without the support of its overseas partner, did not dare to make active steps, Russia actually removed the other co-chairs of the Minsk Group from the mediation mission. As a result, Moscow became the only third-party signatory of the ceasefire agreement, dispatched peacekeepers in Garabagh and strengthened its positions in the South Caucasus.
Since one of the declared goals of Washington’s foreign policy is full-scale confrontation with Russia, it is not at all interested in the established status quo. But Armenia cannot be an ally of the US, at least because it is actively involved in the presence of Russian troops in Garabagh. Therefore, Washington will be more interested in cooperation with Baku, which it considers an important partner in ensuring Europe's energy security. At least, the US has always viewed the export of energy from Azerbaijan to Europe as an opportunity to reduce Moscow's influence on the EU and NATO members.
There are many other incentives for Washington to reconsider its views on the processes taking place in the region. The main thing is a professional approach and a willingness to act in line with the international law.