President-elect Joe Biden set out big principles on foreign policy — consult with allies, participate in international institutions, elevate climate to the top of the agenda — and plans to quickly reverse some of President Trump’s more egregious departures from historical norms on issues such as immigration.
But on a host of matters, he faces competing priorities, congressional hurdles and wary, if welcoming, allies.
In some cases, such as with North Korea and Venezuela, the most daunting obstacle to foreign policy success is the one that has bedeviled several presidents before him. There are no good options.
Biden is “inheriting a country in crisis,” said Ellen Laipson, director of the International Security Program at George Mason University.
“Between the pandemic and not traveling and economic pain, it’s not going to be an easy time for the foreign policy crowd. They’re going to have to wait their turn,” she said.
Some issues will not wait.
A changed world
Biden faces no end of foreign policy challenges
By Karen DeYoung
President-elect Joe Biden has received no shortage of advice on how to fill the gap between his “America’s back!” mantra and the challenges facing a world that has undergone major changes since he last served in the White House.
Russia and China
To counter China and Russia, Biden has said he will strengthen alliances
By Paul Sonne
The Trump administration viewed competition with China and Russia largely through a realpolitik lens, christening a new era in foreign policy as one of “great power competition.” President-elect Joe Biden is more likely to cast the matter in ideological terms, seeing the situation not just as a contest among nations for power, but also as a struggle of like-minded democracies against rising authoritarianism. He will inherit significant challenges.
Iran nuclear deal
Restoring the Iran nuclear deal may be easier said than done
By Joby Warrick
As a White House candidate, Joe Biden said his formal plan for dealing with Iran would start with a seemingly simple first step: rejoining the 2015 Iran nuclear deal. A new nuclear crisis in the Middle East could be best averted, he argued, by keeping Tehran boxed inside the agreement’s strict, if temporary, limits, while working to negotiate stronger ones. But the prospects for reviving the deal are looking more complicated as an oddly diverse collection of opponents work to ensure that his vision is never realized.
Venezuela and Maduro
Limited options on Venezuela for Biden administration
By Karen DeYoung
President Trump has imposed “maximum pressure” sanctions on Venezuela, recognized an opposition leader as the country’s legitimate president, and hinted at various times that he would negotiate with President Nicolas Maduro or use the U.S. military to oust him. But the policies have accomplished little. President-elect Joe Biden has vowed to continue U.S. sanctions and said he would increase humanitarian spending for Venezuelans enduring “enormous suffering.” But his administration will be limited in what it can do to change the situation anytime soon.
‘The forever wars’
Complicated landscape awaits Biden as he seeks to end U.S. wars
By Dan Lamothe
President Trump took office after repeatedly promising to end the United States’ “endless wars.” But reality proved more complicated, and the U.S. military is still involved in Afghanistan, Iraq, Syria and other terrorism hot spots. President-elect Joe Biden also has said it is time to “end the forever wars,” but he has indicated that does not mean shutting down all counterterrorism operations abroad. He is likely to face similar challenges — and political pressure — as he takes over the White House.
Strained transatlantic ties
Wary allies await change after four years of ‘America First’
By Carol Morello
Joe Biden’s presidential victory brought a collective sigh of relief from many allies, who are expecting improved relations as President Trump’s “America First” rhetoric and go-it-alone policies are replaced by a more traditional approach. But the president-elect has acknowledged that the transition will not be seamless. Four years of Trump’s attacks on European institutions have left many allies wary, and several long-standing issues could further strain relationships.
The North Korea threat
Biden’s first foreign-policy challenge could be North Korea
By Joby Warrick
Despite “fire and fury” rhetoric and a trio of summits, President Trump is leaving office without fulfilling his promise to eliminate North Korea’s nuclear threat. Yet even though Kim Jong Un refused to stop building bombs and missiles, he did become quieter about it. Now, with Trump’s impending departure, U.S. analysts fear a return to more brazen behavior, perhaps in the earliest days of the new administration. North Korean leaders have shown a penchant for provoking crises with newly elected U.S. presidents, and many analysts think that President-elect Joe Biden’s term could start with a new North Korean nuclear test, or the test launch of an intercontinental ballistic missile, or both.
A new Middle East
Trump emboldened Israel and Saudi Arabia; Biden will try to rein them in. A little.
By Anne Gearan
The terms of Washington’s relationships with close ally Israel and regional partner Saudi Arabia changed under President Trump, who emboldened their leaders while muting U.S. criticism. President-elect Joe Biden is likely to try to change the tone and emphasis of U.S. policy toward both nations, which have been the pillars of U.S. engagement in the region for years. But with the exception of some arms sales and U.S. backing for some of the kingdom’s foreign policies, Biden has not signaled that he will try to undo most changes wrought by Trump.