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Joe Biden's electoral challenges and Donald Lu's visit to Dhaka

Rased Mehedi

Rased Mehedi

Sun, 19 May 24

Joe Biden is currently facing a significant challenge: preventing a debacle in the upcoming election. In the past four decades, no U.S. president has been as unpopular during their tenure as Biden. His predecessor, Donald Trump, lost popularity while in office, but Biden has apparently become even more unpopular than Trump. Biden has lost considerable popularity not only globally but also among U.S. citizens, with protests erupting in various parts of the country as evidence.

It is not easy for a president of a country like the United States to lose popularity. The U.S. is a powerful economic nation, a leader in protecting citizens' rights, and a global leader. To understand why a majority of university faculty and students across such a country are protesting against the president, one must delve into the political and diplomatic policies of the United States over the past decade.

The recent protests across the United States are primarily due to the Biden administration's strong support for the current ruling party of Israel amid the genocide in the Gaza Strip. Although Biden's vocal support for Netanyahu's administration has significantly weakened in the past two months, with even threats and accusations directed at Netanyahu from the Biden administration, people have not forgotten Biden's visit to Tel Aviv and his speech there following the sudden attack by Hamas on Israel on October 7, 2023.

Even if Donald Trump were in place of Biden, he would have condemned the Hamas attack on Israel and fully supported Tel Aviv in dealing with such a situation. However, Biden, during his visit to Tel Aviv, declared himself a 'Zionist,' a proclamation no other leader would likely have made. Never before has a U.S. president so shamelessly supported any extreme religious ideology. Biden's reckless support for extreme Zionism has severely undermined the United States' zero-tolerance policy against extremism and its tradition of secularism.

While Biden's supporters might not give much importance to this issue, conscious citizens of the United States are angry and disheartened by Biden's policy of supporting extremism. Furthermore, as the president of a leading country like the United States, Biden has lost international credibility in terms of his qualifications. Consequently, when Biden condemned the Israeli attack on Gaza to manage the adverse situation, no one accepted his statement. This might have a significant impact on the upcoming U.S. elections. There is even a possibility that, for the first time, a sitting president might lose the popular vote by a large margin.

Biden's first mistake began with the Ukraine crisis. The Biden administration played a key role in escalating the tensions between Russia and Ukraine to the point of war. Instead of preventing the war through negotiations, the Biden administration provoked the Putin government of Russia to attack Ukraine. Furthermore, the Biden administration's efforts to protect Ukraine after Russia started the attack were also questionable. As a result, even though Ukraine faced destruction due to Russia's attack, the blame fell on the United States, especially the Biden administration. This aspect was not well received by American citizens. The role of the United States in the Ukraine crisis has also made Biden quite controversial on the international stage.

One thing to remember is that the world order, led by the United States, was established after World War II. However, after Republican Donald Trump took office as President on January 20, 2017, his ultra-conservative diplomacy posed significant challenges to this leadership in the face of China and Russia. In international organizations like the World Trade Organization and the World Health Organization, China's influence grew stronger while U.S. authority weakened. Additionally, Trump's ultra-conservative immigration policies exacerbated divisions within American society.

Throughout the year leading up to the November 3, 2020 election, Biden's supporters primarily opposed Trump's ultra-conservative diplomacy and immigration policies, hoping that Joe Biden's election as president would restore the United States' full dominance in the global order. However, President Joe Biden has failed to meet these expectations. Instead, Biden's chaotic diplomacy has further weakened the United States on the international stage. In the face of Russia's challenge in the Ukraine crisis, U.S. policy has visibly failed. Since last October, following the Hamas attack on Israel, many U.S. citizens, including several from the Democratic Party, have not supported the Biden administration's policies. U.S. authority in various international organizations has further diminished.

Moreover, regions where the U.S. previously had explicit or implicit geopolitical control have also seen a reduction in its influence. For instance, in the past, whenever the U.S. wanted to intervene in any part of the Middle East, it received direct support from allied countries. However, recently, when tensions between Iran and Israel escalated, the Biden administration failed to gain the support of most allied countries for its policy to confront Iran. This clearly indicates the weakening of the United States' previous position in world politics.

It must be acknowledged that, after World War II, the United States was able to present itself to the world as a "model nation" due to its internal democratic practices, upholding of human rights and freedom of expression, zero-tolerance policy against extremism, and commitment to secularism. On the other hand, while Russia and China have become economically powerful states, they have failed to become "model nations" due to the lack of democratic practices within their borders. However, during the presidencies of Donald Trump and Joe Biden, the U.S. has repeatedly deviated from its internal democratic practices, freedom of expression, human rights values, and zero-tolerance policy against extremism.

Most recently, the world was stunned by the biased use of force by police in the U.S. to suppress protests against the president's policies. This has significantly weakened the U.S.'s old position as a "model nation" in the eyes of the world. While Republican presidents in the U.S. have generally adopted somewhat conservative policies, Democratic presidents have been known for their progressive policies. However, Joe Biden is the first Democratic president who has run his administration with policies more conservative than those of the Republicans, which could be described as a policy of "anarchy."

On May 14, Donald Lu, the U.S. Assistant Secretary of State for South and Central Asian Affairs, visited Dhaka. This was not his first visit to Dhaka; he has been to Dhaka before. However, the context of this visit is different from the previous one. Last year, he came before Bangladesh's national elections, whereas this time, he arrived before the U.S. national elections. Therefore, there is a qualitative difference between the two visits. An official of this level in the U.S. government is considered a representative of the President. It can be assumed that Donald Lu brought an important message from President Joe Biden, aiming to keep Dhaka satisfied ahead of the upcoming U.S. election. Donald Lu also visited India and Sri Lanka on this trip with the same message.

The primary reason for this is that the United States is a country with the largest immigrant population, and immigrant citizens play a significant role in influencing the election results. The U.S. Department of State has seven assistant secretaries responsible for different regions, who regularly report to the Under Secretary for Political Affairs. Like Donald Lu, other assistant secretaries are now traveling to the countries in their respective regions.

Considering the current situation in light of the Israeli genocide in Gaza, immigrants in the United States, including those from Bangladesh, are not focusing on the political situation in their home countries or the stance of the Biden administration. Evidently, immigrants have almost unanimously taken an anti-Biden position. This does not mean they are supporting Trump. Instead, at this moment, immigrants in the United States are in a state of discomfort. In the last election, they chose Biden over the conservative Trump. After Biden's character has become clearer over the past four years, deciding between Biden and Trump is quite challenging for immigrants from countries like Bangladesh. The most eager to exploit this indecision will be Biden's supporters. Therefore, it wouldn't be surprising if Donald Lu visits Dhaka once or twice more before the U.S. national election on November 5.

However, it shouldn't be assumed that the Biden administration's previous decisions regarding Bangladesh will change just because the election is approaching. This is the strength of the U.S. government system. A governmental decision made through the state process cannot be easily changed by the country's president. Even if the U.S. president tries to exert personal influence, a proposal cannot be accepted or canceled without sufficient support in the Senate. Trump and Biden have somewhat tarnished the tradition of political decorum in U.S. state policy, but the institutional rigidity in the state decision-making process remains intact. Therefore, rather than looking for diplomatic analyses of the ebb and flow of Bangladesh-U.S. relations surrounding the visit of an official like Donald Lu, it is currently more important to observe the political stance of the Biden administration ahead of the upcoming election.

Rashed Mehdi: Journalist

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