January 8, 2021

Hope for the new year

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By just about any measure, 2020 has been a difficult year.  The COVID-19 pandemic, President Trump’s unfounded allegations of elections fraud and stubborn refusal to concede the election, and Russia’s recent massive cyberattack, are just a few of the bad news stories of the year.

But there is hope for 2021.  The rapid development of COVID-19 vaccines suggests that, as the year progresses, life will return to some semblance of normality.  And Joe Biden’s inauguration on January 20 will also usher in a degree of sanity in our politics.  Our country, indeed, the world, needs it.

I don’t mean to suggest that the damage done in the last four years by “The Great Divider” will be undone in one fell swoop.  The country faces serious challenges, first and foremost, overcoming the extreme polarization that has infected our politics.  While our divisions preceded Mr. Trump, they were greatly exacerbated by him.

Joe Biden will at least attempt to reverse this destructive trend – he will try to be a uniter, and not a divider.  He is essentially a centrist (albeit center-left), which almost by definition means he is wary of extremes.  Do not worry, folks, under the Biden administration, the United States will not become some kind of a Cuban or Venezuelan-style “socialist paradise.”

As a mainstream, more traditional politician, Mr. Biden understands the need to work across the aisle on issues of importance to the American people.  To him, compromise is not a dirty word.  He sees political opponents as just that, and not as the enemy – in contrast to all too many in the far-left and far-right of the political spectrum.

Perhaps I will be eating my words – but it will not surprise me if we see President Biden working cooperatively with Republicans in the Senate and even the House to tackle at least some of the myriad challenges facing the United States.   This does not mean by any stretch of the imagination that everyone will be sitting around the campfire singing “kumbaya,” agreeing on everything, but that is almost never the case in a genuine democracy – nor should it be.

But at least now we have a chance for less toxicity in American politics and a restoration of some degree of civility.  With time Americans may even regain some of the faith in our government and other institutions that has been lost in recent decades and that has made us more vulnerable to disinformation – including that emanating from Moscow.  It helps greatly that our new president is a person of character, decency, empathy, judgement and vast experience in both domestic and international affairs.  One need not agree with all of the policies that will come out of his administration, but it will be more than refreshing to have someone like him in the White House.

And I have utmost confidence that the Biden administration, and Congress, on a bipartisan basis, will support Ukraine.

Joe Biden understands the dangers posed by the Kremlin’s aggression in its neighborhood and malign influence all over the world.  He knows Russia is a threat to U.S. national security and to our values. He will not kowtow to Vladimir Putin.  You will not see shameful press conferences like the Trump-Putin performance in Helsinki in 2018.  You will not see a President Biden withholding nearly $400 million in crucial military assistance to an ally fending off Russian aggression for any reason, much less in a futile attempt to extort that ally to dig up dirt on a political opponent.  You will not see Mr. Biden discussing inviting Russia back into the G-7, when the circumstances leading to the decision to boot them out in the first place (the occupation and illegal annexation of Crimea) have not changed one iota.  He will not let out a litany of curse words to display his contempt for the Ukrainian people.  I could go on and on, dear reader, but I think you get the picture.

Mr. Biden recognizes the critical relationship between stability and security on the one hand, and democracy, human rights and the rule of law on the other.  He understands the key role that civil society plays in fostering freedom. And he, more than anyone else, understands the central role that allies play to our own security and prosperity, notably NATO and the EU.

Joe Biden understands Ukraine.  He has an excellent track record on the country dating back to his Senate days, especially when he was on the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, sometimes serving as its chairman. And as vice-president he was more engaged and supportive of Ukraine than any vice-president, or, for that matter, president, in U.S. history.  You can rest assured that a Biden administration will maintain, and expand, as necessary, sanctions against Russia.  It will provide substantial support for Ukraine, including lethal weapons and other military assistance.  It also means substantial aid to Ukraine in the areas of economic development, civil society/democracy/ rule of law, energy security, health, environment and agriculture. This non-security assistance, too, is essential to strengthening Ukraine’s independence.

As vice-president, Mr. Biden rightly criticized Ukraine for its endemic corruption, recognizing it as a threat to Ukraine’s national security.  You can bet that he will push Ukraine on reforms, especially in the area of rule of law, all the more-so because they have stalled, and even backslid, within the last year.  With a Biden administration, Ukraine can expect some tough love. This may mean not only pushing on reforms, but even perhaps occasionally using conditionality (tying aid disbursement to fulfillment of benchmarks) to encourage progress, as is already the case with respect to a portion of U.S. military assistance.  It remains to be seen whether there will be more emphasis on the “tough” or on the “love,” but you can be sure that it will come from a good place – from an administration that wants Ukraine to succeed as a stable, secure and prosperous, democratic partner to the Trans-Atlantic community. And Mr. Biden will do so with strong bi-cameral, bi-partisan support from the U.S. Congress.

 

Orest Deychakiwsky may be reached at odeychak@gmail.com.