In a recent reflection for this journal, I criticized President Biden for his flurry of presidential directives on his first day in office, most of which were of an extremely “progressive,” leftist sort. I suggested that for a fellow who says he wants to be a unifier this was a questionable way to start. But two recent moves by Biden — “the Patriarch” — strike me as much worth praising.
First, as a recent Wall Street Journal article reports, The Patriarch has begun to try to repair and strengthen our alliance with Canada. While most Americans don’t think very often about our neighbor to the North, our military does. We share the longest common border in the world — over 5,500 miles long — and have been at peace for over two centuries. Canada fought closely with us in World War II and then in the Cold War, both as a multilateral partner (in NATO) and a bilateral partner (in NORAD). It fought alongside our troops in the Korean War, the Gulf War, the Kosovo War, and the War in Afghanistan.
President Trump had only contempt for Canada, and under his reign of narcissism, relations suffered.
Trade between Canada and the USA constitutes the second largest bilateral trade relationship in the world. Indeed, all three NAFTA partners have gained in trade volume from that FTA. In the 20 years after signing the NAFTA deal, Canada saw an additional $250 billion in trade volume, Mexico saw $340 billion in additional trade volume, and the US saw a massive $630 billion in trade volume. And we have very tight cultural bonds with Canada as well, with the same language, legal system, and democratic tradition of government.
We are fortunate to have such a neighbor. But President Trump had only contempt for both the country and its ruler, and under his reign of narcissism, relations suffered. Trump called Justin Trudeau “dishonest” and “meek” after the latter complained about the tariffs Trump imposed (despite our trade agreements). Peter Navarro, Trump’s trade cult leader, added that there had to be a “special place in hell” for the Canadian PM.
So it was gratifying to see that Trudeau was one of the first foreign leaders to call Biden (on January 22), and Biden’s first bilateral meeting with any foreign minister was with Trudeau (held virtually on February 23).
Russia and China have devolved into quasi-fascistic regimes with decidedly revanchist agendas based on narratives of stolen greatness.
The discussion was not merely symbolic — though symbolism matters, in diplomacy no less than in personal life. They discussed a matter of great importance for mutual national security: updating NORAD. NORAD was a crucial part of the Canadian-American military alliance’s defense against the Soviet Union. This network of air force bases, radar installations, and satellites began in 1958 and was intended to give early warning of a Soviet attack launched over the Arctic Circle, and deter such attacks. It did its job well.
However, it now badly needs updating so it can face several defense challenges. First is the challenge of newly resurgent Russia and China — which, after the fall of the Soviet Union, we had hoped would become liberal democracies, but which have instead devolved into quasi-fascistic regimes with decidedly revanchist agendas based on narratives of stolen greatness. Both countries have upgraded their militaries, especially by developing hypersonic missiles of much greater speed than the old ICBMs. These missiles can travel up to five times the speed of sound (roughly 3,800 miles per hour).
Moreover, whereas once the Arctic was covered with ice all year round, and thus formed a barrier to ships approaching us from the North, some of the ice is now gone for long periods of time. This could allow Chinese and Russian warships laden with hypersonic missiles to approach North America closely.
Oh, and both China and Russia now view the Arctic as a crucial trade route, with Russia rapidly building out new naval bases, air bases, and radar facilities along the Northern Sea Route. And China has tried investing in mining operations in the Arctic region, starting partnerships with countries near the Arctic.
The second step The Patriarch has taken towards healing alliances is about free trade with the EU. A recent WSJ article reports that Biden has talked to EU Commission President Ursula von der Leyen, and they have worked out a temporary truce in the trade war Trump started with the EU.
Biden may wind up being the biggest free-trade president since Reagan.
Under this deal, the US will suspend for four months the tariffs placed on about $11.5 billion worth of European goods, including wine, whiskey, food items (such as cheese), and aircraft. The EU will in return suspend duties on about $4.5 billion worth of American goods, including jetliners, wine, certain produce, and various spirits. Biden hopes to put behind both the US and the EU the Airbus-Boeing dispute dating back nearly 20 years. However, other tariffs imposed by both sides still remain.
This agreement was announced the day after a similar agreement between the UK and America on similar terms, ending our tariffs on Scotch whisky, English cheese, and other products.
It appears that The Patriarch may be able to pull off two beneficial free trade agreements, one with the UK, and the other with the EU, agreements that not only would be economically beneficial, at a time when the world needs to end the covid recession, but also would restore our alliances with the countries involved. That would be a genuinely important economic step, and a vital defensive one as well.
Add to that the possibility that Biden — who supported Obama’s proposal for the TPP (which, of course, Trump refused to sign) may yet sign it into law, and the Patriarch may wind up being the biggest free-trade president since Reagan.
If Biden can restore and strengthen our NORAD and NATO alliances, and perhaps enact TPP — which was meant more as a geo-political alliance to counter the growth of China’s military than a free trade agreement — he will go down as one of the most pro-defense presidents since Reagan.
Now, it may be that Biden doesn’t carry these promising initiatives through to completion. Free trade is not popular among the working class, a constituency Biden doesn’t want to alienate. But, as geopolitical commentator Peter Zeihan has suggested, we may be in the middle of a major reorganization of the political parties. Trump pushed out of the party the big business Republicans (who are comfortable with immigration), the classical liberal Republicans (who are comfortable with immigration and free trade), and many of the national security Republicans (who strongly favor NATO and the Quad Alliance). It may be that Biden plans on making a play for these voters, and letting go of the socialist voters.
We could see a resurrection of the relatively hawkish, globalist, and pro-business Democratic Party of JFK, which would be a powerful alternative to the now-populist Republican Party. That would be an interesting sight.