‘Clear but unspoken preference’: As America votes, the world watches with bated breath

A person in the Seoul Railway Station in Seoul, South Korea, watches a live broadcast of U.S. President Donald Trump and Democratic presidential candidate former Vice President Joe Biden during the final presidential debate. Ahn Young-joon, AP

As Americans contemplate the possibility of a nail-biter of a U.S. presidential vote Tuesday, another cohort of people watch closely with nerves on edge as the race enters its final stretch: the rest of the world.

U.S. elections have long been the subject of intense international focus because of the outsize influence of America’s economy, culture and military. The stark choice between giving President Donald Trump a second term or allowing former Vice President Joe Biden a shot at the job has drawn additional scrutiny.

On the ballot for American allies and foes alike is whether they will again deal with a Trump administration that has upended traditional diplomatic protocols and overturned treaties. In Biden, observers said, there is a potential return to a form of American foreign policy that expresses concern for human rights, global cooperation and aspects of the collective world order that the United States has championed for decades.

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“A Biden victory could pave the way for a more constructive international collaboration on a broad range of topics between the U.S. and Europe,” analysts at Rabobank, a Dutch financial services firm, wrote in a note for investors.

Rabobank singled out a less combative U.S. stance on trade, more talks on shared defense spending and increased global teamwork on how to deal with an economically and militarily ascendant China as likely outcomes of a Biden presidency.

A poll published in mid-October by YouGov, a British online market research company, found that European countries overwhelmingly want Biden to beat Trump, and few national populations in the region say the incumbent distinguished himself as president on his handling of the coronavirus outbreak, immigration and other topics. In Denmark, 82% of those surveyed – a high – say Trump has been a “poor” or “terrible” American commander in chief. The lowest figure, in Italy, was 61%.

Some countries are watching the vote more closely than others, even if for political reasons, it can sometimes be difficult to admit it for fear of backing the wrong horse.

In Germany on Monday, Chancellor Angela Merkel declined Monday to comment directly on the U.S. election but said “because of my education as a physicist I naturally attribute great weight to scientific advice, and make use of it myself.” This followed Trump’s comments against Anthony Fauci, the nation’s leader on infectious diseases, who warns that the U.S. is entering a grim period for coronavirus deaths and cases, counter to Trump’s attempts to paint the U.S. as rounding the corner on the pandemic.

Andris Banka, a Latvian-born professor of international politics at the University of Greifswald in Germany, said: “In the Baltics, there is a clear but unspoken preference for Biden.”

Regarding Trump’s threats to pull out of the NATO military alliance that EstoniaLatvia and Lithuania view as integral to their security in the face of military and territorial adventurism from Russia, Banka noted that “a façade of normalcy has been maintained while he has been in office, but there is a clear notion that something fundamental has been broken in transatlantic relations.”

North Korea‘s Kim Jong Un is considering what the result could mean for his reclusive nation after he took part with Trump in a series of showy summits aimed at persuading North Korea to give up its nuclear arsenal, though the meetings did not yield concrete results. North Korea’s leader called Biden, who vowed to hold North Korea accountable for its gross human rights abuses, a “rabid dog.”

Analysts said North Korea is going to be a handful for whichever candidate wins the election, but in Trump, Pyongyang has a sparring partner open to the idea of more talks. An analysis from the Carnegie Endowment for International Peace think tank said the “Trump administration’s foreign policy toward the (Korean) Peninsula … could produce outcomes unimaginable just a few years ago.”

Kim wished Trump a speedy recovery after he tested positive for coronavirus in early October.

Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s close relationship with Trump helped engineer long-cherished policy prizes that undercut Washington’s traditional bipartisan approach to Israel.

Among them: recognizing Jerusalem as Israel’s capital, devising a Middle East peace plan that heavily favors Israel over the Palestinians, starving the Iran nuclear accord of oxygen and the establishment of diplomatic ties between Israel and some Arab nations.

“We will wait and see whether the election will mean a continuation or a disruption of U.S. policy toward Israel,” said Danny Ayalon, a former Israeli ambassador to the United States. He noted Israel is in a “much better place” as a result of Trump’s policies.

“This is the first U.S. administration that has broken away from the simplistic view that solving the Palestinian issue is the key to solving the region’s other problems,” said Yoram Ettinger, a former diplomat and expert on U.S.-Israeli relations and Middle Eastern affairs.

Closer to home, Trump’s rise to power in 2016 triggered unease in Mexico as he badmouthed the country and threatened to upend its export-driven economy by ripping up the North American Free Trade Agreement (NAFTA).

Four years later, Mexicans express fewer worries after the U.S.-Mexico-Canada Agreement (USMCA) trade deal was enacted.

Mexican President Andrés Manuel López Obrador, commonly called AMLO, said the U.S. president shows “respect” for Mexico. Trump called López Obrador a “great guy” and toned down his discourse – gestures interpreted by some AMLO supporters as the Mexican president having tamed Trump.

“It’s in our interest that Donald Trump wins,” said Guadalupe Vargas González, 62, a junior high school teacher and AMLO supporter. “It’s better to have someone we already know than the other candidate.”

Analysts suspect a nationalist such as AMLO would prefer a second Trump term rather than taking his chances on a Biden administration, which would be more likely to voice concerns over security, human rights, media freedom, climate change and labor clauses in the USMCA deal.

“The U.S. has been keeping quiet about these topics – suspiciously quiet,” said Brenda Estefan, a former security attaché at the Mexican Embassy in Washington.

North of the border, in Canada, Deputy Prime Minister and Finance Minister Chrystia Freeland said Justin Trudeau’s administration will “manage” the relationship with the White House regardless of whether Trump or Biden is elected.

One side may be trickier for Trudeau to deal with, considering that Trump has called Trudeau “two-faced” and the president’s economics and trade adviser Peter Navarro said in 2018 that there was a “special place in hell” for Trudeau after he and Trump clashed at a Group of Seven economic summit over potential tariffs on hundreds of billions of dollars of cross-border trade.

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SOURCE: USA Today – Kim Hjelmgaard

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