U.S. President Donald Trump still refuses to admit he lost the presidential election, on-brand for him but off-brand for American democracy. The United States is about to enter an unprecedented few months of political dysfunction as the presidential transition gets underway. Which U.S. adversaries will attempt to take advantage of the domestic chaos?
Not China. Chinese leaders are well aware that anti-China hawkishness is one of the few things uniting politicians in Washington these days, but some Chinese policymakers harbour hope that Beijing will be able to work more constructively with a President Joe Biden. China is too strategic to unnecessarily stir the pot so early; for the time being, China will stand put.
So too will Russia, which played such an oversized role in the 2016 U.S. elections but has barely made a ripple this time around. That’s not by accident – these last four years have taught Russia that having a genuine fan in the Oval Office doesn’t necessarily translate into favourable U.S. policy towards the Kremlin.
Then there is Iran; aside from the United States itself, Iran had the most directly at stake in the outcome of this most recent presidential election. It also had a clear preference for a winner in Joe Biden given how desperately it needs economic relief these days. It’s no guarantee that it will get that relief from a Biden administration, but you better believe that Tehran is hoping for a more constructive relationship with the United States, which means they won’t ruffle U.S. feathers at this point.
But while there are some U.S. adversaries waiting to see what the next administration will bring, a few of them may be tempted to try their luck. North Korea is a prime candidate – Pyongyang typically tends to launch provocative moves to improve its negotiating position while everyone is distracted… including U.S. elections.
Another country that may figure it has little time to waste waiting for a Biden administration is Turkey. As the country’s economy continues to deteriorate – highlighted by the recent side-lining of both the central bank governor and finance minister – Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan has grown increasingly aggressive abroad, including in the eastern Mediterranean and in the Caucasus, to say nothing of Turkey’s long-standing involvement in Syria and Libya. All these moves and their spill-over potential have unnerved the European Union, much to Erdoğan’s delight and Trump’s seeming indifference. President Joe Biden, however, would be much more likely to side with Brussels once in office, and take a harder line against Turkey. That prospect may make Erdoğan even more desperate, and risk-acceptant, in the short term.
The Trump years forced many countries to rethink their approaches to both the United States and the world; some handled the challenge better than others. The dawning Joe Biden era will similarly force countries to adapt to a new reality… provided they (and the U.S.) get through the next three months first. Let’s see how it goes.
(A version of this article first appeared on daily Kathimerini.)