As Biden sets out to rapidly annul Donald Trump’s legacy, sources predict no change on Western Sahara
Rabat – At noon local time, Joe Biden has become the 46th president of the United States and sets off to reverse many of his predecessor’s changes. Biden’s inauguration in Washington DC comes with drastic changes to US domestic policy through a list of executive orders. Biden’s “day one” executive actions however do not touch any foreign policy issues.
Joe Biden’s presidency comes amid acute domestic tensions, the kind that the US has not experienced since the end of the American Civil War in 1865. His inauguration took place in Washington DC on lockdown, with secret services and DC police establishing secure zones that would not look out of place in Baghdad. With streets blocked and citizens facing checks for weapons and explosives, Biden starts his term in a country in crisis.
Biden’s recipe for healing his divided nation revolves around a rapid transition away from Donald Trump’s policies.
US Presidents commonly issue only one executive order on inauguration day, yet Biden aims to issue an unprecedented 17. Biden’s team today released a fact sheet providing an overview of his planned changes. Freshly elected, Biden will now focus on the COVID-19 epidemic, economic relief, climate change and racial issues that continue to plague the US.
In the coming hours, Biden will issue a voluntary nation-wide mask-wearing “challenge” and a mask mandate in federal buildings as well as reestablish ties with the World Health Organization (WHO).
His administration will “act swiftly and aggressively” on a better, coordinated COVID-19 response. They will notably extend protections against evictions and foreclosure and extend a freeze for repayments on the US’ $1.5 trillion of student loan debt.
Biden will also recommit the US to the Paris Agreement on climate change, erase Trump’s deregulation on environmental protections and “jumpstart” a variety of new initiatives to combat climate change.
For the newly inaugurated Biden administration, the first challenge is to restore faith that the US government “works for the American people.” Two of the planned executive orders aim to establish ethical standards and allow for new, faster ways to approve regulations.
Protecting vulnerable communities
After years of divisive statements in support of white-nationalist and Christian-extremist groups, the White House will have a renewed focus on racial inequalities in the US. President Biden has said that he intends to launch a broad initiative to “advance racial equity” and protect undocumented migrants.
Biden also aims to reverse the “Muslim Ban” that blocked entry to citizens from several Muslim-majority countries, halt construction on the Mexico border wall, and repeal Trump’s orders for “harsh and extreme” immigration enforcement.
Biden will sign executive orders to assist US residents of Liberian origin who had been blocked from working in the US. The LGTBQ+ community will receive an executive order that aims to stop discrimination based on sexual orientation or gender identity.
Foreign policy changes
Apart from rejoining the Paris climate accord, President Biden has not announced any executive orders on foreign policy issues. While some changes are expected in US foreign policy, those will likely not include a reversal on Western Sahara.
Israeli newspaper Maariv reported on Monday that the new US president is actually favorable to the outgoing administration’s breakthroughs in Western Sahara. The Israeli publication spoke to several sources inside President Biden’s Democratic party, some of whom revealed that the new president “warmly welcomed” the Morocco-Israel agreement that the US helped broker in December of last year.
London-based news outlet Asharq Al-Awsat confirmed the news, reporting that President Biden sees Morocco as an essential ally on regional security and defence issues. Also quoting sources privy to Biden’s thoughts on foreing policy priorities, the newspaper emphasized that the new US president will not change the freshly-officialized US position on Western Sahara.
The underlying idea is that the recent US recognition of Moroccan sovereignty over Western Sahara has not only set a legal and diplomatic precedent; it has also created a new normal that Biden is unlikely to even want to change.
Morocco’s reestablishment of ties with Israel was well received in the country that has a large community with roots in Morocco. The normalization of ties between the two countries was an important part of the US recognition of Moroccan sovereignty and could be threatened if the US would reverse its stance.
President Biden has been a long-standing supporter of Israel and is unlikely to do anything that would upset the powerful Israeli lobbying machine in Washington DC. Biden and Morocco’s King Mohammed VI share a desire to reopen negotiations between Israel and Palestine, which could be threatened if the Biden administration opposes Israel’s wishes to maintain its hardwon deal with Morocco.
With several grave domestic issues facing the newly elected President Biden, the last thing his administration needs after a chaotic transitory phase, is a hot-button foreign policy crisis. With Biden firmly supporting Israel while facing severe domestic challenges, the Western Sahara issue is unlikely to see any significant diplomatic reversal.