IT was a throwaway remark, but it got me thinking. I had been discussing the recent unrest in Washington on the phone with an old foreign correspondent pal, when he made the following quip.

“Don’t worry we’ll know America’s back to normal when it’s back to orchestrating coups in other countries,” my friend observed wryly.

The more I thought about it afterwards, the more it seemed he had a point. Between us after all we had covered more than a few coups, insurrections, revolutions and counter-revolutions, the making of which, overtly or covertly, had been carried out at Washington’s behest. “Regime change”, I think became the preferred term used latterly by those within America’s corridors of power.

After Joe Biden is inaugurated this time next week there are many, including the president-elect himself, who expect the US to step up again and take its place among those powerful nations that help shape the fate of others.

It was Biden after all who only a few months ago proposed convening a Summit for Democracy. And please do note that the wording matters here, for it was a Summit for Democracy and not a Summit of Democracies.

To propose the latter would of course throw up a few anomalies or inconsistencies, countries that on the face of it might appear democracies but are only deemed so by Washington because of their closeness to America or willingness to do its bidding.

It’s not that I disagree with Biden’s assessment that global democracies are under threat, indeed evidence around the world would bear that out. It’s rather that I’m not convinced the United States is fit right now any more than before to make that call or determine what is or isn’t a properly functioning democracy.

Put another way, after what the world witnessed last week at the US Capitol building, can you imagine the shouts of hypocrisy the next time Washington decides to lecture, chastise, or sanction another government for its behaviour?

What this problem boils down to is that after four years of “America first” foreign policy – albeit under Trump – president-elect Biden wants the world to know that America is back on the global stage.

So far Biden and his incoming “blob” – shorthand in Washington for its foreign policy community – don’t seem to fully realise that the world is a different place. At best even nations once close to the US now regard it at least with disdain and at worst utter distrust.

If you don’t believe me just ask the Kurds, no strangers to betrayal at the hands of many including the Americans. Not for the first – or probably last – time they were hung out to dry back in 2019 in Syria after an admiring late night telephone call between Trump and that other “stalwart” of democracy President Recep Tayyip Erdogan of Turkey.

Right now, it’s hard to disagree with those who insist that Biden would be better served putting his own house in order rather than convening a meeting of the world’s “democracies”, so that America can get back to form with its old and often murky ways on the foreign policy front.

For you really can be sure that under Biden that same “old normal” will be exactly what his administration delivers overseas, whatever the president-elect might currently say to the contrary.

“We’re going to have to regain the trust and confidence of a world that has learned to work around us, or without us,” declared Biden in a speech not that long ago. That, though, was before far-right extremists, white supremacists and madcap conspiracy theorists had made a mockery of the US seat of government and may yet disrupt his own inauguration next Wednesday.

Even once ensconced in the White House, Biden might be surprised to find that the old one-size-fits-all American foreign policy approach, of which his elected team are past masters, just won’t cut it in today’s geo-political arena.

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Already the signs are evident that many nations and global bodies won’t be so willing to listen to US entreaties, preferring instead to go their own way.

The Saudi war in Yemen is a case in point, as is Turkey’s involvement in Syria and support for Azerbaijan in Nagorno-Karabakh. Even here in Europe there is reluctance to listen to what America says or desires, the European Union’s recent investment treaty with China being yet another example.

Four years of Trump has already convinced many countries that US commitments may not be worth the paper they are written on, particularly in these times of a global pandemic when nations have become increasingly partisan.

Add to this the fact that outgoing Team Trump have done their damnedest to make sure every conceivable obstacle stands in Biden’s way and “Sleepy Joe” might be in for a rude awakening. In the past few days alone Team Trump have laid a few diplomatic minefields of their own just to make sure.

Earlier this week, in what the Washington Post described as “diplomatic vandalism”, Trump’s secretary of state Mike Pompeo designated Yemen’s Houthi rebels a terrorist organisation, Cuba a state sponsor of terrorism and Iran the “home base” for al-Qaeda. Yes, talk about chucking spanners in the Biden diplomatic works?

The bottom line here is that we are already in the throes of what some observers call a post-American world. In other words, one no longer defined by US primacy, dominance, or exceptionalism. There’s no doubt that Biden is one of the most experienced foreign policy hands the US has to offer, as is the team he has mustered around him. But they are all cut from the same old cloth and lacking a certain self-awareness that the US is not nearly as special as many Americans believe when it comes to the promotion of democratic values overseas.

This of course will not stop Biden and his administration from trying to be what they believe America has always been and still should be. As the incoming US president Biden has gone out of his way to make the case that what we can expect now is a “normal” America in terms of foreign policy.

For some around the world that might appear reassuring. But if the form book and past-history is anything to go by, all it might mean is that once again coups, insurrections or whatever you want to call them are orchestrated elsewhere. Just not on American soil.