Over the past four years, President Trump has upended the principles that have guided U.S. foreign policy for decades, preferring a transactional, personality-driven approach that has at times angered and unnerved some of America’s closest allies.
Trump knows the world is watching. “China wants me out, Iran wants me out, Germany wants me out, they all want me out,” he said at a campaign rally Saturday. “But here we are, right?”
If Joe Biden wins, the election will mark a crucial pivot for U.S. foreign policy. He has said that one of his first acts as president would be to “get on the phone with the heads of state and say, ‘America’s back, you can count on us.’ ”
Europe holds its breath, Russia warns of chaos
Russian hopes for a Trump victory were reflected in the commentaries of pro-Kremlin media. The prevailing theme in election coverage was that U.S. democracy is fraying, facing likely post-election violence, conflict and even civil war. State-owned Vesti television focused on the construction of a fence around the White House and reported that Trump would probably spend the night after the election “in a bunker.”
In Europe, where Trump is deeply unpopular in most countries, many worry that Trump could pull out of NATO if he is reelected.
German leaders, mindful of their own historical experience of state-sanctioned violence, appear especially unsettled. “Hatred has found its way into the [U.S.] political system. There is no longer a center, only polarization,” tweeted the chairman of the German parliament’s foreign affairs committee, Norbert Röttgen.
“Never before has the European Union faced the risk of a failed election in the greatest power on the planet,” wrote Bernardo de Miguel, a correspondent for Spain’s El País newspaper.
In private, European leaders said they were bracing for uncertainty. One senior European official sent a “fingers crossed” emoji when asked about the election. The official sent the message on the condition of anonymity for fear of bringing down Trump’s wrath.
Many media outlets abroad are covering the election much as they would national elections in their own countries. In Germany, some news sites have featured election live blogs for days or even weeks.
Some European commentators voiced concern over the impact on the environment of another Trump term. “Donald Trump can boast of being clear about his ambitions in terms of the environment: they are close to nothing,” warned an article in France’s left-wing Libération newspaper.
China looks for change
Ahead of the vote, a mood of cautious expectation spread over the Asia-Pacific region, which has been shaped by the Trump administration’s confrontation with China.
In China, the U.S. election dominated social media, with many Chinese analysts predicting that a Biden win could usher in a diplomatic respite. But some were also gloomy about the long-term prospects for China-U. S. relations.
“We hope after Biden comes back, we can at least resume high-level dialogue,” said Ding Yifan, a senior fellow at the Taihe Institute and a former adviser to China’s cabinet. “Biden wants to compete with China but also collaborate, and that’s how we frame the relationship, too. To see the democratic system in the world’s most powerful country go off the rails is not a good thing.”
The U.S. relationship with the Middle East is also hanging in balance. Trump pulled the United States out of a nuclear agreement that the Obama administration and other world powers negotiated with Iran. The withdrawal kicked off the reimposition of harsh U.S. sanctions to exert “maximum pressure” on the Iranian government.
Yousef al-Otaiba, the United Arab Emirates’ influential ambassador in Washington, said that different approaches to Iran constitute the main distinction between the candidates.
Iran’s supreme leader, Ayatollah Ali Khamenei, said the results of the election would make no difference, and he mocked Trump for predicting fraud in his country’s own election. “This shows the ugly face of liberal democracy within American society,” he said.
Hoping for more Trump
In Israel, observers said a Biden win could accelerate the end of the current compromise government in Jerusalem and lead to elections in a matter of months.
Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu “has made his relationship with President Trump a key selling point to the Israeli electorate,” said Jason Pearlman, a communications strategist.
Israeli settlers in the West Bank gathered to pray for Trump’s reelection. Settler leaders have expressed concern that a Trump loss could mean a backpedaling of recent decisions that include moving the U.S. Embassy to Jerusalem and reducing U.S. criticism of Jewish settlements in the West Bank.
“We root for Donald Trump’s victory, because we know well American Democratic governments’ diplomacy, built on moral imperialism,” wrote Hungarian Prime Minister Viktor Orbán in a recent essay. “We have been forced to sample it before, we did not like it, we do not want seconds.”
A crowd of people in pro-Trump gear, organized by a church, marched in eastern Nigeria last week, Reuters reported, building on Trump’s popularity in Africa’s most populous country. Fifty-eight percent of Nigerians said they had confidence in Trump, according to a January poll from the Pew Research Center, and a Gallup survey this year found that 56 percent approved of his White House performance.
Foreign commentators responded with incredulity after Donald Trump Jr., the president’s eldest son, tweeted a map Tuesday indicating widespread global support for Trump, contrary to polls. “Someone needs to take his colouring pencils away,” tweeted Omar Abdullah, an opposition politician in India. Liberia was the only African nation in the mock graphic to break blue in a sea of red. People in the West African country were not sure why. “The former president questioned his victory over Hilary,” a Liberian official theorized in a text, speaking on the condition of anonymity.
Worried for America
Many observers expressed their fears for American democracy. Trump has refused to commit to handing over power if he loses, and some U.S. allies spoke about the vote in terms often reserved for fragile democracies. “I hope for an outcome like what we have learned from the Americans: that the rules of democracy are accepted by everyone,” German Foreign Minister Heiko Maas told the Tagesspiegel newspaper on Sunday. “That means there are not only jubilant winners, but also good losers.”
John Hewson, former leader of the conservative Liberal Party in Australia, said the election exposed the “fiction” over the perception of the United States as the world’s leading democracy, “when its integrity is so easily compromised — when it is so easy to bully and suppress voters, restrict, challenge and deny votes, compromise the independence of the judiciary and ‘buy’ representation.”
“For a second there, U.S. media is sounding like they’re reporting on Africa’s elections,” tweeted Nigerian television journalist Mary-Ann Duke Okon.
In Egypt — the president of which, Abdel Fatah al-Sissi, Trump has called his “favorite dictator” — analyst Azza Radwan Sedky expressed her fear in the state-owned Al Ahram Weekly that no matter the outcome, the United States could descend into unrest.
“The world always looked upon the US as the melting pot where races blend and live harmoniously,” she wrote. “It is where millions immigrate to achieve the unachievable elsewhere to realize the American ideals of democracy, equality, and human rights. This portrait is quickly eroding.”
Slater reported from New Delhi, Shih from Taipei, Dixon from Moscow and Noack from Berlin. Theodora Yu and Shibani Mahtani in Hong Kong; Steve Hendrix and Shira Rubin in Jerusalem; Jennifer Hassan in London; Michael Birnbaum in Riga, Latvia; Paul Schemm in Dubai; Danielle Paquette in Dakar, Senegal; and Niha Masih in New Delhi contributed to this report.