Every incoming president prepares to deal with crises in strife-torn capitals.
Unfortunately for President-elect Joe Biden, one such capital today is Washington, D.C.
The crisis crescendoed Wednesday when MAGA mobs — incited by a petulant president's unconscionable, unconstitutional effort to overturn an election he lost — stormed the Capitol and by extension, democracy itself.
Eventually, the marauders moved on. But the mob in Congress complicit in this nihilism remains — including Minnesota Republican Reps. Jim Hagedorn and Michelle Fischbach, who betrayed their so-called conservatism by betraying the Constitution. Ultimately, however, those contesting the election failed: Members of Congress still loyal to the Constitution certified the election. Biden becomes the 46th president on Jan. 20 at 12 p.m.
But that won't be high noon for America's governing crisis. In fact, it's likely that an unrepentant president and an unscrupulous political-media industrial complex will complicate Biden's bid to rally allies in order to address adversaries emboldened by this country's convulsions.
Such a constraint on the country's foreign policy are among the reasons why the political risk consultancy Eurasia Group listed our democracy's dysfunction as No. 1 in its annual "Top Risk" report, which was issued even before Wednesday's disgrace. It's the second straight year the geopolitical outlook has had a U.S. domestic issue as its top risk. Last year it proved prescient as it predicted 11 months in advance that "We face risks of a U.S. election that many will view as illegitimate, uncertainty in its aftermath, and a foreign policy environment made less stable by the resulting vacuum."
This year, they coined the top risk " '46*' — the opening of an era in which the occupant of the White House is viewed as illegitimate by roughly half the country. Donald Trump's refusal to accept the outcome of an election that he declares was stolen is unique in American history, underscoring how divided America has become — and will remain."
The report adds that "A superpower torn down the middle cannot return to business as usual. And when the world's most powerful country is so divided, everybody has a problem. The geopolitical recession — and our G-Zero world — will deepen as a result."
G-Zero is the term used by Eurasia Group President Ian Bremmer to describe a "world characterized by a growing vacuum in global governance." It's plain for the world to see, Bremmer said on a press call presenting the "Top Risk" list on Monday. "The ability of the U.S. to govern and the ability of the U.S. government to be seen as effectively a representative democracy and not rigged is eroding significantly," Bremmer said. "That is a problem principally at home, but it's a problem internationally, too."
The crisis is where "our foreign policy and domestic situation come together," said Tom Hanson, diplomat-in-residence at the University of Minnesota Duluth. A former Foreign Service officer who will give his annual "U.S. Foreign Policy Update" in a Jan. 13 Global Minnesota and Humphrey School event, Hanson added that "We are seen now as unpredictable. In other words, a lot of foreign observers have no idea what we'll be like four years from now, so they may be reticent to go all on board with Biden."
In fact, states the Eurasia Group, "the strength of Trump's base and political divisions in the U.S. will force allies to consider the possibility that any commitment made by the incoming Biden administration could be overturned in four years with the election of another 'America First' president."
The current 'America First' president, according to an International Crisis Group report, "has spent his final weeks in office challenging the election's legitimacy and therefore his successor's, seemingly intent on dealing President-elect Biden the weakest possible hand to deal with the messy situation he will inherit."
But it's not just the next commander-in-chief who will be affected by President Donald Trump's toxic politics; the forces he commands could be, too. Especially in Afghanistan, which is on top of the Crisis Group's list.
"Despite small but important advances in peace talks, a lot could go wrong for Afghanistan in 2021," the report states. Later, the Crisis Group adds that "A precipitous U.S. withdrawal could destabilize the Afghan government and potentially lead to an expanded, multiparty civil war. Conversely, a prolonged presence could prompt the Taliban to walk away from talks and intensify their attacks, provoking major escalation. Either would mean that 2021 marks the year Afghanistan loses its best shot at peace in a generation."
Other conflicts on the list, like Ethiopia (No. 2), the Sahel (No. 3), Yemen (No. 4), Somalia (No. 6), and Iran-U.S. (No. 8) reflect Mideast and North African nations whose conflicts can trigger a U.S. deployment.
The Eurasia Group's Top 10 risks also include nation-state conflicts like the U.S. and China, at No. 4, but reflect more transnational threats like climate change (No. 3 on the list, the highest ever, and No. 10 on the Crisis Group's conflicts list).
Cyberconflict comes in at No. 6 on the Eurasia Group's list, while second is what it calls "Long COVID," in which "the lingering symptoms of COVID-19 will threaten not just lives but political stability and the global economy."
Hanson said that "the biggest challenge and risk is the COVID aftermath, which hasn't helped our domestic divisions at all."
This split is "certainly weakening our soft power," Hanson added, referring to using diplomatic, economic or cultural coercion instead of conflict. "It is a national security threat that's sort of self-generated."
Biden won't generate a national security threat. Instead, he'll try to allay allies' justifiable fears that the U.S. isn't just feckless, but reckless.
"Our currency is devalued," Hanson said. "We're trying to get our domestic situation together in order to be able to use our soft power that way, and for right now we're hobbled."
Hobbled, and humbled, by an attack on our nation's Capitol — and international capital — America is in dangerous straits as risks and conflicts mount. But our country's institutions and individuals are resilient and resolute, and can handle any crisis in any capital.
Even if it's Washington, D.C.
John Rash is a Star Tribune editorial writer and columnist. The Rash Report can be heard at 8:10 a.m. Fridays on WCCO Radio, 830-AM. On Twitter: @rashreport.
Once a month, the theme of this column is determined by the "Great Decisions" dialogue on foreign policy, conducted in partnership with the nonprofit citizen engagement organization Global Minnesota. Want to join the conversation? Go to globalminnesota.org.