Reading about the recent military coup in Myanmar, I’ve seen the view that Biden’s criticism of the coup is undermined by the fact that the pretext for the coup, a supposedly stolen election, was exactly the same as that raised by Trump and the Republican Party in response to Biden’s 2020 election victory.
There’s a problem in this reasoning which is easy to see, but harder to resolve. It makes intuitive sense to say that the United States should not point fingers at other countries when it has the same problems itself. But it seems strange to say that, having just defeated an attempt to overturn a democratic election in his own country, Biden is in some way disqualified from criticising a similar attempt in Myanmar.
The answer to this question is to recognise that Biden does not speak for “the United States”, but for the party he leads. To the extant that his party supports democracy in the US, it is naturally aligned with supporters of democracy everywhere, and against supporters of dictatorship, both at home and abroad. Conversely, Trumpists in the United States are naturally aligned with dictators everywhere and opposed to democrats (with both small and capital “D”).
The first political leader to grasp this point fully was Benjamin Netanyahu, who decided to meet with the Republican opposition rather than the incumbent Democratic Administration under Obama. Netanyahu judged (correctly so far) that he would gain more by allying with a party that shared his annexationist views than he would lose by undermining a bipartisan view that “the United States” should support “Israel”.
Another way to consider this is to ask whether, in a dispute with another country, most people would side with the government of their own country, or with the one closer to their own views. It’s pretty clear in the US case, that most Republicans will oppose Biden in any dispute with a rightwing dictatorship, just as most Democrats sympathised with Trudeau, Macron and Merkel in their disputes with Trump.
There’s nothing new in this. When religion was the big dividing line in Europe, Protestants and Catholics looked to co-religionists for support against rulers of the opposite creed, regardless of state boundaries. Marxists and many other socialists have long argued that “the workers of no country” The idea that nation-states represent natural divisions of humanity is both relatively recent and historically contingent.
It’s hard to know how our understanding of world politics will change in a world where political cleavages run across national boundaries rather than between them. The very name International Relations presumes the opposite, and the implicit assumptions of the field reflect this.