HWe didn’t shove the Prime Minister of Montenegro in a photo op, he didn’t call the British Prime Minister and the German Chancellor ‘losers’ and he didn’t deride NATO as a bunch of crooks looking for a free lunch.
The bar set by former US President Donald Trump was so low that, simply by condemning Russian Vladimir Putin rather than gushing over his biceps, Joe Biden won goodwill for his unity and resolute tour of Europe.
The president came to Brussels on Thursday with a promise to take in up to 100,000 Ukrainian refugees fleeing the month-long Russian invasion, donate $1 billion in new humanitarian aid and impose sanctions on 300 members of the Russian parliament.
It was an attempt to project assurance that Biden, born during World War II, can emulate President Franklin Roosevelt’s “great arsenal of democracy” without falling on a third.
But the 79-year-old’s handshakes and whispers with Frenchman Emmanuel Macron and others at NATO, G7 and European Council summits could put the stamp on Obama’s paradox: a American president more popular abroad than at home.
Gallup polls conducted before Russia invaded Ukraine showed a picture of American leadership recovering from the Trump era. “Between 2020 and 2021, U.S. leaders recorded double-digit gains in 20 of 27 NATO members surveyed in both years,” the polling firm said.
This contrasts sharply with Biden’s approval rating in the United States, which this week fell to a new low of 40%, according to a Reuters/Ipsos opinion poll. The survey found that 54% of Americans disapprove of his job performance as the country grapples with high inflation.
Biden’s approval rating matched Trump’s at this point in his presidency: Both stood at 40% in mid-March during their second year in office. Relief from Western allies at having America at the table again is unlikely to be reflected by domestic voters in November’s midterm elections.
That’s why Republicans are hammering Biden urging him to do more for Ukraine, albeit with few specific details and, louder and more convincingly for the electorate, blaming him for soaring oil prices. gasoline at home. They intend to prove the old adage that all politics is local.
The point was illustrated on prime-time cable TV Wednesday night. CNN’s Anderson Cooper opened his show with coverage of the war in Ukraine; Tucker Carlson, on the conservative Fox News channel, instead spoke about Supreme Court nominee Ketanji Brown Jackson refusing to offer a definition of “woman” during his Senate confirmation hearing.
CNN’s Reliable Sources news bulletin noted, “As Cooper showed gruesome drone footage of the widespread devastation in Mariupol, Carlson showed his audience a sex education-like graphic of the female reproductive system.”
He observed: “Four weeks into the war, there are signs that fatigue is setting in. TV news ratings, for example, began to fall back into reality after exploding at first. And perhaps another sign is the return of cultural idiocy that is once again saturating channels like Fox and social media.
It’s a further reminder to be grateful that Trump no longer has his finger on the Twitter button — or the nuclear button. The man who once posed the biggest threat to global democracy has been replaced in that role by Putin. Biden beat one and now must thwart the other.
Until now, this has meant a “Goldilocks” approach – not too hot, not too cold, not too weak, not too provocative. That received a boost on Thursday when Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskiy delivered a video address to NATO from Kyiv that White House officials said did not include calls for a no-fly zone or to NATO membership, giving Biden some breathing room.
Still, Zelinskiy understandably urged NATO to toughen its backbone and do more, and it remains unclear how Biden will react if an increasingly desperate Putin resorts to biological, chemical or even nuclear weapons. Western unity will be tested as the costs of war weigh on the global economy.
German Chancellor Olaf Scholz rejected calls to follow the United States in boycotting Russian energy supplies, warning: “To do this overnight would be to plunge our country and all of Europe into recession.
The president, who has made the struggle between democracy and autocracy the guiding principle of his foreign policy, will also be aware that Thursday’s meetings are being closely watched by China, which has sent mixed signals about the invasion and could yet bring a military support for Putin.
NATO’s determined response and the bogged down Russian military’s underperformance could serve as a warning to Chinese President Xi Jinping and cloud his calculations for an assault on Taiwan. Larry Diamond, a senior fellow at the Hoover Institution think tank in Palo Alto, Calif., told reporters this week, “Xi is furious because this completely changes the timeline and dynamics of the situation.
“The most fascinating dimension of this crisis right now is seeing Xi Jinping completely tied in knots about what to do about it. He and senior Chinese leaders are clearly struggling for a narrative and a response.”
Standing against a blue background dotted with NATO logos, Biden addressed the issue of Chinese intervention at a press conference. He recalled that in a recent call with Xi, he pointed out that many American and foreign companies had left Russia. “I indicated that he would put himself in danger. I think China understands that its economic future is much more closely tied to the West than to Russia. So I hope he doesn’t get engaged.
He reiterated his message to Brussels that America is back. But towards the end of the Q&A, someone raised European concerns about the possibility of Trump being re-elected in 2024 – raising the specter of a return to uncertainty, insults and chants of praise from Putin.
The President replied: “One of the things that consoles me is that I don’t think you will find a European leader who thinks I am not up to the job… I am not criticizing anyone for asking this question. But in the next election, I would be very lucky if I had this same man running against me.
Grounded in foreign policy after decades as a senator and vice president, Biden is likely to think about geopolitical issues in terms of decades. Unfortunately for him, his political legacy could be decided by Tucker Carlson and viewers’ demand for instant gratification.