An Innocent Abroad

An Innocent Abroad

2 years 11 months ago
Because British conservative writers have been conspicuously and disappointingly hostile to Donald Trump—before and after he became President, and since he left office—Nile Gardiner’s column in The Daily Telegraph (“A weak Joe Biden is badly out of his depth,” June 18, 2021) was welcome for reasons beyond its appropriately caustic commentary on the new American President’s disastrous trip abroad. Among these is the failure of any American journalist—liberal or conservative–I know of to give Mr. Biden the boos, hisses, catcalls, and heaved dead cats he so richly deserves for his performance overseas. (As I’ve been camping on the desert for the past week, it’s possible that I may have missed something.) Mr. Gardiner, formerly an aide to Prime Minister Thatcher and currently director of the Margaret Thatcher Center for Freedom at the Heritage Foundation, perhaps owes his critical acumen in part to his familiarity with America and American politicians, including, I imagine, Mr. Trump.

Simultaneously with Gardiner’s piece, an editorial in the English paper The Spectator World (“America isn’t back. Global grandstanding is.”) published the same day gives Biden’s performance the razzberry. The edit begins: “‘America is back at the table,’ Joe Biden wants us to know. ‘Diplomacy is back.’ After four years of Donald Trump, [his successor] seems rather too desperate to tell the world that the United States is on their side. It all sounds very positive, but what has Biden’s return to the global table actually achieved? What, if anything, is he likely to achieve over the next four years?” Apparently, if absence doesn’t make the heart grow fonder, it can make it more appreciative, at least where Mr. Trump is concerned.

Mr. Gardiner and The Spectator’s editors make similar points regarding Biden’s claim that the U.S. has returned to Earth from somewhere in outer space. “The reality, of course,” Gardner says, “is very different.” As President, Trump forced America’s NATO allies to increase their spending on defense, and established strong ties with many European nations. “What’s more, Trump could never be accused of weakness. He aggressively sanctioned the Putin regime and was unafraid to use America’s military prowess to make a point against adversaries, from Isil to Iran and Syria.”

By contrast, after six months in the Oval Office Joe Biden has clearly failed to impress Moscow and Beijing with either his strength or his competence: Both capitals have become notably more assertive since January the twenty-second. “The Biden Presidency’s approach so far as largely been a rerun of the Obama administration’s lacklustre ‘leading from behind’ doctrine”—for instance, its call for a new “Strategic Stability Dialogue” with Moscow that echoes Hillary Clinton’s spectacularly failed “reset” in 2009. Putin, Gardiner argues, is not, as Mikhail Gorbachev was, a pragmatist but “a cold-blooded killer, schooled in the murderous and uncompromising mindset of the KGB” who should never have been granted a meeting with the President of the United States so long as he keeps Russian troops in Georgia and Ukraine. In his press conference following the meeting, Biden failed to mention further sanctions on Russia, as well as the Nord Stream 2 pipeline that is currently the subject of so much controversy in Europe. “His focus was on cooperation than confrontation.” Moreover, the President, who should have used the G7 meeting to propose free-market solutions to boost the international economy following the pandemic, chose instead to propose statist economies and a global corporate tax–ignoring, or ignorant of, the fact that his leftist domestic agenda (a huge national budget, weak borders, and generalized wokeness) had already alienated a number of European governments.

“Biden,” Mr. Gardiner concludes, “did not have a good G7 summit, and at times looked confused, struggling to make points coherently and mixing up countries such as Syria and Libya….The week was [his] first major test on the world stage. The fact that he failed it so badly sets a deeply worrying precedent for the next three-and-a-half years.”

All quite true, of course. Boris Johnson may soon regret, if he hasn’t done so already, his rhetorical excesses in welcoming Biden to Cornwall, praising the new Chief of State at the expense of his predecessor in office—outrageously, given his laudatory treatment of Donald Trump while he was in the White House. That seems a miscalculation now, albeit one that has been subsequently overshadowed by the angry opposition to the PM’s intention to impose a new lockdown and his own leftish economic policies of “leveling up” that resulted in the Tories’ loss of a once-safe seat in the south of England that the party has held for the past fifty years.

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