IIt was the return of nocturnal pornography to the White House. In a heated tent on the South Lawn, political leaders, business titans and Hollywood stars feasted on butter-poached Maine lobster, Osetra American caviar, beef patty with shallot marmalade, triple-cooked buttered potatoes and artisan cheeses.
Joe Biden, a teetotaler who is said to be drinking ginger ale, and French President Emmanuel Macron, brandishing a flute of raw California rosé, wore tuxedos and toasted their friendship. “And let me say, long live the United States of America, long live France, and long live the friendship between our two countries,” Macron said.
At Washington’s first state dinner since September 2019, the showing of unity — and the restoration of normalcy — was unequivocal. Congressman James Clyburn, who was among more than 338 guests under the chandeliers, said: “To see Macron reach into his pocket and pull out the American constitution and wave it around saying ‘We the people’, I I thought that was a wonderful gesture.”
The handshakes and hugs between America’s oldest president and France’s youngest were a vivid illustration of Biden’s efforts to restore America’s standing in the world and heal relations with old allies shaken by the substance. and the chaotic style of former President Donald Trump.
They were also a potential preview of more pageantry-filled state visits to come in the second half of Biden’s presidency. After two relatively productive years for his national agenda, he will, from January, face a House of Representatives controlled by Republicans determined to launch a barrage of investigations and deny him further political victories.
In foreign policy, however, presidents enjoy greater autonomy and can use the world stage to appear statesmanlike when seeking re-election. Biden, a former president and longtime member of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, is deeply experienced in this area while Trump took office with no experience.
Leon Panetta, former Secretary of Defense and White House Chief of Staff, said: “Given the potential stalemate he’s going to face with a divided Congress, if I were Joe Biden, I would build my legacy depending on what he’s strong on, which is his experience in foreign policy.
Key to that legacy is building and strengthening alliances to deal with global trouble spots, Panetta argues. “What we showed in Ukraine is that if we can strengthen our relationship with, in this case, our NATO allies, that can be a very effective response to Russia. The same must be done in relations with Xi in China. If there’s anything autocrats fear more than anything else, it’s alliances because they don’t have many of them and they’re not good at them. But we are.”
Former Panetta boss Bill Clinton relished the opportunity to break out of Washington’s acrimony and restore his foreign policy credentials, for example by intervening in the Balkan war. His successor, George W Bush, was suffering domestically when the 9/11 terrorist attacks drew attention abroad and boosted his approval ratings.
Biden had a different legacy. He was a man on a mission to reassure a skeptical world that “America is back” and that Trump was the exception, not the new normal. The midterm elections, which Trump-endorsed Holocaust deniers routed, reducing the likelihood of a Democratic crisis in 2024, appeared to strengthen his case.
Richard Stengel, former undersecretary for public diplomacy and public affairs, said: “Just to succeed Trump and be a traditional diplomat and a believer in traditional American power and this kind of idealism of the American foreign policy in itself makes a big difference.
“In terms of supporting NATO, supporting Ukraine, Biden has delivered in the sense that this is traditional American foreign policy that Democrats and Republicans have embraced. That was what was so abnormal about Trump.”
The traditional approach was on display during this week’s state visit as servicemen in 18th-century Revolutionary War gear marched past the White House, artillery fired a 21-gun salute and Biden and Macron spoke with one voice on Ukraine, where their diplomat, financial and military backer delivered humiliation after humiliation to Russian leader Vladimir Putin.
At a joint press conference in the East Room, surrounded by Christmas trees decorated with faux icicles and snow, Biden said Putin had “miscalculated everything he originally calculated.” He added: “I am ready, if he is ready to talk, to find out what he is ready to do, but I will only do that in consultation with my NATO allies. I’m not going to do it myself.”
Macron, for his part, played down fears that House Republicans would withdraw funding for the war effort, tactfully expressing confidence that the American people and their representatives understand shared values such as sovereignty. and territorial integrity.
Just as Bush’s legacy came to be defined by the disastrous war in Iraq, Biden’s can be defined by Ukraine and how he rose to the occasion – even if the end game remains. uncertain. In other areas, however, his record is complicated, including last year’s botched withdrawal from Afghanistan, where the Taliban has returned to power.
Ian Bremmer, Chairman and Founder of Eurasia Group, one of the world’s leading political risk research and advisory firms, said: “By far, his best policy was the biggest problem he had to deal with. face, which responds to the Russian invasion, that it is fantastically well managed. This American-led alliance has been stronger and more effectively maintained than anyone could have expected before the invasion, including Putin.
But he added: “Afghanistan, Iran, the Gulf, Latin America have all been pretty poor. China is mixed but overall positive and more strategic than what we have seen under Trump. Africa was largely absent. Southeast Asia, the East Asian allies, I would say, have been quite positive but not overwhelmingly positive.
If there is a Biden doctrine, it is surely democracy versus autocracy, as he has frequently expressed the need for democracies to prove they can deliver better for their citizens. Bremmer said that, based on numerous conversations with administration officials, he understands this is the president’s own paradigm, not his cabinet’s, that went wrong with Arab allies of the Gulf and the emerging democracies of the global south who find the American position hypocritical. .
Moreover, while Biden has called Russia a rogue state and isolated Putin, he is willing to maintain a dialogue with China – a more powerful and consolidated authoritarian regime – and gets along well with its leader, Xi Jinping.
There were other inconsistencies. Biden’s strong statements about defending Taiwan against China with military force have repeatedly been watered down by his own national security council.
His claim to defend human rights was undermined by a tussle with Saudi Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman who the CIA concluded approved the brutal killing of journalist Jamal Khashoggi at an Istanbul consulate. The ethical compromise backfired when Saudi Arabia backed an oil production cut by the Organization of the Petroleum Exporting Countries.
Even Europe is complaining about Biden maintaining the general thrust of Trump’s “America First” saying. Macron and others have warned of the potential impact of the Curbing Inflation Act, legislation that includes record climate spending, on international trade. During their joint press conference, Biden admitted that there are “problems” in the bill that need to be addressed.
Brett Bruen, president of the Global Situation Room public affairs agency and a former diplomat, only gives Biden a C+. He said: “Ukraine was a bright spot where he had strong leadership after what was perhaps a less than stellar initial strategy.
“But the way he responded to Afghanistan, Saudi Arabia and now Venezuela are a number of black spots on our global position and undermine the argument that America is back. On the contrary, they serve to show that we are not charting a new course with strong leadership, but seeking the paths of least resistance and greatest self-interest.
The octogenarian the president has at least two more years to convince his allies that Trump was an anomaly that will not rise from the political grave to haunt them once again. As partisan warfare resumes on Capitol Hill, it wouldn’t be surprising if Biden rolled out the red carpet for the leaders of Britain, Germany, Japan or other old friends. But that’s the easy part.
Larry Diamond, senior fellow at the Hoover Institution think tank in Palo Alto, California, said: “Historically, foreign policy has always been something that Biden felt was a particular strength and depth of knowledge for him. But then the question is, where is the place for initiative and innovation? The world is still a scary mess. There is turmoil in Iran, there is turmoil in China, Russia has been a complete political failure as a country and as a regime for the past nine months.
“If he is truly to have a transformative impact on foreign policy over the next two years and change the shape of the world in a direction more deeply respectful of American values and interests, he is going to need a broader vision – and a stronger vision, plus an innovative and renewed military capability.