Biden abroad — a trip or a fall?

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President Joe Biden’s domestic agenda has hit a wall — infrastructure talks have collapsed, bipartisan opposition has hardened against his awful electoral reform bill, and the filibuster looks safe — so attention turned this week to U.S. relations abroad. The president needs a win or two from his trip to Britain for a G-7 meeting, Brussels for a NATO conference and summit with the European Union, and the finale of his trip, in Geneva, a no-preconditions summit with Russian President Vladimir Putin.

The administration’s overseas adventures got off to a shaky start on June 6, however, when a technical fault obliged Vice President Kamala Harris’s plane, Air Force Two, to return to base after setting off for Guatemala and Mexico. Her first foreign trip as veep was a debacle, and Biden must hope the cicada that landed on his neck as he boarded Air Force One to cross the Atlantic was not delivering a similar portent of failure.

But wins will be hard to come by for him in Europe. He has already thrown in the towel in his fight to prevent Germany from making itself more dependent on Russian energy supplies, via the Nord Stream 2 pipeline. And both Germany and France are also proving recalcitrant on the issue of China. Biden wants a united front to check Beijing’s long march to strategic and economic rivalry with America. But they are pursuing as much economic engagement as possible. Biden will hear that they prefer dealing with him more than they did with President Trump, but this veneer of amity doesn’t amount to a concrete success with which Biden can return home.

It is, of course, the president’s meeting with Putin that will draw the most attention in the U.S. The encounter is loaded to the gunwales with political baggage and symbolism. Most obviously, Democrats for years spun a false narrative that Trump colluded with Russia’s gangster president, and owed his sojourn in the White House to that kleptocrat. Despite this being a tendentious fiction, Trump nevertheless turned in a disgraceful performance during his meeting with Putin in Helsinki, at which he proved incapable of seeing suggestions of Russian election meddling as anything more than disrespect for his 2016 victory. He accepted Putin’s disingenuous denials. Biden has to look as tough as Trump’s encounter looked sycophantic, but his counterpart has no incentive to make concessions.

Even the location of the meeting is significant. Geneva is the site of two contrasting U.S.-Russian encounters from the past. It was where President Ronald Reagan, on his way to Cold War victory, scored a diplomatic triumph over President Mikhail Gorbachev in 1985. But it is also where Hillary Clinton, as secretary of state, made her cack-handed effort at a “reset” with Russia in 2009. Biden, faltering at home, could use a dose of the magic of the former meeting. But he is not now, and probably never has been, the leader you’d choose to put the black belt judo bully off-balance and throw him for a diplomatic fall.

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Tags: Beltway Confidential, Magazine, Letter from the Editor

Original Author: Hugo Gurdon

Original Location: Biden abroad — a trip or a fall?

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