In remarks at the United Nations General Assembly on Tuesday, President Joe Biden hopes to turn the page on recent decisions that allies say called U.S. leadership into question.
Biden has faced an avalanche of criticism for his hasty Afghanistan withdrawal in August and for a submarine deal that drew fury from the French last week.
“Biden started the year with a lot of goodwill. There is not much of it left,” said Brett Bruen, an official in former President Barack Obama’s National Security Council and State Department. “The world is weary from too many slogans and too little substance. They are frustrated by his lack of coordination or even clear communication on major issues,” such as Washington’s Afghanistan drawdown and the security pact with Australia and Britain that voided a multibillion-dollar French submarine contract.
During face-to-face meetings with allies in Europe this summer, Biden repeatedly pledged that “America is back.” For Europe, the promise was fleeting.
In response to the president’s announcement of the nuclear submarine deal, French President Emanuel Macron withdrew his country’s ambassador to the United States for the first time. In August, NATO allies said Biden failed to prepare them for the Taliban's takeover of Afghanistan.
For some lawmakers, the effect was brisk. In the Netherlands, Dutch Foreign Minister Sigrid Kaag resigned after being condemned in parliament over the handling of Afghanistan.
To repair relationships, Bruen said Biden needs to speak frankly with his counterparts at the General Assembly’s 76th Session.
“Biden can’t waltz in with more lofty words. He has to acknowledge that things didn’t go as well as we would have hoped,” Bruen said. “Then, and only then, can we start to discuss how we are going to start to restore credibility and a clear course out of this crisis.”
Speaking to reporters, a senior administration official pushed back on the notion that Biden was arriving in New York on the back-foot.
“I think the picture is actually quite positive,” this official said, “despite the differences in perspective on Afghanistan and the issues we are dealing with France right now — which I believe we can find a productive pathway forward out of.”
Allies have pointed to a slew of U.S. policies they say fail to show the break Biden promised with the prior administration.
Biden has maintained nearly all of former President Donald Trump’s tariffs against China. While Japan has urged Washington to rejoin the Trans-Pacific Partnership, Biden has not moved.
Additionally, Biden has not rejoined the Iran deal, despite arguing Trump’s withdrawal was a grave error. Since taking office, Biden has even extended certain sanctions.
Washington is also escalating its security presence in the Indo-Pacific region, drawing Beijing’s ire.
The senior official said Biden was looking to avoid a new Cold War with China. But a new Indo-Pacific security pact announced with Australia and Britain last week has inflamed tensions with Beijing. It's also enraged France, Washington’s oldest ally, over an Australian defense contract.
In an interview with the Associated Press on Saturday, U.N. Secretary-General Antonio Guterres said if the countries don’t repair their “completely dysfunctional” relationship, they risk a major conflict.
A series of disagreements, mainly over Afghanistan, have frayed U.S. ties with NATO allies who protested a lack of coordination before and during the drawdown.
In a memo this week, former Trump White House official Michael McKenna wrote that the former president recalibrated U.S. foreign policy toward the threat posed by China, with Biden following close behind.
“Part of that reorientation included a more realpolitik view of the post-war order, including NATO,” McKenna wrote. “Trump was not alone in that reexamination. Brexit, NordStream 2, and even President Biden’s intentional failure to notify allies of the withdrawal from Afghanistan and to alert France that we had undercut them with respect to selling submarines to Australia, are all parts of the same mosaic.”
The revived Quad was another pillar in Trump’s strategy and a tool the Biden administration has acknowledged.
Biden’s Afghanistan withdrawal was another part of this reorientation toward the Indo-Pacific — a priority the administration outlined upon taking office.
This orientation will underpin the president’s remarks on Tuesday, addressing “the proposition that we are closing the chapter on 20 years of war and opening a chapter of intensive diplomacy." At the same time, it will rally countries to address the challenges posed by climate change, coronavirus, and national security threats, the senior official said.
At home in Washington, Biden faces an investigation into his handling of the Afghanistan crisis and a new immigration battle. Centrist and left-wing Democratic lawmakers have also threatened to sink the president’s twin infrastructure and social spending bills.
On top of all that, Congress is inching toward a government shutdown.
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Original Author: Katherine Doyle
Original Location: Biden hopes to calm UN allies as crises mount and goodwill frays