Biden tries to erase Trump’s ‘America First’ on world stage
President Biden is seeking to erase former President Trump’s America First agenda from the international stage during his inaugural trip abroad for the Group of Seven (G-7) summit in England this week.
In words and deeds, Biden is sending the signal that America is back on the world stage and that it wants to work in partnership with Western allies on issues ranging from the rise of China and Russia to climate change and the response to the coronavirus pandemic.
“Biden’s taking a much less isolationist approach [that] will spur that good will and he needs to keep doing that,” said John Hudak, a senior fellow at the left-leaning Brookings Institution.
“This summit is the first big step in showing the world that America is back to the position it once held,” Hudak added.
Instead of demanding that other countries step up their defense spending and NATO commitments and warning that the United States is ready to go it alone, Biden’s first formal action of the trip was to announce an update to the Atlantic Charter with British Prime Minister Boris Johnson.
The charter is a World War II-era document laying out shared commitments from the U.S. and United Kingdom, and the message was America Together, not America First.
“Our revitalized Atlantic Charter, building on the commitments and aspirations set out eighty years ago, affirms our ongoing commitment to sustaining our enduring values and defending them against new and old challenges,” the new joint document states. “We commit to working closely with all partners who share our democratic values and to encountering the efforts of those who seek to undermine our alliances and institutions.”
The new charter is a good example of the kind of change Biden wants to make from Trump, who in most ways is the opposite of his successor.
Yet Biden faces real challenges in making the pivot, especially now that allies have seen how quickly the U.S. political winds can change.
The multilateralist former President Obama, who spearheaded work on the Iran nuclear deal and entered the U.S. into the climate change agreement, was suddenly succeeded by his polar-opposite in Trump. Now Biden is Trump’s successor, but the Republican president is plotting a comeback in 2024, meaning promises made by the current administration may not be kept in a matter of years.
Questions about the state of U.S. democracy are also in the air after a pro-Trump mob overwhelmed police and invaded the U.S. Capitol on Jan. 6 in scenes that shocked the world. It’s not lost on European leaders that much of the Republican Party is questioning an election — despite the fact that Biden won fairly and there has been no evidence of widespread fraud.
Biden is trying to reassure, telling allies that “America is back.”
On Friday, the White House announced German Chancellor Angela Merkel will visit in July, an event to “affirm the deep bilateral ties between the United States and Germany.”
Merkel, still the most important leader in Western Europe, had a notoriously difficult relationship with Trump, who once tossed her candy and said: “Don’t say I never give you anything.”
Biden has held phone calls and virtual meetings with multiple foreign leaders, including Japanese Prime Minister Yoshihide Suga and South Korean President Moon Jae-in.
He called Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky, a figure at the center of Trump’s first impeachment trial, and plans to host him at the White House later this year.
Some conservatives say the White House is pushing a false narrative with its efforts to turn the page on Trump diplomatically.
“I don’t think transatlantic relationships were in a big crisis,” said James Carafano, The Heritage Foundation’s vice president for national security and foreign policy.
“I think they weathered the Trump years just fine. Honestly, transatlantic relationships are the least of our problems right now,” he added.
Biden’s team, however, believes Trump’s administration was disastrous for U.S. relationships abroad and sees this trip as an important moment for repair.
But it’s an effort that in truth began nearly as soon as Biden entered the Oval Office, when he immediately nixed the so-called Muslim Ban and reinstated normal visa processing practices with 13 countries with largely Muslim-majority populations.
In the United States, GOP lawmakers and potential rivals to Biden in 2024 are preparing to make foreign policy an issue in midterm and presidential election races.
They are casing Biden as weak on China, and as too willing to put international support from the west above U.S. domestic issues.
Sen. Ted Cruz (R-Texas) slammed Biden for rejoining the Paris climate accord in January, echoing Trump’s reasoning for leaving the deal in saying Biden is more interested “in views of the citizens of Paris than in the jobs of the citizens of Pittsburgh.”
“People were not happy with Obama at the end of the years,” Carafano said. “In the end, they were incredibly disappointed because of the substance of policies. And that will be true of Biden.”