- President Joe Biden is seeking to restore America’s image and alliances on his trip overseas.
- The president is meeting G7 and NATO leaders and later plans to confront Russia’s Vladimir Putin.
- But US instability and shifting international alliances mean Biden’s job will prove tough.
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Joe Biden’s job at his first G7 summit and trip to Europe as president this week appears simple: Show the world that the tumult and isolationism of Donald Trump’s presidency is over, and that America is back.
Trump was abrasive with traditional US allies, especially in Europe. He accused them of freeloading, imposed trade tariffs, and was alarmingly warm with authoritarian leaders such as Russian President Vladimir Putin.
Biden has said he wants to restore the US’s role as the world’s leading champion of democracy and underline its status as Europe’s closest ally. To that end he has ambitious multilateral plans on the climate crisis and global access to COVID-19 vaccinations.
His eight-day trip includes the G7 summit in the UK, a meeting with NATO allies in Belgium, and a summit with Putin in Geneva.
But much has changed while Trump was in power, and goodwill from allies keen for a return to the norm in their relations with the US may not be enough to give Biden what he wants.
Here is what stands in his way:
- US allies are aware of the recent chaos in the US, including the January 6 insurrection and Trump’s continued hold over the GOP. They may wonder whether the US can be trusted to honor long-term pledges and commitments, with the threat of Trump or one of his followers retaking the White House in 2024.
- The US and its allies are divided on how to approach China. Biden is said to view China as a more significant long-term adversary than Russia and has maintained a wary relationship with Beijing. By contrast, some European nations continue to welcome Chinese investments and signed a new trade pact with China in January despite objections from Washington.
- Even with Biden in power, the fabric of US democracy is tarnished. Trump has groundlessly sought to delegitimize Biden’s victory, Republicans have rolled back access to voting in several states, and extremists are stirring talk of civil war. Will allies be as willing to defer to the US as the world’s leading democracy?
- Biden has only so much energy for foreign affairs. A European diplomat told The Washington Post that there was goodwill toward Biden but the urgency of his domestic priorities could limit the focus he could bring: “It’s clear he has to perform on his internal agenda. The midterms are already in one year, there is a big pressure, we understand that.”
As with China, the US and its allies are divided on how to handle Russia. Putin and his government continue to rock the stability of the West with political meddling and aggressive military maneuvers near Ukraine.
But splits have opened in the united front the US and European allies once presented against Russian aggression. In April, a major new gas pipeline opened between Russia and Western Europe despite objections from the Biden administration, providing the Kremlin with diplomatic leverage. Putin will most likely seek to exploit the tensions at Wednesday’s summit.