In 2017, the President of the United States shocked Washington’s Western allies on his first trip to Europe, berating them for not paying their “fair share” for defense, physically pushing back a prime minister and beating another leader in a public handshake.
After four tumultuous years for transatlantic relations under Donald Trump, the words of friendship from his Democratic successor Joe Biden and the promise that “America is back” as he meets Western allies this week and next are a welcome relief.
But they are not enough, say diplomats and foreign policy experts.
Biden faces lingering doubts about America’s reliability as a partner. Leaders of the Group of Seven advanced economies, NATO and the European Union are worried about the pendulum of American politics and are looking for concrete actions, not words after the shock of the Trump years.
âIs this an interregnum between Trump 1.0 and Trump 2.0? Nobody knows,â said David O’Sullivan, former European Union ambassador to Washington. “I think most people are of the opinion that we should take the opportunity with this administration to strengthen the relationship and hope it can survive beyond mid-term and into 2024.”
European leaders have been publicly optimistic, hailing the survival of multilateralism – but their doubts extend beyond the scars of the Trump years. The Biden administration’s foreign policy has sent mixed signals, marked by some missteps and uncertainty over key policy areas such as China, thanks to lengthy reviews, former U.S. officials and diplomatic sources said.
“America’s partners are still in shock over what happened under Trump,” said Harry Broadman, former senior US official and chief executive of the Berkeley Research Group. “But some of Biden’s messages were also rambling.”
MIDDLE CLASS FOREIGN POLICY
Just a handful of concrete international policies have emerged nearly five months since taking office, while Biden’s decisions to push for “Buy American” provisions support a waiver of intellectual property rights at the World Organization. trade with little consultation with other members, and a fixed aggressive program of withdrawal from Afghanistan has pissed off the allies.
Biden said all U.S. troops will leave Afghanistan by September 11, a key date marking the start of America’s longest war two decades ago. U.S. officials have said they will complete the withdrawal by that date.
The timetable forced the allies to scramble to keep up, several Western diplomats said, adding that they saw the move as designed for domestic consumption.
Biden and his top diplomat, Secretary of State Antony Blinken, have repeatedly said that US foreign policy should first and foremost benefit the American middle class.
To many European governments, that sounds like a euphemism for Trump’s isolationist motto âAmerica Firstâ. “America first will remain, without a doubt,” a Western diplomatic source said.
A senior European diplomat said the most important factor was having someone to work with in Washington again: âAfter the past four years, it really matters.
A LESS DEMOCRATIC AMERICA?
A major underlying concern for many foreign allies is fundamental, say many experts – their faith in American democracy is shaken.
Trump peddled false claims for months that he won the Nov. 3 election, and Jan. 6 encouraged his supporters to march to the U.S. Capitol while lawmakers certify Biden’s victory.
The riot, which led to the building’s evacuation and five deaths, stunned world leaders.
Jamie Shea, a former senior NATO official currently at the Friends of Europe think tank in Brussels, told Reuters he fears the next US president will be another Trump-like leader.
“So I think we have four years,” he said, “we have a limited period of time with this pro-European administration, to cement a strong transatlantic economic and security partnership.”
Biden’s Democratic Party has a slim majority in the US Congress, making it difficult to pass legislation and reset international goals. The Republican Party has regrouped to oppose its program.
In a landmark deal, G7 finance ministers endorsed U.S. Treasury Secretary Janet Yellen’s plan to pursue a global minimum tax rate of at least 15% and allow countries to tax around 100 large high-profit companies. Leading Senate Republicans immediately rejected the deal.
“It shows the difficulty of accomplishing anything in such a divided Congress,” said a diplomatic source.
While residents of 12 European and Asian countries still view the United States as a “fairly reliable” partner, according to a Pew Research Center survey released on Thursday, few believe America’s democracy as it stands sets a good example. democratic values.
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