Biden’s big test: Proving he can muster allies against Putin


President Joe Biden’s effort to rally support, both at home and abroad, ahead of a potential Russian invasion of Ukraine is just the latest major test of his ability to bridge ideological divides and balance competing interests to build effective coalitions.

His record so far as president suggests that it is not a sure thing. Biden is trying to strike the kind of alliance on the international front that has eluded him on his domestic agenda as he faces defeats on voting rights and his $2.2 trillion climate and domestic spending bill.

Now, he faces a complicated and globally more dangerous task: holding the West together as it faces what White House officials say is an increasingly likely invasion of Ukrainian territory ordered by Russian President Vladimir Putin. .

The accumulation of difficult moments is providing an important test of the twin pillars of Biden’s 2020 candidacy: that he could get things done competently at home and restore America’s standing in the world after Donald Trump’s volatile four years. Trump in the White House.

“Beginning with the messy end of the war in Afghanistan in late summer, the spike in COVID cases in the fall, overlaid by economic concerns of inflation and labor shortages, and his problems with his legislative agenda, Biden found himself with a tired American public. they’re seeing a number of broken promises,” said Christopher Borick, director of the Institute for Public Opinion at Muhlenberg College. “The situation in Ukraine presents another test of their competence.”

The latest crisis comes as Biden has already seen his public support creep.

Only about a quarter of Americans have significant trust in Biden to effectively manage the military or advance America’s position in the world. About 4 in 10 have low confidence in Biden in these areas, according to an investigative poll by the Associated Press-NORC Center for Public Affairs. Democrats are now less likely than when he took office to say they are “very confident” (48% vs. 65%), according to the poll.

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Administration officials have been struggling to get NATO allies to agree to a Russian strike that is seen as more likely.

Biden’s national security aides have been working with individual European nations, the European Commission and global providers on contingency plans if Russia cuts off power supplies to the continent.

The president has repeatedly said that he will not send US troops to Ukraine. But he has ordered 8,500 to be on high alert for deployment to the Baltic region. And he warned again Tuesday of “enormous consequences” and severe sanctions for Russia, as well as for Putin personally, if Russia takes military action against Ukraine.

He said he had spoken to all NATO allies “and we are all on the same page.”

Indeed, Biden, who met by secure video call with several key European leaders on Monday, says there is “complete unanimity” on the Western alliance’s approach to the crisis. But there are signs of differences.

Germany refused to send military aid to Ukraine even as the United States and other NATO allies sent aid and sought to help Kiev further. The Germans argued that such aid could further inflame tensions.

Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskyy bristled at Biden’s comment last week that a “minor incursion” into Ukraine would have more limited consequences for Moscow. The president and the White House moved quickly to clarify that the United States would impose harsh sanctions against Russia for any invasion of Ukraine. Ukrainian officials also complained that the US State Department was “premature” in asking the families of US embassy workers and non-essential employees in Ukraine to leave the country.

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French President Emmanuel Macron said on Tuesday it was “a good thing” that the United States and Russia had been talking, but said he had not seen any concrete results. Macron said he planned to speak directly with Putin on Friday.

Meanwhile, Croatian President Zoran Milanovic blamed the escalation of tensions on the Biden administration and pressure from “hawks” on both sides of the US political scene. Croatia is a member of NATO and its troops have participated in the alliance’s missions abroad.

Biden’s task of dealing with a global community with such different perspectives and motivations is somewhat similar to his challenge at home, where he has been confronted with the realities of a 50-50 Senate and a Democratic coalition whose members don’t always agree. eye.

Yet the stakes for Biden and the world are potentially much higher as he tries to reassert American leadership after Europe began to look inward during the Trump years.

At home, as the crisis has unfolded in recent weeks, Biden has faced criticism from Republican lawmakers who have pushed for the White House to impose pre-emptive sanctions against Moscow. Biden says the US has made it clear to Russia that the sanctions would be harsh and unprecedented, but officials argue that acting preemptively would undermine any chance of Russia backing down.

Skeptical Republicans have tried to remind voters of Biden’s decision last year to waive sanctions against the Nord Stream 2 gas pipeline from Russia to Germany.

The United States has long argued that the pipeline project would threaten European energy security by increasing the continent’s dependence on Russian gas and allowing Russia to exert political pressure on vulnerable nations in central and eastern Europe, particularly Ukraine.

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But Biden, who has raised his own concerns about the pipeline since his time as vice president, announced last year that he would waive sanctions against German entities because of the damage they would have caused to US-German relations.

Republican Sen. Ted Cruz of Texas, a possible 2024 White House contender, earlier this month made an unsuccessful legislative attempt to impose sanctions on the pipeline, which is completed but not yet operational. Secretary of State Antony Blinken and other administration officials have said gas is unlikely to flow through the pipeline if Russia invades.

Republican National Committee spokesman Tommy Pigott said: “Biden ignored his own advice and handed Putin a major geopolitical victory by waiving sanctions on his pipeline.”

White House officials insisted GOP criticism should ring hollow after Trump tried unsuccessfully in his final months in office to slash US troop presence in Europe, which they felt only emboldened Russian aggression. in the region.

Senate Republican Leader Mitch McConnell, who previously criticized the Biden administration for failing to take preemptive action against Moscow, offered a measure of support for the president on Tuesday. The senator called it “encouraging” that Biden increased military aid and put US troops on high alert for deployment to NATO allies in the Baltic countries.

“It seems to me that the administration is moving in the right direction,” McConnell said.


Associated Press writers Jovana Gec, Bruce Schreiner, Josh Boak and Emily Swanson contributed.


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George Holan

George Holan is chief editor at Plainsmen Post and has articles published in many notable publications in the last decade.

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