President Biden is off to Europe. I remember a time when this was no big deal, when our alliances with our European allies were rock solid; when NATO held the Soviet Union, our principal Cold War adversary, in check; when citizens of the EU opined about the wonders of the American experiment; and when even banal exports like I Love Lucy reruns were a source of both domestic pride and international envy.
No longer. Four years of “America First” foreign policy, an unrelenting drumbeat of crude and dismissive comments about our NATO allies, an incoherent strategy to address the coronavirus pandemic, a disturbing immigration policy that separated children from their families, a constant assault on democratic norms leading up to an insurrectionist mob attacking the Capitol on January 6, and a baffling hesitancy on the Biden administration’s slow-walking of vaccine sharing with other countries have prompted leaders in Europe and elsewhere to ask if the US has lost its mojo.
Can we still be a trusted partner in combatting those global concerns that span national borders. What is America’s role in climate change, the threat to fact-based reporting, cyber criminals, the rising hegemony of China, attacks on human rights and freedoms from Hong Kong to Belarus? Can we assume our prior place on the global stage as a leader in these efforts?
In the latter half of the 20th century, the US was a global beacon in the struggle for human rights and human freedoms. But a generation of vacillation from Republican to Democratic priorities on the world stage has so tarnished our reputation that we are now playing from way behind. How does President Biden rekindle the hope that so many have historically placed in the US, “Give me your tired and your poor…” where people not only proclaimed their reverence for these ideals but often sacrificed their personal safety and their family’s wellbeing to become a part of this society, where such aspirations were not always perfectly realized, but were always central to the American identity.
But alas, there is speculation among global leaders as to whether the former guy was an aberration on the trajectory of American idealism or whether it is actually the current, 78-year-old President who is the exception. Mired in domestic gridlock, political in-fighting and constantly looking over his shoulder at his predecessor, how does Joe Biden reassert the moral underpinnings of this nation? Or will he fail to convince the world that the US is anything more than craven country that—at the end of the day—is decidedly beholden to shortsighted self-serving motivations.
Biden’s European trip will go a long way toward determining if and how the US can return to a place of esteem in the eyes of the world. Will he stand up to Putin? Will he commit to a generous and far-reaching global vaccine effort? Will he engage the imaginations of scientists, engineers and climate activists in ways that open doors to renewed leadership on this pressing issue? Will he inspire confidence? Will he restore trust?
It has been gratifying to see competence return to the White House. President Biden has restored a sense of stability to the highest echelons of government. This is why we elected him. But, these next few days on his first overseas trip will go a long way towards determining if the confidence he has so far inspired at home can translate onto the global stage. Every American should wish him well.