Until Russia’s invasion of Ukraine, Joe Biden was more concerned with the coronavirus pandemic, the US economy or climate change than with national security. But in recent weeks, Vladimir Putin and the Russian threat to the world have been firmly at the top of the US president’s agenda.
In fact, Biden has chosen to set himself up as the leader of the free world. He called Putin ‘a war criminal’ and ‘a butcher’ and recently, during his much-discussed visit to Poland, expressed his fierce sigh, described by many as unwise: ‘For God’s sake, this man cannot remain in power’.
Yet here in Europe we seem to have quickly forgiven Biden’s slip-up, as America has once again assumed a protective and leadership role and the US president has regained credibility with his Western allies. Finally, his image as commander-in-chief suffered a major blow last year due to the chaotic way in which the Americans left Afghanistan.
And not unimportant: various European countries have promised to spend considerably more on defense and the financial and logistical burdens of NATO. A Europe that is more tied to America and at the same time less burdensome. According to some commentators, Biden’s America is benefiting both economically and geopolitically from the war in Ukraine. Or as Ganesh Janan recently put it in a commentary for the Financial Times: ‘Even Kissinger couldn’t have dreamed up what the Kremlin is now accidentally going to do’.
Biden’s approach to the war in Ukraine, however, does little for his popularity at home. One peiling van Associated Press/NORC showed that a large proportion of Americans believe that Biden has not been strict enough with Moscow. from a Harvard/Harris poll showed that a large majority do not believe that Putin would have ordered the invasion of Ukraine if Donald Trump had still been president.
It points to the fact that Putin crossed the border into Georgia and Ukraine during the Obama and Biden presidencies, but not under Trump. And then there are the staunchest supporters of the Republican former president, who believe that Biden is withholding information and would rather see Putin in power. They oppose US military aid to Ukraine and call Ukrainian President Zelensky a “thug who stands for woke ideologies,” a revealing statement revealed. USreport at a Trump rally in Selma, North Carolina.
Force of the majority
Koen Petersen, political scientist and Americanist: ‘Trump’s position on Ukraine (‘This would not have happened under my presidency’) coincides seamlessly with the prevailing public opinion in the United States: America and NATO are not doing enough. Trump has forgotten that he praised Putin shortly before the Russian invasion of Ukraine, now he says he is a great admirer of Zelensky. In addition, Democrats are under fire for allegedly fabricating Trump’s alleged collaboration with Russia in 2016.
Skyrocketing inflation is now the main election topic for American voters, where Trump as president outperformed President Biden by an average of 1.9 percent per year. He is credible on this point. Trump is taking advantage of his opposition role in polls. If Americans were allowed to choose between Biden and Trump today, the controversial former president would win by 47 to 41 percent.
What also doesn’t help is that midterm elections are scheduled for November. The rule is: in the midterms, the party of the incumbent US president loses seats in both the House and Senate. That has happened eight times in the last ten by-elections since 1982. Because Biden’s Democrats have only wafer-thin majorities there, he will likely face a Republican force majeure blocking his agenda after November. From then on he is paralyzed.
‘Presidents with a low approval rating are also hit the hardest. With only 41 percent support from Americans, when it was 56 percent when he took office, Biden can brace himself for a harsh punishment. Especially because he scores even worse among the crucial floating voters.
In addition, only 40 percent of Americans think the nearly 80-year-old Biden is still mentally sharp enough to be president. Although Biden himself is not on the ballot this year, as a billboard he does his party a disservice electorally. American elections are usually a referendum on the incumbent. That makes Trump’s position easy, he only has to say what he would do differently than Biden.’
Willem Post, senior research associate US presidency and foreign policy at Clingendael. “For Joe Biden and the Democrats, it’s five to twelve. America is still captivated by its own problems. Increasing, irregular immigration and rapidly increasing loss of purchasing power due to inflation play into the hands of the opponent.
Republicans can smell the victory in the Congressional elections in November and already have the scent of the White House rose garden in their noses. Trump is already warming up. In that scenario with so many extreme populist friends in the world, our democracy is really in jeopardy.
Many American presidents are overtaken by a foreign war after the initial presentation of a domestic agenda. Think of Great Society president Lyndon Johnson with the Vietnam War and rural president George W. Bush who became embroiled in wars in Iraq and Afghanistan.
Beacon of guidance
Biden has already placed the current war in a global struggle between democracy and autocracy. As the most experienced politician in Washington, raised in the Cold War, Biden can become a beacon of reference for his own citizens too. It no longer matters that he sometimes slips up. In a short time, Biden, in particular, forged a close international coalition. His approach: arms to Ukraine, strict sanctions against Russia, no real direct involvement of NATO as yet.
‘The year 2022 already threatens to be a defining year in international relations as 1939 and 1989 were. German Chancellor Olaf Scholz already spoke of a turning point† That’s how it is. The Autocratic Bloc vs. the Democratic! When it really comes down to it, Americans too will realize that in the end a peaceful, safe existence is even more important than the high price of bread or a liter of gas.’