Biden’s crusade for global democracy is doomed to fail | Simon Tisdall

Biden’s crusade for global democracy is doomed to fail | Simon Tisdall

It was Joe Biden’s week. His energised performance in Kyiv and Warsaw recalled the campaigning style of a much younger man. Russian media sniped that the US president was warming up for his 2024 re-election campaign. They missed the point. He almost certainly intends to run again. Yet last week’s adrenaline rush had a different cause.

Biden has cast himself as a latter-day Lionheart, leading a global crusade against the bad guys – what he calls “a test for the ages”. He’s on a high. He believes he, and the cause of democracy, are winning hands down. Sadly, he’s wrong.

By “bad guys”, Biden means, principally, Russia’s leader, Vladimir Putin, whose delusional speech in Moscow confirmed him as undisputed heir to Ronald Reagan’s evil empire. But Biden is also rhetorically targeting authoritarians, autocrats and tyrants everywhere – anyone who challenges the western democratic model. This includes governments ruling at least half of humanity, such as China and India and many African states.

Biden’s division of the world into “for us or against us” camps carries uncomfortable echoes of George W Bush, circa 2001, and of Putin himself. That it is America’s manifest destiny (updated version) to defend and promote freedom and democracy everywhere is a message that normally plays well with US voters.

At least, it did once, during the cold war with the Soviet Union, when Biden’s worldview was formed. No more. Despite Putin’s aggressive imperial irredentism, that era has passed. Today’s fractured, fragmented world is multipolar and geopolitically complex.

After Afghanistan and Iraq, many Americans ask why the US continues to assume the burdens and responsibilities of global leadership, as unthinkingly advocated by politicians of Biden’s generation. The next president, Democrat or Republican, may take a less expansive, inward-looking view. Biden is the last of his ilk.

If that’s true, then the bold pledges he made in Warsaw may last only as long as Biden himself. It’s a worrying thought that Europe’s security hinges on the views, however passionately held, of a frail, 80-year-old man who could soon be replaced by an unknown – or heaven forfend, Donald Trump.

It’s a powerful argument for greater self-sufficiency. Biden has become Europe’s one-man buffer. But he’s an old buffer. He may fail.

“The war in Ukraine is about power and the principle of territorial sovereignty, and whether the [US-led] western-designed global order … will survive new challenges from Moscow and Beijing. But it is increasingly a contest between two ageing cold warriors, one 70 years old [Putin] and another who just turned 80,” the New York Times noted.

Even assuming Biden is fighting fit, plenty of voters still think he should throw in the towel. That’s not because they dislike him (though many do) but because they think he is just too old. He would be 86 at the end of a second term.

Friends point out that Biden mostly fought the 2020 campaign sitting down, closeted in his Delaware basement because of pandemic restrictions. Next year’s heavyweight contest will be infinitely more physically taxing.

Columnist Michelle Goldberg believes Biden should quit while he’s ahead. “Biden has been a great president. He’s made good on an uncommon number of campaign promises. He should be celebrated … But he should not run again,” she wrote. In one recent poll, 78% of Democrats and Democrat-leaning independents approved of Biden’s performance, yet 58% wanted a new face next year.

Analyst Ezra Klein said Biden had surprised everyone by limiting Republican gains and defeating pro-Trump Maga (“Make America great again”) extremists in November’s midterms. Perhaps he could do it again in 2024. He had also succeeded in getting out from under the shadow of Barack Obama, to whom he played second fiddle for eight long years. Yet while Biden may have escaped his past at home, not so abroad. Like Obama, he is overly cautious. His excessive concern that supplying the best weaponry and air defences to Kyiv could provoke Putin has resulted in vast, avoidable destruction in Ukraine.

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Taiwan still lacks the strategic clarity and weapons required to repel a Chinese invasion. Biden’s nuclear diplomacy with Iran has failed. Israel-Palestine is a policy vacuum where bad things happen. His Afghanistan withdrawal was a shameful disaster. When it comes to what he regards as the most consequential fight of all – for global freedoms, laws and values – Biden is losing ground across the board. “The democracies of the world have grown stronger … The autocrats of the world have grown weaker,” he declared in Warsaw.

Truly? Ukraine has survived, so far, but what of next-door Belarus, where the west watched as pro-democracy activists were crushed? What of Myanmar, where a Beijing-backed junta commits daily crimes against humanity?

Think, too, of Hong Kong, where free speech is a fond memory, and of the repressed peoples of Xinjiang, Kashmir, Nicaragua, Venezuela, the West Bank, Syria, Yemen, Tigray, Mali, Cambodia and other democratic black holes where the US (and its allies) have failed to act, looked the other way – or been actively complicit. This is the alternative, anti-freedom narrative of Biden’s watch.

This is also the complicated reality of a world split many ways, between not always united democracies, Russia and China (separately or in combination), and the rising 21st-century powers of the global south that do not adhere to 18th-century Euro-Atlantic values, Chinese-style collectivism or old-school Soviet totalitarianism.

The whole idea of the west successfully waging a universal, modern-day democracy crusade – or second cold war – is deaf to history, blind to change, surreptitiously neo-imperialist. More to the point, it’s a losing proposition.

Biden means well. But he’s showing his age. His florid, outdated “us and them” rhetoric is a geopolitical dead end. The world has moved on. Like his Russian sparring partner, Biden hasn’t.

via the Guardian

February 26, 2023 at 04:11PM