Sharm El Sheikh, Egypt
It’s a story that President Joe Biden tells at almost every opportunity: last year, meeting his new counterparts at his first international summit, he proudly informed them: “America is back.”
“For how long?” one of them asked.
As Biden leaves this week for a week-long world trip, the question still resonates.
“They are very concerned that we are still the open democracy that we have been and that we have rules and institutions that matter,” Biden said Wednesday during a press conference.
Biden hopes his stops at a climate meeting here on the Red Sea, a meeting of Southeast Asian nations in Cambodia and a Group of 20 summit on the Indonesian island of Bali will affirm American leadership. in areas that former President Donald Trump either ignored or ignored. actively avoided.
“If the United States tomorrow were to, quote, withdraw from the world, many things would change in the world. A lot would change,” said Biden before his trip.
He and his advisers believe that they enter the series of high-level meetings with a solid argument that their version of the role of the United States in the world will take. He withstood the historical and political winds in this year’s midterm elections while many of Trump’s handpicked candidates lost. And last year, he secured the passage of a major climate investment and rallied the world behind efforts to support Ukraine and isolate Russia.
Still, anxieties among America’s allies persist about the future of America’s commitments — to Ukraine, to the fight against climate change, to treaty partners and, perhaps most urgently, to maintain democratic norms. Foreign diplomats have been watching closely as the midterm political season approaches, looking for clues about how the American electorate is judging Biden’s first two years in office and reporting to their capitals the dissatisfaction of voters who could fuel Trump’s return to office.
Republicans appeared to be moving toward control of the House of Representatives as of Wednesday night. And Trump is preparing a third presidential bid, potentially to be announced while Biden is on the opposite side of the planet.
White House aides expressed no concern about the potential split-screen, believing that foreign policy is among the president’s strengths, particularly when compared to Trump’s chaotic style of diplomacy.
“We just have to show that he will not take power,” Biden said on Wednesday. “If he runs, making sure that he, under the legitimate efforts of our Constitution, will not become the next president.”
Presidents have often turned to foreign policy, where they can act with relatively few restrictions from Congress, in moments of domestic political turmoil. President Barack Obama launched a similar tour in Asia after his self-described “shellacking” in the 2010 midterms.
Four definite global threats appear on Biden’s trip: Russia’s war in Ukraine, rising tensions with China, the existential problem of climate change and the potential for a global recession in the coming months. Other flashpoints, such as North Korea’s rapidly accelerating provocations and uncertainty over Iran’s nuclear program, will also be affected.
Of those, the defense of Ukraine and the fight against climate change could be the most affected by the results of this week’s elections.
At the G20 summit, Biden hopes to rally the leaders of the world’s developed economies behind his 10-month effort to isolate and punish Russia for its invasion of Ukraine. He does not intend to meet Russian President Vladimir Putin, who will not attend the meeting in person and plans to participate virtually.
The headwinds of the global economy have tested the international resolution for the pressure campaign, however, and world leaders have worked with different levels of intensity to find a diplomatic end to the conflict.
Some Trump-aligned House Republicans have called for cutting funding to Ukraine, though other GOP defense hawks have vowed not to abandon the country in its war with Russia.
The Republican leader of the House McCarthy, in an interview with CNN this week, tried to reaffirm his support for Ukraine, saying that they did not automatically print any additional requests for help.
“I am very supportive of Ukraine,” McCarthy said. “I think there needs to be accountability going forward. … You still need, not a blank check, but make sure that the resources go to where they are needed. And make sure that the Congress and the Senate have the ability to debate openly.”
At the United Nations climate summit in Egypt, Biden arrives after signing the largest US investment in the fight against climate change ever, a scenario dramatically different from previous international meetings – including the meeting of last year in Scotland – where US carbon reduction commitments are not backed by law.
“We’ve seen the United States go from a global laggard to a world leader in less than 18 months,” a senior administration official said this week.
The $375 billion pledge will give Biden leverage as he works to convince other countries to step up their efforts to reduce greenhouse gas emissions, all with the goal of limiting global warming to 1.5 degrees Celsius .
In his speech, Biden will invite nations to “really keep their eyes on the ball when it comes to accelerating ambitious action to reduce emissions,” the official said. And he will highlight his administration’s intention to propose a rule this week that would require large federal contractors to develop carbon reduction targets and disclose their greenhouse gas emissions, leveraging the government’s purchasing power federal to combat climate change in the private sector and strengthen vulnerable supply chains.
But Republicans have said they will work to repeal parts of the law, and have accused Biden of contributing to rising energy prices by blocking the extraction of fossil fuels, which contribute to climate change.
When Trump was president, he withdrew the United States entirely from the Paris Climate Agreement, the leaders of the agreement meet to discuss the week.
Even in the absence of American political uncertainty, there are concerns about rising energy costs and a looming recession could hold back the resolve toward a cleaner energy transition. American officials moderated expectations for this year’s summit, which Biden is expected to attend for only a few hours.
In Congress, Biden has achieved more bipartisan success in his efforts to counter China, the other major issue facing him this week. A recently passed law aimed at strengthening the American semiconductor industry won Republican and Democratic votes, in part because it promised to rid the United States of its dependence on Chinese products.
Biden’s aides have been working over the past month to arrange his first face-to-face meeting with Chinese President Xi Jinping since taking office, even as tensions flared between Washington and Beijing. The meeting will be held on Monday at the G20 in Indonesia. House Speaker Nancy Pelosi’s August visit to self-governing Taiwan infuriated Chinese leaders and led to a near shutdown of communications with the United States.
Biden said Wednesday that he and Xi would outline “what each of our red lines are” and discuss issues each believes are in their “critical national interests” during the meeting.
In his recently released National Security Strategy, Biden identified China as “America’s most consequential geopolitical challenge,” and hopes that an in-person meeting with Xi – who has just resumed international travel after the Covid-19 pandemic – can help establish lines of communication. .
Xi arrives at the G20 fresh from a historic Communist Party conference that elevated him to an unprecedented third term – a stark contrast to Biden’s current political situation.
It is not yet clear how this disparity will manifest itself in Bali.
“The big question is whether the two leaders will come out in a kind of more conciliatory way or a kind of more defiant way,” said Matthew Goodman, senior vice president of the Center for Strategic and International Studies in Washington.
“They’ve both had their political events of the year and they might be a little more freed up for one reason or another to try to reach out and find common ground,” Goodman said. “There are the kind of global challenges that really affect the United States and China – whether it’s growth, or pandemics, or climate change. And so there is the possibility of a certain conciliatory approach from both sides.”