Biden Test: Proving He Can Rally Allies01/26 06:12
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 big test of
his ability to bridge ideological gaps and balance competing interests to build
WASHINGTON (AP) -- 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 big test of his ability to bridge ideological gaps and balance competing
interests to build effective coalitions.
His record so far as president suggests it's no sure thing. Biden is trying
to pull off 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 signature
$2.2 trillion domestic and climate spending bill.
Now, he faces a complicated and globally more dangerous task: keeping the
West unified as it faces what White House officials say is an increasingly
likely further invasion of Ukrainian territory ordered by Russian President
The pileup of difficult moments is providing a major 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 in the White House.
"Starting with the messy end of the war in Afghanistan in the late summer,
the upsurge in COVID cases into the fall, overlaid by economic concerns of
inflation and labor shortages and his issues with his legislative agenda,
Biden's found himself with a weary American public who are seeing a number of
unfulfilled promises," said Christopher Borick, director of the Institute of
Public Opinion at Muhlenberg College. "The situation in Ukraine presents
another test of his competency."
The latest crisis comes as Biden already has seen his public support
Only about a quarter of Americans have significant confidence in Biden to
effectively manage the military or promote U.S. standing in the world. Close to
4 in 10 have little confidence in Biden in these areas, according to an
Associated Press-NORC Center for Public Affairs Research Poll. Democrats are
now less likely than they were as he took office to say they have "a great deal
of confidence" (48% vs. 65%), according to the poll.
Administration officials have been scrambling to get NATO allies on the same
page with a Russian attack seen as more likely.
Biden's national security aides have been working with individual European
nations, the European Commission and global suppliers on contingency plans if
Russia interrupts energy supplies to the continent.
The president has said repeatedly that he will not send U.S. troops to
Ukraine. But he has ordered 8,500 to be on heightened alert for deployment to
the Baltic Region. And he warned again on Tuesday of "enormous consequences"
and severe sanctions for Russia -- as well as Putin personally -- if Russia
takes military action against Ukraine.
He said he'd spoken with every NATO ally "and we're all on the same page."
In fact, Biden, who met by secure video call with several key European
leaders on Monday, claims there's "total unanimity" in the Western alliance's
approach to the crisis. But there are signs of differences.
Germany declined to send military aid to Ukraine even as the U.S. and other
NATO allies sent aid and looked to assist Kyiv 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" of Ukraine would result in more limited
consequences for Moscow. The president and White House quickly moved to clarify
that the U.S. would impose severe sanctions against Russia for any invasion of
Ukrainian territory. Ukrainian officials also complained that the U.S. State
Department was "premature" in calling on families of American Embassy workers
and nonessential employees in Ukraine to leave the country was "premature."
French President Emmanuel Macron said Tuesday it was a "good thing" that the
U.S. and Russia have been talking, but he noted he did not see 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 the pressure from "hawks" on both
sides of the U.S political scene. Croatia is a member of NATO, and its troops
have taken part in the alliance's missions abroad.
Biden's task in wrangling a global community with such differing
perspectives and motivations is somewhat similar to his challenge at home,
where he's been confronted by the realities of a 50-50 Senate and a Democratic
coalition whose members don't always see eye-to-eye.
Yet the stakes for Biden and the world are potentially much greater as he
tries to reassert American leadership after Europe began looking inward during
the Trump years.
At home, as the crisis has developed in recent weeks, Biden has faced
criticism from Republican lawmakers who have pushed for the White House to
preemptively levy sanctions against Moscow. Biden says the U.S. has made clear
to Russia that sanctions would be unprecedented and severe, but officials argue
that preemptively acting would undermine any chance of moving Russia to step
back from action.
Skeptical Republicans have sought to remind voters about Biden's decision
last year to waive sanctions against the Russia-to-Germany Nord Stream 2 gas
The United States had long argued that the pipeline project would threaten
European energy security by increasing the continent's reliance on Russian gas
and allowing Russia to exert political pressure on vulnerable Eastern and
Central European nations, particularly Ukraine.
But Biden, who raised his own concerns about the pipeline dating back to his
time as vice president, announced last year he would waive sanctions against
German entities because of the damage they would have done to U.S.-German
Republican Sen. Ted Cruz of Texas, a potential 2024 White House contender,
earlier this month made an unsuccessful legislative attempt to impose sanctions
on the pipeline, which is completed but not yet operating. Secretary of State
Antony Blinken and other administration officials have said it is unlikely gas
will 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 win by waiving sanctions
on his pipeline."
White House officials pushed back that GOP criticism ought to ring hollow
after Trump tried unsuccessfully in his final months in office to dramatically
scale back the U.S. troop presence in Europe, which they viewed as only
emboldening Russian aggression in the region.
Senate Republican Leader Mitch McConnell, who previously criticized the
Biden administration for not taking preemptive action against Moscow, offered a
measure of support for the president on Tuesday. The senator called it
"encouraging" that Biden was surging military aid and putting U.S. troops on
heightened alert for deployment to NATO allies in the Baltics
"It appears to me the administration is moving in the right direction,"