President Biden’s summit with Vladimir Putin in Geneva was hyped in advance by the Biden team as a demonstration of American leadership on the world stage. In the end, it was a display of weakness rather than strength, offering the Russian dictator a global media opportunity to defend his tyranny and destructive foreign policy.
Biden made no mention in his press conference of the prospect of further sanctions against Moscow or of the hugely controversial Nord Stream 2 pipeline. Nor did he make any reference to Russia’s use of chemical weapons on European soil, most notably the barbaric Novichok poisonings in Salisbury. His focus was on cooperation rather than confrontation.
The Biden Presidency’s approach so far has largely been a rerun of the Obama administration’s lacklustre “leading from behind” doctrine. Biden called for a new “Strategic Stability Dialogue” with Moscow, with echoes of Hillary Clinton’s much vaunted “Russian Reset” back in 2009. The reset was a spectacular failure, and was followed in 2014 by the Russian invasion and annexation of Crimea.
Agreeing to this summit was a mistake by the White House. It is hard to see what the conceivable benefit would have been for the United States. Putin is not a pragmatist like Mikhail Gorbachev, the Cold War leader who worked with Ronald Reagan and Margaret Thatcher to bring an end to the Soviet Empire. He is a cold-blooded killer, schooled in the murderous and uncompromising mindset of the KGB, and he should never have been granted a meeting with the US president while there are still Russian troops in Georgia and Ukraine.
Putin’s press conference was a masterclass in disinformation, with repeated attacks on the United States, combined with thinly veiled menace aimed directly at anyone who dares to oppose him at home or abroad, and he clearly relished the chance to put his poisonous messaging across to an audience of millions in the West.
Ahead of his first international trip, Biden proclaimed that “America is back”, implying that the Trump administration had abandoned U.S. allies. The reality, of course, is very different. Donald Trump was sharply criticised during his European visits by an unforgiving press and EU elites, but his presidency saw defence spending among Nato allies increase and his administration built strong ties with many European nations. What’s more, Trump could never be accused of weakness. He aggressively sanctioned the Putin regime and was unafraid to use America’s military prowess to make a point against adversaries, from Isil to Iran and Syria.
In contrast, President Biden already looks out of his depth on the international stage, and both Moscow and Beijing have grown more assertive since he entered the Oval Office. Biden did not have a good G7 summit, and at times looked confused, struggling to make points coherently and mixing up countries such as Syria and Libya.
His European tour began disastrously, with a poorly judged attack on the British Government over the Northern Ireland border. On the European stage, the U.S. president also failed to develop a coherent, robust strategy for confronting China, on top of his mixed messages on Russia. This has only served to encourage division within Europe and given cover to those countries, such as Germany, that are seeking an accommodation with Beijing and Moscow.
The G7 should have been an opportunity for the world’s leading economies to advance free-market solutions to kick-start the global economy in the wake of the deadliest pandemic in more than a century. Instead, Biden drove a big-government economic strategy, prioritising his desire for a disastrous global minimum corporate tax. His adherence to a Left-wing agenda of high government spending, weak borders and woke ideology had already alienated some European capitals—a situation that has likely now been made worse.
This week was Biden’s first major test on the world stage. The fact that he failed it so badly sets a deeply worrying precedent for the next three-and-a-half years.
This piece originally appeared in The Telegraph