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America First, Biden-Style

Does US President Joe Biden want a dynamic America, open to the world, or Donald Trump’s anxious America, suspicious and contemptuous of others? Until Biden offers a bold gesture to exorcise the spirit of Trump from US foreign policy, his hopes of restoring American global leadership are likely to be disappointed.

STANFORD – If America’s allies were concerned by President Joe Biden’s remarks on foreign policy in his address to Congress on April 28, they had every right to be. Although Biden’s domestic economic agenda could not have been less Trumpian – higher taxes on the wealthy and a substantial expansion of the social safety net – the foreign policy he outlined was not all that different from his rococo predecessor’s “America First” credo.

As Richard Haass, the president of the Council on Foreign Relations, recently noted, “there is more foreign-policy continuity between Biden and Trump than first meets the eye … Trumpism still looms large.” So, Biden’s speech was a strange brew: Franklin D. Roosevelt’s New Deal mixed with powerful hints of Trumpian nationalism.

When Biden turned to foreign policy, his emphasis was on China and the United States, as if Europe did not exist, and the US could win this competition without the active participation of Europeans. To European ears, of course, that sounds a little bit too close to Trumpian contempt. The US could not have won the Cold War without its European allies, and it will not outcompete China without European cooperation. In her softly, softly way, German Chancellor Angela Merkel drove that message home just before Biden took office by pushing the European Union into fast-tracking the EU-China Comprehensive Agreement on Investment.

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