I have written it several times over the years: America needs to do what it can to be hated less around the world. I know, I know, that sounds too simple to be useful, but it’s not.
Our friends at Pew Research Center have been tracking America’s image for at least the last two decades within twelve (sometimes thirteen) countries, all of whom we would consider to be allies. Newsflash–the people of the world’s major democratic nations are much more confident in Joe Biden than they were in Donald Trump. The primary data point Pew gathers on the topic each year is the percentage who “have confidence the U.S. President will do the right thing regarding world affairs.” That confidence grew by as little as 42% in Greece, to as much as 70% in Sweden and Belgium, simply by making the presidential change.
The data isn’t surprising, in fact it is quite predictable for those of us who read it every year. This year’s report was released on June 10, so President Biden’s first diplomatic trip to Europe this week had not yet occurred. The new president’s trip will likely make the sharply improved approval numbers in the Pew report even better.
As predictable as the Pew numbers are, so was Biden’s European performance. It is clear from watching the interactions, even without television sound or interpreters, the leaders of our post-World War II allies are happy about the winner of the 2020 U.S. election. The body language is unmistakable. But, so what? Americans who bought into the whole “America First” mantra of former President Trump, seemed to prefer an approach that was more akin to an aggressive bill collector, more driven to settle financial scores which had been reduced to the simplest of terms.
The main event of Biden’s trip was his meeting with Russian President Vladimir Putin. And this meeting, which unfolded very much as was choreographed by all involved brought criticism from GOP leaders here. And if there was any question regarding the lack of seriousness of House Minority Leader Kevin McCarthy, there should no longer be.
McCarthy released a statement that said in part: “The American people suffered massive disruptions because of Russia-linked cyber-attacks. Two Americans, both Marine veterans, are being held as prisoners in Russia. Knowing these facts, President Biden should have used today’s summit to stand up for our national interests and send a message to the world that the United States will hold Russia accountable for its long list of transgressions. Unfortunately, President Biden gave Vladimir Putin a pass.”
The first word that pops into the minds of rational observers of the America/Russia relationship after this incredible example of political hypocrisy is “Helsinki.” McCarthy stayed silent when the ultimate Putin pass was first granted by former President Trump when he took the Russian autocrat’s denial of 2016 election interference over the findings of American intelligence agencies. Oh, and it was given while on a stage, standing side by side and in public. The only pass I can imagine being more sought after by the former KGB dictator would be an unconditional surrender.
Americans were aghast at the “pass” Trump gave Putin. But McCarthy wasn’t. And apparently his support for lies that only vary in size between big and gigantic, has also caused him to lose track of what words actually mean. His statement was issued before he could have possibly known what was even said in the private meetings, those transcripts have not been issued.
We are left to judge what happened behind close doors based on the descriptions and mood that is communicated by the leaders. Biden says “I did what I came to do.” Putin also described the meetings as “constructive,” but was clearly less celebratory than he was following the Helsinki meeting with Trump three years ago.
Our ally nations are happier and more trusting of us. One of our top adversaries is clearly taking our president more seriously. Yes, that should be considered a successful first five months on the job for Biden.
This work is not about achieving perfection, though that would be wonderful, of course. It is about progress. Progress is being made after four years of the opposite.
From the Pew report and from merely paying attention, democracies around the globe are concerned more about the state of our own democracy. Of all the things we could use a little help from our friends with, that is sadly moving to the top of the list. Luckily, we now have better friends who might give us some.