Biden is clearing the wreckage of the Trump years and setting real priorities. Only his foreign policy is eliciting polite disinterest, in Berlin of all places.
Franklin Delano Roosevelt, FDR. The comparison is being made everywhere between the possibly most influential U.S. president in the last century and the new man in the White House. Joe Biden has been in office for just a quarter of a year and is already being spoken of in the same breath as the man who created the New Deal, a program which led the U.S. out of the Great Depression in the 1930s with a huge federal infrastructure program.
The veneration is a little inflated, and a little premature. The exuberant praise for Biden is somewhat reminiscent of the overhasty award of the Nobel Peace Prize to Barack Obama. They do point, and with good reason, to an essential difference between Obama and his former vice president: Biden, who first entered the U.S. Senate in 1972, brings more political experience with him into office than most of his predecessors. He knows how politics are done in Washington, how plans become legislation. He has been in the business for 50 years, a white man who is now 78 years old, and who at lightning speed, has transformed from Sleepy Joe to Speedy Joe.
Biden thus has mastered the trade; that is, in and of itself, no small feat. And he is establishing the right priorities. First, the fight against the pandemic must be won. America is making good progress there, administering 220 million vaccine doses in Biden’s first 100 days. Second, the economy needs to be revived. Third, the new president wants to modernize infrastructure and create millions of new jobs in doing so. The country’s economic and social reinvigoration is also supposed to reawaken faith in the superiority of democracy, to – fourth – succeed in competing with China and its authoritarian government.
He Is Making America More Reliable
This is indeed a comprehensive program of Rooseveltian dimensions. And the financial sums that Biden is requesting from Congress to fund the program is making not only Republican senators and representatives dizzy. Taken together, the stimulus package to overcome the pandemic (the American Rescue Plan) and the investment in infrastructure, education, research and health (the American Jobs Plan), total around $4 trillion.
Biden wants to recoup the costs by raising taxes on corporations and the wealthy. “Wall Street didn’t build this country,” Biden said last week in his speech before Congress. “The middle class built the country. And unions built the middle class.” Left-leaning Democrats, who considered Biden a gray-haired, boring centrist, are suddenly cheering him on. Will the president really manage to reset the now precarious social state on a new foundation? Or will Biden end up floundering on the age-old American mistrust of European “socialism”?
In any case, there are reasons to watch this presidency with lively curiosity, even from this side of the Atlantic. Maybe America will really rediscover its social conscience. Maybe it will result in the desired economic dynamics. Equity fosters social solidarity and prevents the aggressive, nationalist populism with which Donald Trump poisoned America.
As a European, one can only wish for the United States that this detox program succeeds. Especially because under Biden, America will once again become a more predictable, reliable partner in foreign relations. Reentering the Paris Agreement, rejoining the World Health Organization and the U.N. Commission on Human Rights, extending the New START treaty with Russia on intercontinental-range nuclear weapons; the readiness to reinitiate negotiations with Iran over its nuclear program. Even Jürgen Trittin, a politician with the German Green party, concluded that “after Biden’s first 100 days in office, the U.S. is once again a model and ally in the fight against the global crises of our time.”
Nord Stream 2 Is Almost Entirely Opposed
It is thus surprising how uninspired, even downright lethargic, official foreign policy-makers in Berlin are reacting to the restart in Washington. The president Berlin hoped for is now sitting in the White House, an old friend and an anti-Trumpist, but nothing is happening. At least nothing that would support Biden domestically.
On the contrary. Just before the inauguration of the new administration, the EU, under pressure from the Germans, concluded an investment deal with Beijing, even though Biden’s team had strongly urged postponing it. On Tuesday, however, the EU Commission preliminarily put ratification of the deal on hold. And there has been no initiative from Berlin to date to resolve the conflict over the Nord Stream 2 gas pipeline, which is unanimously opposed in Washington and almost entirely opposed in the EU.
In June, Biden will come to Europe for the first time as president to participate in the Group of Seven and NATO summits. Maybe German foreign policy will recover its voice when it comes to Washington. After all, it is possible that joy left it speechless. One fears, however, that the silence is born from a sheer lack of courage and inspiration.