I’m not Trump: Joe Biden staged the great new beginning of the West in his speech at the Munich Security Conference. With its tough stance on China and Russia, however, Europe will soon crunch.
They were the sentences that everyone expected, and when they are then they are a bit of a sensation. Joe Biden tells the allies in Europe: “America is back. The transatlantic alliance is back. We are not looking back, we are looking forward together.”
After four years of Donald Trump this is a turning point, a great new beginning. And when Biden was the first incumbent US President to speak at the Munich Security Conference, the heads of state and foreign politicians who were involved certainly understand him that way.
Biden’s speech had been eagerly awaited. From day one of his tenure, he had set a new tone towards Europe. He wants to repair the alliances and together solve the great problems of the world together. That was a boon to Trump after four years, but what would happen? Biden had three messages with him.
A perfect staging
On Friday there was a perfect staging: just in time for the Munich Security Conference, Biden also spoke to the G7 leaders for the first time, also via video. And at the same time the first day of his office was stressed The USA officially returns to the Paris Climate Agreementfrom which his predecessor had withdrawn.
Biden’s first message was therefore: I am not Donald Trump. His predecessor had made everything a bargaining chip in the Western alliance: from the stationing of US troops to a clear commitment to NATO. He wanted to blackmail advantages. Biden, on the other hand, said the alliance is connected by values, not just transactions.
While Trump had questioned whether the US would really meet NATO’s obligation to provide assistance, Biden said Article 5 was a guarantee. “An attack on one is an attack on all.” And while Trump wanted to withdraw thousands of US soldiers from Germany because he felt cheated, Biden promised that that would not happen with him.
The partners should therefore bury the worries of the past four years. Biden wanted to stroke the soul of the Germans in particular, because a lot depends on this relationship.
Defend against Russia together
Biden’s second message was: China and Russia are getting more uncomfortable and we must stand together against this. He sees one of the few similarities to Trump as permanent competition: “We have to prepare for long-term strategic competition with China.” With regard to Moscow, he chose even harsher words that Trump never heard: “The Kremlin is attacking our democracies and institutions.” You have to fight it together.
Biden understands competition more as a battle of the systems: democracy against autocracy. There will be plenty of conflicts here with Germany, which, when dealing with both, will primarily focus on trade interests. Biden knows about the issues and initially avoided issues such as Nord Stream 2 or the investment agreement with China, which the EU had concluded at the instigation of the Germans before Biden took office.
Are you interested in US politics? Washington correspondent Fabian Reinbold writes a newsletter about his impressions from the USA and the change in power from Donald Trump to Joe Biden. Here you can subscribe to the “Post from Washington” free of charge, which then lands directly in your mailbox once a week.
He spoke as constructively as had previously been expected. He has not yet made any concrete demands on the allies. It will be a few more weeks before it comes to that. Angela Merkel knows this and signaled her readiness, among other things, during the mission in Afghanistan and with this sentence: “There is nothing good unless you do it.”
Biden has to sweep his own front door
Biden’s third message was: I don’t want to gloss over anything. Despite all the Feelgood messages, he admitted that America had to earn the trust of its partners again after the past few years.
He also recognized how great the doubts about democracy are at the moment: in general, in competition with authoritarian forms of rule such as the Chinese. But also very specifically in the state of US democracy, which is struggling with the political and economic upheavals of the past months and years for everyone to see. Biden made it clear that he is aware of his responsibility to sweep your own front door.
When Merkel began to speak from the Chancellery in Berlin immediately afterwards, Biden had already said goodbye from the video switch. He was talking about the plight in Texas in the east hall of the White House where a winter storm had collapsed the infrastructure and millions of Americans had to endure without electricity, heating, and water.
It was a fitting symbol: Biden must first get America’s own crises under control – before the project of strengthening democracy around the world begins.