STEPHEN GLOVER: Lesson from Boris’s U.S. trip: Biden is a liability for Britain – and can’t be trusted
Donald Trump was a braggart and a bully who in the dying days of his presidency was accused of inciting violence in Washington. Good riddance to him.
But we should beware of assuming that his apparently civilised and superficially reasonable successor is a huge improvement. The evidence of the past few days is that Joe Biden is not. He could even be a liability for this country.
Part of the problem is that he can be dithery, vague and intermittently confused. During his White House meeting on Tuesday with Boris Johnson, the President had to rely on a cue card on which were written empty endearments. Our own PM burbled on genially without any prompt.
We should beware of assuming that Trump’s apparently civilised and superficially reasonable successor is a huge improvement. The evidence of the past few days is that Joe Biden (pictured) is not. He could even be a liability for this country
As often happens, Biden ducked questions from the Press, though Mr Johnson was eager to answer them. The President’s disinclination to engage with the media is familiar to exasperated American journalists.
On several occasions, he has told White House reporters that he is ‘not supposed’ to answer their questions, though admittedly he sometimes does. His aides are evidently worried about gaffes and malapropisms tumbling out of his mouth.
They are right to be. Only last week, Biden fouled up in a video press conference with the Australian Prime Minister, Scott Morrison, and Boris Johnson. An important new trilateral security partnership with Britain and Australia called Aukus was being unveiled.
The President appeared to forget Mr Morrison’s name. After hesitating, he said: ‘I want to thank that fella down under. Thank you very much pal. Appreciate it, Mr Prime Minister.’
This is the man who, on the eve of the presidential election last November, confused one of his granddaughters with his late son, Beau. Placing his arm around her, he announced: ‘This is my son, Beau Biden, who a lot of you helped to elect to the Senate in Delaware.’
Part of the problem is that he can be dithery, vague and intermittently confused. During his White House meeting on Tuesday with Boris Johnson, the President had to rely on a cue card on which were written empty endearments
Believe me, I am the last man in the world to be ageist. I love the idea of a president entering office at the age of 78. He would be an oldie hero, if only he were on the ball. He’s not.
The blunders aren’t important in themselves but they betray a lack of mental agility. The leader of the free world has repeatedly shown that he either does not, or cannot, think through issues as one would wish. He can appear stubborn, careless and intransigent.
This was evident during his session with Mr Johnson in the Oval Office. Almost provocatively, he stated that he felt ‘very strongly’ about the post-Brexit Northern Irish protocol. He ‘would not at all like to see . . . a change in the Irish accords, the end result having a closed border in Ireland’.
But absolutely no one is proposing ‘a closed border in Ireland’. The Government is worried that a de facto border in the Irish Sea is impeding trade between Great Britain and Northern Ireland, and potentially aggravating some members of the Protestant community. It wants the EU to be accommodating.
Northern Ireland is part of the UK. For Biden to lay down the law in such a clumsy fashion suggests an absence of diplomatic finesse. It also implies that he is unwilling or incapable of getting his mind around a new problem.
He was similarly inflexible to the point of stupidity over Britain’s desire to sign a bilateral trade deal with the U.S., and did not deny that we are at the back of the queue, where President Obama put us in 2016.
Wouldn’t a trade deal benefit both countries? It should not be regarded as a gift which Biden can bestow if and when he is satisfied that the Government hasn’t infringed the Northern Ireland protocol. A good trade deal would be mutually advantageous. What is there not to like?
It’s possible the President regards Boris as a kind of mini-Trump — with all that blond hair and populist appeal. Boris, though, is much more polite to ‘Sleepy Joe’ than Trump ever was, telling him, no doubt jokingly, that he is ‘a living deity’ because of his enthusiasm for combating climate change. A little undignified, perhaps.
There are unfortunately other recent examples of Biden’s intellectual impairment. As the Taliban took city after city, Biden ignored Boris’s attempts to contact him by telephone for some 36 hours. That was no way to treat America’s closest ally, which has lost 457 lives defending Afghanistan
There are unfortunately other recent examples of Biden’s intellectual impairment. He completely underestimated the catastrophic effects of America’s unilaterally pulling out its few remaining troops from Afghanistan.
Nor did he show himself a reliable ally. As the Taliban took city after city, Biden ignored Boris’s attempts to contact him by telephone for some 36 hours. That was no way to treat America’s closest ally, which has lost 457 lives defending Afghanistan.
And actually — here you should suspend any prejudice you may have against President Emmanuel Macron — Biden has also proved himself a disgracefully wayward ally towards France, whose government regards the U.S. as an old and close friend.
Macron can be accused of behaving in a petulant way after learning from the newspapers that France had been excluded from Aukus, and that Australia had reneged on a multi-billion euro submarine deal.
But doesn’t he have a point? How would we feel if America and France had let us down in a similar manner? As leader of the senior partner in the new trilateral arrangement, it fell to President Biden, out of respect and courtesy, to give Macron advanced notice of such a seismic development.
He failed to do so. U.S. officials have been trying to re-build bridges with France. It won’t be easy, though Biden has belatedly telephoned Macron, who agreed to send back the ambassador he recalled last week. The row has boosted wrong-headed arguments for a European army in Macron’s prickly mind.
Aukus is encouraging but there are precious few published details as to what it involves. Bearing in mind the high-handed way in which Biden treated Britain and other allies in Afghanistan, as well as his shameful neglect of French sensibilities, I trust our officials are carefully studying the fine print.
Can anyone doubt that the new occupant of the White House is unfit for his high office? Maybe Biden would have made a rotten president if he were 25 years younger, not least because he has had little international experience. At 78 — an old 78 — he’s simply not up to the job.
It’s true he presides over an enormous government which has many highly talented people capable of making good decisions. But a defective president will ruin any administration. Look at Trump.
Does Boris Johnson grasp Biden’s shortcomings, having watched him firsthand? I should be astonished if he didn’t, notwithstanding the flattery about Biden being a ‘living deity’.
Any prime minister visiting the U.S. is naturally anxious to make a good show back home. Boris has been waxing enthusiastically about America lifting restrictions on British beef and lamb. There are only victories, and absolutely no setbacks.
Deep down, though, he must have realised that President Biden is an intellectually impaired man who is unlikely to understand the British point of view over Northern Ireland, or expedite a trade deal.
We’ll have to make the best of it, of course, since America is so important to us. Banish any hope of Sleepy Joe being led away by men in white coats. Until January 2025, we’re almost certainly stuck with a president who can’t be trusted.
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