COP27 and G20: Biden aims to assert American leadership abroad

Sharm el-Sheikh, Egypt

It’s a story President Joe Biden tells almost every opportunity: Last year, meeting his new counterparts at his first international summit, he proudly informed them, “America is back.”

“For how long?” one of them asked.

As Biden leaves this week for a week-long trip around the world, the question still resonates.

“They are very concerned that we are still the open democracy that we have been and that we have rules and that institutions matter,” Biden said Wednesday at a press conference.

Biden hopes his stops at a climate meeting here on the Red Sea, a gathering of Southeast Asian nations in Cambodia and a high-stakes Group of 20 summit on the island Indonesian Bali will affirm American leadership in areas that former President Donald Trump ignored or actively avoided.

“If the United States were to tomorrow, I quote, withdraw from the world, many things would change in the world. A lot of things would change,” Biden said ahead of his trip.

He and his advisers believe they enter the series of high-stakes meetings with a solid argument that his version of the United States’ role in the world will endure. He weathered historic and political headwinds in this year’s midterm elections, while many of Trump’s hand-picked candidates lost. And over the past year, he has secured passage of a major climate investment and rallied the world to efforts to support Ukraine and isolate Russia.

Yet concerns among American allies persist about the future of American commitments — to Ukraine, the fight against climate change, treaty partners and, perhaps most urgently, upholding Democratic standards. Foreign diplomats watched closely as the midterm political season unfolded, looking for clues as to how the American electorate viewed Biden’s first two years in office and reporting back to their capitals on voter discontent that could fuel Trump’s return to power.

Republicans appeared to be moving toward taking control of the House of Representatives starting Wednesday night. And Trump is preparing a third presidential candidacy, which could be announced while Biden is on the other side of the planet.

White House aides did not express concern about the potential split-screen, saying foreign policy is among the president’s strong suits, especially compared to Trump’s chaotic style of diplomacy.

“We just have to demonstrate that he won’t take power,” Biden said Wednesday. “If he does run, make sure that, as part of our Constitution’s legitimate efforts, he doesn’t become the next president again.”

Presidents have often turned to foreign policy, where they can act with relatively little constraint from Congress, at times of domestic political turmoil. President Barack Obama launched a similar tour of Asia after his self-proclaimed midterm “shellacking” in 2010.

Four defining global threats will loom over Biden’s trip: Russia’s war in Ukraine, escalating tensions with China, the existential problem of climate change and the potential for a global recession in the months ahead. Other flashpoints, such as the rapidly accelerating provocations by North Korea and uncertainty over Iran’s nuclear program, will also be considered.

Among these, the defense of Ukraine and the fight against climate change could be the most affected by the results of this week’s elections.

At the G20 summit, Biden hopes to rally the leaders of the world’s developed economies behind his 10-month effort to isolate and punish Russia for its invasion of Ukraine. He does not plan to meet Russian President Vladimir Putin, who will not attend the meeting in person and plans to participate virtually.

However, headwinds in the global economy have tested international resolve for the pressure campaign, and world leaders have worked with varying levels of intensity to find a diplomatic end to the conflict.

Some Trump-aligned House Republicans have called for cutting funding to Ukraine, though other GOP defense hawks have vowed not to abandon the country amid its war with Russia.

House Republican Leader McCarthy, in an interview with CNN this week, tried to reaffirm his support for Ukraine while saying they would not automatically approve any request for additional aid.

“I’m very supportive of Ukraine,” McCarthy said. “I think there has to be a responsibility going forward. … You still need, not a blank check, but making sure the resources go where they are needed. And make sure Congress and the Senate have the ability to debate it openly.

At the UN climate summit in Egypt, Biden arrives having signed the biggest ever US investment in the fight against climate change, a scenario radically different from previous international meetings – including last year’s meeting in Scotland – where US carbon reduction commitments were not backed by law.

“We have seen the United States go from a global laggard to a global leader in less than 18 months,” a senior administration official said this week.

The $375 billion pledge will provide Biden with leverage as he works to convince other countries to step up their own efforts to reduce greenhouse gas emissions, all with the aim of limit global warming to 1.5 degrees Celsius.

In his speech, Biden will call on nations to “really keep their eyes on the ball when it comes to accelerating ambitious action to reduce emissions,” the official said. And he will underscore his administration’s intention to propose a rule this week requiring large federal contractors to develop carbon reduction targets and disclose their greenhouse gas emissions, leveraging the government’s buying power. government to address climate change in the private sector and strengthen vulnerable supply chains.

But Republicans said they would work to repeal parts of the law and accused Biden of contributing to higher energy prices by blocking the extraction of fossil fuels, which contribute to climate change.

When Trump was president, he pulled the United States out of the Paris climate accord completely, leaders of the accord meet to discuss the week.

Even absent the US political uncertainty, there are concerns about rising energy costs and a looming recession could dampen the drive to switch to cleaner energy. US officials have moderated expectations for this year’s summit, which Biden is expected to attend for only a few hours.

In Congress, Biden has achieved more bipartisan success in his efforts to counter China, the other major issue he will face this week. A recently passed law aimed at strengthening the US semiconductor industry won Republican and Democratic votes, in part because it promised to wean the United States from its dependence on Chinese products.

Biden’s aides have worked over the past month to arrange his first face-to-face meeting with Chinese President Xi Jinping since taking office, even as tensions simmer between Washington and Beijing. The meeting will take place on Monday at the G20 in Indonesia. House Speaker Nancy Pelosi’s August visit to self-governing Taiwan angered Chinese leaders and led to a near-cut in communications with the United States.

Biden said Wednesday that he and Xi would lay out “what each of our red lines are” and discuss issues they each believe are in their own “critical national interest” at the meeting.

In his recently released national security strategy, Biden identified China as “America’s most significant geopolitical challenge,” and he hopes a face-to-face meeting with Xi — who has just resumed international travel after the pandemic. of Covid-19 – can help establish lines of communication. .

Xi arrives at the G20 fresh from a historic Communist Party conference that elevated him to an unprecedented third term – a stark contrast to Biden’s current political situation.

It is not yet clear how this disparity will play out in Bali.

“The big question is whether the two leaders are going to come in some kind of more conciliatory or more defiant mode,” said Matthew Goodman, senior vice president of the Center for Strategic and International Studies in Washington.

“They’ve both been through their political events of the year and they might come a little more liberated for one reason or another to try to reach out and find some common ground,” Goodman said. “There are the kind of global challenges that really affect both the United States and China — whether it’s growth, pandemics, or climate change. And so there is the possibility of a sort of conciliatory approach on both sides.

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