Less than a month after his inauguration, President Joe Biden attended a virtual version of the annual Munich Security Conference and assured the international audience, “America is back.” Attendees noticed — and were delighted.
Pointing to Biden’s remarks at the end, British Prime Minister Boris Johnson declared soon after, “America is unreservedly back as the leader of the free world and that is a fantastic thing.” European Council President Charles Michel, capturing the mood of the global event, said soon after, “Welcome back, America.”
Soon after, Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau appeared on NBC’s “Meet the Press,” and acknowledged, “[I]t’s great to see America re-engage. I think certainly there were things that were more challenging under the previous administration in terms of moving the dial in the right direction on the international stage.”
All of this came to mind yesterday, as the White House hosted a virtual climate summit, during which Biden committed the United States to cutting the nation’s greenhouse gas emissions in half by the end of the decade. The Washington Post reported that “the overriding sentiment from the global leaders was one of relief and receptivity to having the United States back in the fold after four years of President Donald Trump.”
German Chancellor Angela Merkel, who had a testy relationship with Trump, didn’t disguise her pleasure at the turn in U.S. politics. “I’m delighted to see that the United States is back to work together with us in climate politics, because there can be no doubt about the world needing your contribution,” she said. Italian Prime Minister Mario Draghi echoed Merkel with a warm welcome for Biden. “It’s a complete change. Now, we are confident that together we will win this challenge,” Draghi said.
As she addressed Secretary of State Antony Blinken and Special Presidential Envoy for Climate John Kerry, European Commission President Ursula von der Leyen smiled and said, “It is so good to have the U.S. back on our side in the fight against climate change.”
Such a reaction was not inevitable. It’s easy to image much of the world, including many U.S. allies, expressing deep annoyance with the United States — among the planet’s biggest contributors to carbon pollution — for repeatedly having missed opportunities to seriously address the crisis.
But instead there was, for the most part, broad relief that the White House had returned to responsible and sensible hands.
Biden’s predecessor was preoccupied, to an almost comical degree, with the idea that the United States was an international laughingstock for decades, until the Republican arrived in the White House and single-handedly restored the nation’s global stature. As regular readers know, Donald Trump spent much of his term repeating the line constantly, seeing it as one of his most important accomplishments.
Indeed, in his strange farewell address, Trump found it necessary, one last time, to boast to Americans, “The world respects us again.” In an apparent message for Biden, the outgoing president added, “Please don’t lose that respect.”
As was too often the case, Trump had reality backwards. There’s ample evidence that the Republican did drastic harm to our international reputation.
Yesterday was a reminder that the work of restoring our standing on the global stage is proceeding nicely.