KT McFarland: Biden's European grand tour is full of opportunities for US leadership – will he seize them?

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The overriding theme of President Biden’s European Grand Tour is to announce that he’s ditched Trump’s “America First” foreign policy and that “America’s Back.”  Biden has yet to articulate what that actually means, other than reassuring everyone that he’s NOT Donald Trump. 

If that is all he does, it’s a lost opportunity. President Trump wasn’t the cause of the rift between the U.S. and many European nations; he was the symptom of a growing drift between how both sides of the Atlantic see our interests. 

Yes, Trump could be brash, blunt and offensive. It was not something European diplomats were comfortable with. But the president had a point in bringing up some unpleasant truths.

Europeans have been reluctant to take on China over trade and cyber security issues, and hesitant to give more than lip service to Russian aggression over Ukraine and energy dependence.  Unless we press our Europeans allies to find common cause, our adversaries will pick us off, one at a time, over trade, free markets, cybersecurity, and even climate change. That’s what our adversaries are counting on – divide and conquer.   

As evidence mounts of China’s role in the origin and spread of Covid-19, and their aggressive actions since, we have learned a lot about the nature of the Chinese regime and its goal of achieving world primacy. Within the next decade or so they want to rewrite the liberal world order on their terms and at our expense.

That’s why it is encouraging that European Commission President Ursula von der Leyen has called for an unfettered investigation of the origins of covid-19. President Biden should pledge America’s full support for those efforts. 

But there are other areas just waiting for U.S. leadership, especially on trade.  For example, the US and UK are currently engaged in trade negotiations. Most of the major issues ironed out. Even though it will be several months before an agreement is finalized, announcing it now would provide a major boost to both our economies as we emerge from the pandemic. It could also serve as the forerunner to a US-European Union trade agreement.

Additionally, in the last 18 months we and the Europeans have learned the importance of having supply chain security, whether in energy, pharmaceuticals, critical infrastructure, or technology. Obviously, no one nation can be self-sufficient in all these areas.  But if liberal democracies work together, we can be.

An area crying out for American leadership is cyber-defense.  We already have a NATO military alliance to deter and defend against Russian aggression. 

When President Biden meets with NATO leaders, he could pledge U.S. leadership to update the NATO treaty to include a major cyber component – both offensive and defensive. This would signal to the Russians that we will not allow their hackers to target our governments and private sectors without suffering threats on their own systems.

The greatest advantage liberal democracies have against our adversaries is we have allies, even if we don’t agree on everything.  The communist nations, especially China and Russia, do not have like-minded friends. They never can and they never will.  They have only victims and vassals. 

But that strength will never be realized unless we work with our European allies and urge them, indeed pressure them, to take the often costly and inconvenient steps necessary to stand together against bullies.  President Biden’s European grand tour – with like-minded nations of the G-7, European Union, and NATO – is the opportunity to do just that. 

This is President Biden’s honeymoon vacation, with enormous goodwill on all sides that greets every new president.  But this time there is a newfound urgency for collaboration with our trade and security allies.

We are all grappling with how our economies and societies emerge from the pandemic, and provide for our peace and prosperity in the years ahead. President Biden can seize the opportunity. If not, he won’t get a second chance to make a first impression.

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