President Joe Biden’s efforts to collect support at home and internationally in the face of a possible Russian invasion of Ukraine are the next major test of his ability to bridge ideological divides and balance opposing interests in order to form successful coalitions.
His track record as president says it’s not a foregone conclusion. As he confronts setbacks on voting rights and his major $2.2 trillion domestic and climate spending program, Biden is attempting to form the type of international unity that has evaded him on his home agenda.
Now he has a more difficult and deadly task: keeping the West together in the face of what White House officials think is a more plausible Russian President Vladimir Putin-ordered invasion of Ukrainian land.
The string of adversity is putting the twin cornerstones of Biden’s 2020 campaign to the test: whether he can get things done properly at home and restore America’s global stature after Donald Trump’s tumultuous four years in the White House.
“Beginning with the tumultuous end of the war in Afghanistan in late summer, the surge in COVID cases into the fall, and his issues with his legislative agenda, Biden has found himself with a weary American public who are seeing a number of unfulfilled promises,” said Christopher Borick, director of Muhlenberg College’s Institute of Public Opinion. “The situation in Ukraine puts his competence to the test yet again.”
Biden’s popular support has already begun to dwindle as a result of the new crisis.
Only roughly a quarter of Americans have high trust in Biden’s ability to properly command the military and advance the United States’ global stature. According to an Associated Press-NORC Center for Public Affairs Research poll, nearly four out of ten people had low faith in Biden in these areas. According to the survey, Democrats are now less likely than they were when he entered office to say they have “a great lot of confidence” (48 percent vs. 65 percent).
With a Russian assault becoming more imminent, administration officials have been trying to get NATO members on the same page.
Biden’s national security advisers have been working on contingency plans with specific European countries, the European Commission, and worldwide suppliers if Russia cuts off energy supply to the continent.
The president has stated several times that the United States would not send soldiers to Ukraine. He has, however, ordered 8,500 troops to be placed on high alert for deployment to the Baltic region. He warned Russia — as well as Putin personally — on Tuesday of “enormous repercussions” and heavy penalties if it took military action against Ukraine.
“We’re all on the same page,” he added, adding that he has talked with every NATO ally.
In truth, Biden maintains that the Western alliance’s attitude to the issue is “absolute agreement,” citing a secure video conference with several important European leaders on Monday. However, there are indicators of distinction.
Germany has refused to give military aid to Ukraine, despite the fact that the US and other NATO partners have done so and are looking to help Kyiv further. The Germans claimed that such assistance would exacerbate tensions.
President Volodymyr Zelenskyy of Ukraine reacted angrily to Biden’s statement last week that a “small intervention” into Ukraine would have less implications for Moscow. The president and the White House reacted fast to underline that any invasion of Ukrainian territory would result in heavy penalties against Russia.
Ukrainian leaders have likewise expressed their dissatisfaction with the United States. It was “premature” for the State Department to ask families of American embassy staff and non-essential employees in Ukraine to leave the country.
The fact that the US and Russia are talking is a “positive thing,” according to French President Emmanuel Macron, who added that he has not seen any tangible outcomes. Macron stated that he intends to speak with Putin face to face on Friday.
Meanwhile, Croatian President Zoran Milanovic blamed the escalation of hostilities on the Biden administration and “hawks” on both sides of the political spectrum in the United States. Croatia is a NATO member, and its military have participated in alliance missions across the world.
Biden’s work in managing a global society with such disparate opinions and goals is analogous to his domestic problem, where he’s faced with the reality of a 50-50 Senate and a Democratic coalition whose members don’t always agree.
However, the stakes for Biden and the rest of the globe might be far higher as he seeks to reclaim American leadership after the Trump years saw Europe turn inward.
As the issue has worsened at home, Biden has come under fire from Republican senators who have pressed the White House to impose penalties against Moscow ahead of schedule. Biden claims that the US has warned Russia that penalties would be unprecedented and severe, but officials feel that acting before of time would jeopardize any prospect of Russia backing down.
Skeptical Republicans have tried to remind voters of Biden’s decision last year to relax sanctions against the Nord Stream 2 gas project connecting Russia and Germany.
The US had long claimed that the pipeline would jeopardize European energy security by increasing Europe’s dependency on Russian gas and allowing Russia to apply political pressure on weak Eastern and Central European countries, notably Ukraine.
However, Biden, who has expressed misgivings about the pipeline since he was vice president, stated last year that he would waive penalties against German firms because to the harm they would have caused to US-German relations.
Sen. Ted Cruz of Texas, a prospective presidential candidate in 2024, tried unsuccessfully earlier this month to put penalties on the pipeline, which is complete but not yet operational. If Russia invades, Secretary of State Antony Blinken and other administration officials have stated that gas will not flow through the pipeline.
“Biden violated his own counsel and gave Putin a big geopolitical triumph by easing sanctions on his pipeline,” Republican National Committee spokesman Tommy Pigott said.
Trump sought unsuccessfully in his final months in office to drastically pull back the US troop presence in Europe, which they saw as merely emboldening Russian aggressiveness in the area, and White House officials argued back that GOP criticism should ring hollow.
On Tuesday, Senate Republican Leader Mitch McConnell, who had earlier chastised Biden’s administration for failing to take preventative measures against Moscow, expressed some sympathy for the president. Biden’s decision to increase military aid and put US soldiers on high alert for deployment to NATO partners in the Baltics, according to the senator, is “encouraging.”
McConnell stated, “It appears to me that the administration is headed in the right path.”