AAMER MADHANI and ZIK MILLER
WASHINGTON (AP) — President Joe Biden’s efforts to garner support both at home and abroad ahead of a potential Russian invasion of Ukraine is just the latest big test of his ability to bridge ideological divides and balance competing interests to build effective coalitions.
Judging by his track record as president, this is not a reliable thing. Biden is trying to build the kind of alliance on the international front that has eluded him on his domestic agenda as he faces a defeat in voting rights and a $2.2 trillion domestic and climate spending bill he signed into law.
Now he faces a difficult and more globally dangerous task: to keep the West united in the face of what White House officials say is increasingly likely to be further incursions into Ukraine by order of Russian President Vladimir Putin.
The piling up of difficult moments is a major test of the two pillars of Biden’s candidacy in 2020: he can do business smartly at home and restore America’s position in the world after Donald Trump’s four unstable years in the White House.
“From the messy end of the war in Afghanistan at the end of the summer, a spike in COVID cases in the fall, amid economic worries about inflation and labor shortages, and his troubles with his legislative agenda, Biden has found himself with a weary American public. who see a series of broken promises,” said Christopher Borik, director of the Institute for Public Opinion at Muhlenberg College. “The situation in Ukraine is another test of his competence.”
The latest crisis came as Biden already saw his public support waning.
Only about a quarter of Americans have significant confidence in Biden to run the military effectively or advance US authority in the world. About 4 in 10 have little confidence in Biden in these areas, according to an Associated Press-NORC Center for Public Affairs Research poll. According to the poll, Democrats are now less likely than they were when he took office to say they have “a lot of credibility” (48% vs. 65%).
Administration officials are struggling to convince NATO allies in the same vein that a Russian attack is considered more likely.
Biden’s national security aides have worked with individual European countries, the European Commission and global suppliers on contingency plans if Russia interrupts energy supplies to the continent.
The President has repeatedly stated that he will not send US troops to Ukraine. But he ordered that 8,500 men be put on high alert for deployment in the Baltic region. And on Tuesday, he again warned of “enormous consequences” and harsh sanctions for Russia, as well as for Putin personally, if Russia takes military action against Ukraine.
He said he spoke to all NATO allies “and we’re all on the same wavelength.”
In fact, Biden, who met via secure video link with several key European leaders on Monday, claims there is “complete unanimity” in the Western alliance’s approach to the crisis. But there are signs of difference.
Germany has refused to send military aid to Ukraine, even though the US and other NATO allies have sent aid and counted on further aid to Kiev. The Germans argued that such assistance could further increase tensions.
Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky was outraged by Biden’s comment last week that a “minor intrusion” into Ukraine would have more limited consequences for Moscow. The President and the White House were quick to clarify that the US would impose tough sanctions on Russia for any incursion into Ukraine. Ukrainian officials also complained that the US State Department was “rushing” to urge the families of US embassy employees and non-essential employees in Ukraine to leave.
French President Emmanuel Macron said on Tuesday that the US-Russia talk is “good” but said he did not see any concrete results. Macron says he plans to speak directly with Putin on Friday
Meanwhile, Croatian President Zoran Milanovic blamed the Biden administration and pressure from hawks on both sides of the US political scene for the escalation. Croatia is a member of NATO and its troops have taken part in the alliance’s missions abroad.
Biden’s task in dealing with a global community with such diverse views and motives is somewhat similar to his task at home, where he faced the realities of the 50-50 Senate and the Democratic coalition, whose members do not always see eye to eye. eye.
However, the stakes for Biden and the world are potentially much higher as he attempts to reassert American leadership after Europe began to look inward during the Trump years.
At home, as the crisis erupted in recent weeks, Biden has faced criticism from Republican lawmakers who have pushed for the White House to proactively impose sanctions on Moscow. Biden says the US has made it clear to Russia that the sanctions will be unprecedented and harsh, but officials say preemptive action would undermine any chance of prompting Russia to back off.
Skeptical Republicans tried to remind voters of Biden’s decision last year to lift sanctions against the Nord Stream 2 gas pipeline from Russia to Germany.
The United States has long argued that the pipeline project would threaten Europe’s energy security, increasing the continent’s dependence on Russian gas and allowing Russia to exert political pressure on vulnerable countries in Eastern and Central Europe, especially Ukraine.
But Biden, who has voiced concerns about the pipeline during his time as vice president, announced last year that he would waive sanctions against German entities because of the damage they would cause to US-German relations.
Texas Republican Senator Ted Cruz, a potential candidate for the White House in 2024, made an unsuccessful legislative effort earlier this month to impose sanctions on a pipeline that is completed but not yet operational. Secretary of State Anthony Blinken and other administration officials said the pipeline would be unlikely to flow if Russia invaded.
Republican National Committee spokesman Tommy Pigott said: “Biden ignored his own advice and gave Putin a major geopolitical victory by lifting sanctions on his pipeline.”
White House officials countered that criticism of the Republican Party should sound empty after Trump’s last months in office unsuccessfully tried to drastically reduce the US military presence in Europe, which, in their opinion, only encourages Russian aggression in the region.
Senate Republican leader Mitch McConnell, who has previously criticized the Biden administration for failing to take preemptive action against Moscow, offered the president some support on Tuesday. The senator called it “encouraging” that Biden has increased military aid and put US troops on high alert to deploy to NATO allies in the Baltics.
“I think the administration is moving in the right direction,” McConnell said.
Associated Press contributors Jovana Geck, Bruce Schreiner, Josh Boak, and Emily Swanson contributed to this report.