The US needs a good president, and Biden’s been good for us

The US needs a good president, and Biden’s been good for us

Originally published in the Sydney Morning Herald.

It’s true: Joe Biden is not a young man. Ideally, candidates for high political office should be in the prime of their lives. But, there is an unbalanced quality to the debate about Biden’s age.

For starters, it’s odd that there is more media coverage of Biden’s fitness for office than that of his predecessor Donald Trump, who has now been indicted four times, including for the subversion of American democracy.

We should judge Biden on his performance. He has been an effective leader, especially on foreign policy and particularly when viewed through the prism of Australia’s interests.

The first argument for Joe Biden is Donald Trump. In 2020, Biden burst the big fat orange Trump balloon – the only time Trump has been defeated in a national election.

Unlike Jeb Bush, Hillary Clinton, Ron DeSantis and all the other supposed Trump-slayers, Biden took care of business.

In so doing, Biden did a great service to us all. Trump was bad for the United States, undermining its institutions and turning Americans against each other. But he was also bad for the rest of the global West.

The interests of the world’s democracies are served when the US is well-governed, cohesive, appealing and strong. During the Trump presidency, America was poorly governed, divided, ugly and weak.

In office, Biden has been a foreign-policy president of the first rank. The biggest international shock since the end of the Cold War has been Russia’s brutal, immoral and illegal invasion of Ukraine. The Biden administration responded with a masterclass in statecraft and alliance management, using intelligence to knock Vladimir Putin off balance and dispatching vast flows of military equipment, training and aid to Kyiv.

Along with Britain, the European Union, Australia, and other nations, the US has supplied democracy’s arsenal. Of course, it is Ukrainians, with their immense moral and physical courage, who are serving as democracy’s bodyguard.

Biden’s policies have helped to weaken Putin’s regime and strengthen NATO. Eighteen months ago, Putin was seen as a geopolitical chess grandmaster. Now the frailties of authoritarian governments are more obvious, as are the qualities of democracies.

In the Indo-Pacific, Biden has created a situation of strength. In less than three years, the president and his skilful foreign policy team have consolidated Washington’s Asian alliances, brought Japan and South Korea closer together, quickened America’s connections with India and Vietnam, stood up AUKUS and convened the Quad – even as they have stabilised the US-China relationship.

Take America’s Asian alliances, which constitute Washington’s key comparative advantage over China. Trump threatened repeatedly to withdraw US forces from the Korean peninsula; this year Biden reached an agreement with the South Korean president to counter the nuclear threat from Pyongyang and prevent Seoul from pursuing its own nuclear weapon.

In August, Biden brought together the leaders of South Korea and Japan at Camp David. He is helping to unpick the historical enmities between Seoul and Tokyo that have impeded co-operation between these two key Asian allies.

Trump’s grisly bromance with former Philippines president Rodrigo Duterte didn’t stop Duterte from courting China. In May this year, by contrast, Biden hosted Duterte’s successor Ferdinand Marcos Jr in Washington – the first such visit in a decade – and renewed US military ties with Manila.

Biden has brought together the leaders of the Quad countries, including treaty allies Japan and Australia as well as India.

He has signed up to AUKUS, by which the US and the UK are assisting Australia to develop a fleet of nuclear-powered submarines.

Many experts argue that given the size and location of the Australian continent, nuclear-powered boats make sense for us. They will provide immense capability in terms of lethality, speed, range, and stealth. These submarines will give Australia significant deterrent power. They will help us to deter rash actions by adversaries and contribute to the strategic equilibrium in our region – if we carry through with the plan successfully. It will be a big lift for us.

The Biden administration has also worked hard to maintain a stable relationship with China, despite Beijing’s bluster.

In the aftermath of the US withdrawal from Afghanistan in 2021, critics claimed that America had lost interest in its allies, and its allies had lost confidence in America. NATO’s solidarity on the issue of Ukraine, and the establishment of AUKUS, are conclusive defences against both charges.

Biden is a fine president whose policies have favoured Australia’s interests. There is no compelling alternative Democratic candidate to Biden. Trump is the likely GOP nominee for president next year. His return to the White House would be a nightmare for Australia and the West.

Let’s keep these facts in mind when we make judgments on fitness for office.

Areas of expertise: Australian foreign policy; US politics and foreign policy; Asia and the Pacific; Global institutions