NPI's Cascadia Advocate

Offering commentary and analysis from Washington, Oregon, and Idaho, The Cascadia Advocate is the Northwest Progressive Institute's unconventional perspective on world, national, and local politics.

Sunday, June 20th, 2021

From chaos to coherence: President Joe Biden’s worldview comes into focus

“A wor­thy adversary.”

With these three words, U.S. Pres­i­dent Joe Biden changed the rules of engag­ing with Russ­ian Pres­i­dent Vladimir Putin.

Notably, Biden called his Russ­ian coun­ter­part a “wor­thy adversary.”

It may be the first time ever that an Amer­i­can Pres­i­dent has cho­sen to char­ac­ter­ize the leader of Rus­sia as our adversary.

Joe Biden explic­it­ly called out Vladimir Putin, but stayed silent about how Amer­i­cans view the Russ­ian peo­ple and their nation. It may one of the first times since the end of World War II that an Amer­i­can pres­i­dent has resist­ed char­ac­ter­iz­ing anoth­er nation as either an “ally” or an “adver­sary.”

Joe Biden and Vladimir Putin in Geneva

Joe Biden and Vladimir Putin at their sum­mit in Gene­va (Pho­to: Информацио́нное аге́нтство Росси́и // Russ­ian News Agency ТАСС, via the Kremlin)

This con­cep­tu­al refram­ing of U.S. nation­al secu­ri­ty pol­i­cy opens the door for more cre­ative approach­es to tack­le the chal­lenges we col­lec­tive­ly face in the post-glob­al­iza­tion, post-pan­dem­ic, post-Brex­it era.

Although cer­tain alliances, part­ner­ships, and coali­tions estab­lished dur­ing the Cold War and fol­low­ing the Sep­tem­ber 11th attacks have played essen­tial roles in align­ing nations with shared geopo­lit­i­cal, cul­tur­al, and eco­nom­ic inter­ests, they are prov­ing inad­e­quate to con­fronting the types of threats we face today.

Now, at last, we have a Pres­i­dent of the Unit­ed States who is unafraid to define the real­i­ty of twen­ty-first cen­tu­ry threats.

Cli­mate dis­as­ters, pan­demics, domes­tic extrem­ism, cyber attacks, unsta­ble and cor­rupt gov­ern­ments, and anti-demo­c­ra­t­ic polit­i­cal regimes pose per­sis­tent risks to demo­c­ra­t­ic insti­tu­tions and rep­re­sen­ta­tive democ­ra­cies everywhere.

These threats rec­og­nize no nation­al boundaries.

They are inher­ent­ly desta­bi­liz­ing. They require adap­tive strate­gic plan­ning and response efforts across cul­tures, con­ti­nents, and exist­ing borders.

Biden’s world­view start­ed to come into focus dur­ing the first one hun­dred days of his and Kamala Har­ris’ administration.

Even as he pri­or­i­tized a nation­al vac­ci­na­tion pro­gram and passed the Amer­i­can Res­cue Plan to stave off eco­nom­ic cat­a­stro­phe for our fam­i­lies, busi­ness­es, and local and state gov­ern­ments, Biden mul­ti­plexed on for­eign pol­i­cy priorities.

He took ear­ly action to rejoin the Paris Cli­mate Accord, extend the U.S.-Russian New START agree­ment, and re-engage with Iran on poten­tial­ly re-nego­ti­at­ing the Iran Nuclear Deal (even as Iran was prepar­ing to elect a new Pres­i­dent with for­mer Pres­i­dent Rouhani term-limited).

Then, our new Pres­i­dent made the impor­tant, long-over­due deci­sion to end America’s longest war and pull Amer­i­can troops out of Afghanistan by the twen­ti­eth anniver­sary of the Sep­tem­ber 11th attacks this year.

Biden’s shift in both tone and sub­stance comes at a cru­cial time.

The President’s deci­sion to meet first with America’s clos­est friends and allies at the G‑7 Sum­mit host­ed by British Prime Min­is­ter Boris John­son gave Russ­ian Pres­i­dent Putin plen­ty of time to rumi­nate on what Pres­i­dent Biden’s “Amer­i­ca is back!” mes­sage might mean for Russia’s future rela­tion­ships in Wash­ing­ton, D.C., and Euro­pean and Asian capitals.

Then, on the eve of his sum­mit with Russia’s Pres­i­dent, Biden sent an unex­pect­ed sig­nal. “Amer­i­ca is back” means the Unit­ed States will engage with Rus­sia and with its Pres­i­dent under new rules of the road. The Unit­ed States will not ignore, dis­miss or demo­nize this Eurasian nuclear state.

Putin may be an adver­sary, but the Russ­ian peo­ple are not.

Rus­sia and the Russ­ian peo­ple are con­fronting many of the same threats as the rest of the world. As lead­ers of their respec­tive nations, Biden and Putin share a respon­si­bil­i­ty to engage at all lev­els – bi-nation­al, mul­ti-nation­al, and mul­ti-insti­tu­tion­al – to address com­mon threats to their people.

This remark­able shift in Biden’s world­view will have cas­cad­ing con­se­quences for all aspects of U.S. nation­al secu­ri­ty pol­i­cy and planning.

The Pres­i­den­t’s emerg­ing world­view is appar­ent in so many ordi­nary ways. His tone. His care­ful choice of words. The phone calls he makes. The meet­ings he holds. The poli­cies being pro­posed. The polit­i­cal rela­tion­ships at work. The imme­di­ate crises he con­fronts and the long-term goals he articulates.

This is not the chaos of a dis­or­dered mind.

This is the coher­ence of a per­son who knows who he is, knows where he stands, and knows how to lead through these chaot­ic times.

This is the Pres­i­dent of the Unit­ed States of Amer­i­ca that the rest of the world sees. World lead­ers and for­eign intel­li­gence offi­cials now will shift gears and focus on what these recent pol­i­cy deci­sions of the Biden pres­i­den­cy might indi­cate for the months and years ahead.

Here at home, many Amer­i­cans — so accus­tomed to twen­ty-four-sev­en media cycles and near-sight­ed vision — are hav­ing a hard time re-orienting.

Whiplash. It’s how this all feels, mov­ing out of chaos.

There’s no more Trumpian dai­ly dose of chaos to feed the news cycles and polit­i­cal junkies. No more tweets to dis­sect. No more inves­ti­gat­ing secret calls to Putin or the mean­ing of love notes exchanged with North Korea’s dic­ta­tor Kim Jung Un. And we are at last free of Rudy Guliani’s conspiracy-theories-run-amok.

We’re in post-trau­mat­ic stress mode as we re-enter the world, look around, and real­ize how much went wrong while the Trump vor­tex exhaust­ed our time, ener­gy, and emotions.

For four years Amer­i­cans were con­sumed with fig­ur­ing out how to live with a Pres­i­dent who was con­sumed with him­self and his own interests.

The coro­n­avirus pan­dem­ic, while killing more than 600,000 Amer­i­cans and near­ly four mil­lion peo­ple world­wide to date, forced us into sur­vival mode and fur­ther iso­lat­ed us from what was hap­pen­ing beyond our own neighborhoods.

Although we were iso­lat­ed, we could not be insu­lat­ed from the unrav­el­ing that hap­pened before Biden and Har­ris entered the White House on Jan­u­ary 20th.

It’s not sur­pris­ing that we’re feel­ing whiplash with the dai­ly head­lines. Those head­lines are eye-pop­ping as the sto­ries seem to blur together:

  • COVID-19 vari­ants and the race to get vaccinated;
  • Warn­ings of Russia’s sec­ond Ukrain­ian war and Putin’s sud­den deci­sion to pull back Russ­ian troops;
  • The Oath Keep­ers’ and Proud Boys’ insur­rec­tion planning;
  • Mul­ti­ple mass shoot­ings each week;
  • A warm­ing world, evi­denced by melt­ing glac­i­ers, with the sur­vival of Green­land, The Mal­dives, and oth­er juris­dic­tions at stake;
  • Cyber espi­onage and cyber attacks that went unde­tect­ed for months, then the crip­pling of the Colo­nial Pipeline with ransomware;
  • China’s insa­tiable appetite for rare earth min­er­als and the Chi­nese Com­mu­nist Par­ty’s oppres­sion of the Uyghurs;
  • Poten­tial renew­al of the Joint Com­pre­hen­sive Plan of Action (JCPOA) with Iran to cor­ral Iran’s nuclear ambitions;
  • U.S. defense bud­gets propos­ing to spend a tril­lion dol­lars on new nuclear weapons instead of destroy­ing them;
  • Chil­dren suf­fer­ing grave harms in Amer­i­can bor­der prisons.

The rest of the world is both observ­er and inde­pen­dent actor as Amer­i­ca re-ori­ents itself beyond chaos.

Putin ordered the poi­son­ing of Alex­ei Naval­ny, is direct­ing cyber­at­tacks against U.S. intel­li­gence agen­cies and crit­i­cal infra­struc­ture, and has tak­en aggres­sive mil­i­tary actions against U.S. com­mer­cial fish­ing ves­sels in the Pacif­ic Ocean.

China’s Pres­i­dent Xi is gob­bling up land and min­ing rights on every con­ti­nent while revers­ing free­doms in Hong Kong and Taiwan.

North Korea’s Kim is per­sist­ing in his quest to join the nuclear club, keep­ing South Korea and Japan depen­dent on the Unit­ed States as their nuclear deterrent.

Israel’s Netanyahu couldn’t form a sta­ble gov­ern­ment and lost pow­er even as he con­tin­ues to for­ment vio­lence in the Mid­dle East.

Syria’s civ­il war and geno­ci­dal war­fare are con­tin­u­ing unabated.

The Tal­iban is work­ing furi­ous­ly to destroy Afghanistan’s ten­u­ous gov­ern­ment and the coun­try risks slid­ing fur­ther into a cat­a­stroph­ic state of disorganization.

Brazil and Venezuela are in freefall. They and India are con­tend­ing with bru­tal coro­n­avirus out­breaks killing hun­dreds of thou­sands of people.

And West­ern and Cen­tral Euro­pean nations?

Polit­i­cal extrem­ism and nation­al­is­tic fer­vor are resur­gent just thir­ty years fol­low­ing the fall of the Berlin Wall and the col­lapse of the Sovi­et Union.

Mean­while, the Arc­tic ice cap is melt­ing, rain­forests are on fire, fish­eries are col­laps­ing, and Africa is run­ning out of water, food, and hope.

Pres­i­dent Joe Biden’s first term as Com­man­der-in-Chief will be mea­sured not by his first days and months in office. Rather, these next four years will deter­mine whether this unique Amer­i­can democ­ra­cy will endure to cel­e­brate its two hun­dred and fifti­eth Inde­pen­dence Day on July 4th, 2026.

The stakes? The Amer­i­can exper­i­ment in demo­c­ra­t­ic self-gov­ern­ment faces exis­ten­tial threats from fig­u­ra­tive and lit­er­al tsunamis: extrem­ism, dem­a­goguery, so-called one hun­dred year floods and fires annually.

As we move from chaos to coher­ence, we must strength­en our own demo­c­ra­t­ic insti­tu­tions and reori­ent our rela­tion­ships with the rest of the world.

We must acknowl­edge that ours is not a per­fect union, but we will nev­er stop striv­ing to build that future. We have a new Pres­i­dent work­ing to pro­tect our peo­ple, our com­mu­ni­ties, and our democracy.

For­tu­nate­ly for our con­sti­tu­tion­al repub­lic, Pres­i­dent Biden is no new­com­er to chaos, con­fu­sion, polit­i­cal pos­tur­ing, or ide­o­log­i­cal warfare.

Joe Biden at FEMA

Pres­i­dent Joe Biden par­tic­i­pates in a brief­ing on the 2021 hur­ri­cane sea­son Mon­day, May 24, 2021, at the Fed­er­al Emer­gency Man­age­ment Agency (FEMA) Head­quar­ters in Wash­ing­ton, D.C. (Offi­cial White House Pho­to by Adam Schultz)

He is that rare leader whose life sto­ry is one of endurance in the face of unbear­able per­son­al loss. He has known pro­found polit­i­cal fail­ure, but nev­er gave in to the cyn­i­cism, despair, and defeatism so preva­lent in today’s politics.

He finds clar­i­ty when oth­ers get mired in pet­ty disputes.

He sur­rounds him­self with peo­ple who delve into the details, when so few are will­ing to do that kind of work, day in and day out.

Joe Biden knows the pow­er of the office he holds and the respon­si­bil­i­ties he owes to the Amer­i­can people. 

He knows that the fate of America’s exper­i­ment with a con­sti­tu­tion­al repub­lic based on rule of law will affect the futures of all peo­ples on every continent.

Pres­i­dent Joe Biden’s world­view is com­ing into focus. When he says that he is fight­ing to save our democ­ra­cy against all threats, for­eign and domes­tic, nat­ur­al or man­made, believe him. This is a politi­cian who means what he says and says what he means. That’s what coher­ence sounds like.

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