President Biden preaches the benefits of democracy in Europe, but new concerns are mounting with us



He openly acknowledged that democracies are often messy. But he said this week that the world has reached an “inflection point” where the competition between democracy and autocracy is at its height.

Yet as the challenges multiply at home, he finds it difficult to refer to the recent history of his own country, including the lingering remnants of President Donald Trump’s tenure.

As he prepared to attend his first G7 meeting on Friday, reports emerged from Washington that Trump’s Justice Department prosecutors, as of February 2018, have subpoenaed Apple to obtain data from accounts of House Intelligence Committee Democrats, their staff and family members, including at least one minor, as part of a leak investigation. The subpoena included a gag order, which was renewed three times before it expired this year and Apple notified customers in May.

The development immediately drew accusations that the Trump administration was abusing its power in a decidedly undemocratic manner. Attempts by the Justice Department to secretly gather information about Trump’s political rivals came after revelations he took similar steps to obtain information from reporters in media frequently disparaged by Trump.

It was the kind of step that US officials often denounce in authoritarian regimes that Biden hopes to play down on his European tour this week. Russian President Vladimir Putin, who is due to meet with the president next week and who is adept at whataboutism to deflect criticism of his regime, has undoubtedly read the reports with interest.

A more conventional presence

With such reports and the hangover of the past four years still fresh in the minds of world leaders, Trump – whose name has not been mentioned here – nonetheless provided the subtext to Biden’s attempts to restore the American alliances strained during the tenure of his predecessor. EU leaders remain skeptical of the durability of Biden’s message of friendship, keenly aware that another president – perhaps even Trump himself – could turn it all around in January 2025.

Still, they’re relieved and eager to work with Biden for now.

“It’s a breath of fresh air,” said UK Prime Minister Boris Johnson, host of the summit, after meeting Biden on Thursday. Whether Biden once viewed Johnson as Trump’s “physical and emotional clone” has not been said.

Almost as soon as he arrived in Britain this week, Biden laid out the huge stakes he is considering on his first trip abroad.

“We must discredit those who believe that the era of democracy is over, as some of our colleagues believe. We must expose the narrative that dictators’ decrees can match the speed and scale of challenges as false. of the 21st (century), “he told troops at RAF Mildenhall in Suffolk, home to an American supply wing with a history dating back to World War II.

“You know, and I know, they’re wrong,” Biden said. “But that doesn’t mean we don’t have to work harder than ever to prove that democracy can still be useful to our people.”

It’s a message he plans to convey from the Group of 7 summit on the Cornish Coast this week to a NATO meeting in Brussels next week and until his much-anticipated summit with Putin in Geneva next Wednesday. .

“From top to bottom, the driving and animating aim of this G7 summit is to show that democracies can meet the biggest challenges we face in the world,” said a senior administration official as the G7 was starting.

Biden was hoping to give credit to the idea when he unveiled a major new pledge of 500 million doses of vaccine to be donated to low-income countries, proof in his mind that democracies like America can better help the world. than countries like China or Russia.

Unveiling the commitment, he clarified that the doses would not come with the same baggage as those offered by Beijing or Moscow.

“Be clear: just like the 80 million doses we announced earlier, the United States is providing these half billion doses without conditions. Let me say it again: unconditional, “he said.” Our vaccine donations do not include pressure for favors or potential concessions. We are doing this to save lives, to end this pandemic. That’s all. Period.”

Biden made his announcement in an effort to get other G7 countries to pledge to share vaccines. Britain has paid an additional $ 100 million and the group as a whole has pledged $ 1 billion from this summer.

But the pledges might not be as big as some observers would have hoped and reveal the dual-track resumption of the pandemic across the world – and even in this gathering of the world’s richest democracies, like some members of the G7, including Canada, are still struggling to vaccinate their own populations.

Complications at home

Biden also came to the summit after breaking off negotiations over an infrastructure package he says is needed to keep up with China.

Saturday’s working session at the G7, officials in the Biden administration said, with the aim of positioning the United States and its allies to better compete with China in the aftermath of the pandemic. Part of this competition will include the ‘Build Back Better for the World’ initiative, which one senior administration official described as a ‘bold new global infrastructure initiative with our G7 partners that will focus on values, transparent and sustainable ”.

The infrastructure initiative will close a $ 40 trillion gap in low- and middle-income countries, the official said, and aims to compete with China’s Belt and Road Initiative. The G7 will announce “a positive alternative that reflects our values, our standards and the way we do business,” said a second senior official.

Officials described the action not as a confrontation, but as the presentation of an alternative path.

“It is not about making countries choose between us and China, it is about offering an affirmative and alternative vision and approach that they would like to choose,” said the chief administration official.

But Biden found national infrastructure deals more difficult to make.

Just as he was leaving the United States this week, talks with Republicans over infrastructure collapsed, a blow to his promise to work across the aisle to get results for Americans. Biden immediately began new negotiations with another group of lawmakers, but it was a setback for a president determined to demonstrate both at home and abroad that democratic governments are capable of overcoming divisions and delivering results. .

News of Trump’s Justice Department subpoena to Apple and the messy legislative process surrounding its infrastructure complicates Biden’s sales pitch on the benefits of democracy. Its communications director, Kate Bedingfield, spoke to MSNBC to stress that this president is different from the previous one, and called the reports “appalling”.

President Biden has said on several occasions – during the election campaign, and then again when he was sworn in to his Attorney General, Merrick Garland – that the Department of Justice should be independent. The Department of Justice is not not the president’s lawyer, the justice ministry is the people’s lawyer. “

She suggested that Biden had a “very different relationship” with the Department of Justice than his predecessor, denouncing the Trump administration’s “abuse of power” with the department, and adding that the Department of Justice of Biden administration was “run in a very, very different way.”

But the news from across the Atlantic will no doubt leave Biden’s counterparts in the G7 skeptical about whether Biden’s promises to once again pave the way for democracy around the world can be fulfilled.

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