President Joe Biden delivered his first address to the U.N. General Assembly on Tuesday morning, a speech of fine words but discordant resonances. He hailed “the noble mission of this institution” and reaffirmed the central role of “partners and allies,” declaring that “our own success is bound up with others succeeding as well.”
The speech must have struck many in the chamber as a refreshing contrast to Donald Trump’s final address to the Assembly, a seven-minute drone of hectoring and whining that dissed the very concept of mutual security. Still, Biden couldn’t drown out the hubbub over America’s actions—Biden’s actions—of the past several weeks, notably the bungled pullout from Afghanistan and the backroom deal to displace France as the supplier of submarines for Australia.
It wasn’t the actions themselves that caused rancor—there was a good case for leaving Afghanistan, and the Australians were looking to back out of the deal with France, whose submarines were technically inferior, behind schedule, and way over cost. Rather, it was that Biden announced the moves without first consulting the allies, whose central importance he was now lauding before most of the world’s heads of state.
Doing this right wasn’t a complicated matter. Biden and his team could have consulted with the NATO nations, who had spent billions and sacrificed hundreds of their own troops in the Afghanistan war, which they entered as an expression of their own commitment to allied solidarity. He could have given the French a heads-up on the Australian deal and provided some form of compensation for shoving them aside.
There were other dissonances in Biden’s U.N. speech. He said, “We’re not seeking a new cold war or a world divided into rigid blocs,” though his new alliances—the Quad (with India, Japan, and Australia) and AUKUS (with Australia and Britain), as well as the submarine deal that’s upsetting France—are clearly instruments of something that looks a lot like a cold war against China. [Continue reading…]