PHNOM PENH — Fresh off the midterm elections where his party showed surprising strength, President Joe Biden is now embarking on a series of summits in which the great unknown to world leaders is whether he is a soft duck or a good bet to serve two full terms.
Biden has not yet given a definitive answer about his future, telling reporters at a news conference this week that he is in no rush to announce a re-election campaign and wants to discuss his plans with his family. Tuesday’s exit polls showed that voters by a two-thirds margin would prefer him to step aside. “My intention is for me to start running again,” said Biden, who turns 80 this month. “But I have great respect for fate. And this is ultimately a family decision.”
Biden’s future will be paramount as he goes first to Egypt, then Cambodia and Bali, where he meets with leaders like Chinese President Xi Jinping and British Prime Minister Rishi Sunak to discuss issues such as the global economy, the war between Russia and Ukraine. to discuss. , and North Korea’s nuclear program.
Biden’s counterparts abroad are looking for stability in US leadership and foreign policy after years of political turbulence with no quick end in sight. At a meeting last year of the leaders of the seven largest advanced economies, he told the group, “America is back,” the president recalled at the news conference. “For how long?” replied one.
The US presidency has changed hands three times in the past five years and is up for grabs again in 2024. Between the Biden and Obama presidents sat Donald Trump, who despised the commitment to alliances and cooperative actions that US foreign policy has seen in the post-war era. the second World War.
Defeated presidents rarely make a comeback, but Trump may announce his reelection bid next week. “If there was an election between Trump and Biden today, Trump would win and he would win in a landslide,” John McLaughlin, a Trump pollster, said in a midterm election interview. “Right now, Trump is the gorilla in the room.”
Even if Trump skipped the race, his move has spawned a string of imitators who have adopted his “America First” foreign policy credo and can run in his place. For the world leaders who will meet Biden in the coming week, there is no guarantee that he will be the president they will be dealing with for the next six years.
“I don’t know if he removed the cloud over his head that he was a crippled president for two years,” said Brett Bruen, who served as director of global engagement during Barack Obama’s second term. “If I’m a [world leader] Looking at where I want to invest my political capital, I don’t think Biden will be able to provide assistance or involvement in the difficult issues of my country or region.”
Biden arrives in Egypt on Friday for a conference focused on the global climate crisis. He then heads to Cambodia to meet with Asian leaders, with whom he hopes to bond as the US tries to curb China’s growing global influence.
He will skip a separate Asia-Pacific Economic Cooperation (APEC) summit in Thailand late next week, an event that conflicts with his granddaughter Naomi Biden’s wedding on the South Lawn of the White House.
One challenge for Biden is to “convince allies and partners in the Indo-Pacific region that the US is committed to the region and to them for the long term,” said Matthew Goodman, senior vice president of economics at the Center for Strategic and International. Studies, a Washington think tank.
Given that “I think the president’s absence from APEC is a casual mistake,” Goodman said. “I think he should have found a way to be there for a few hours to reassure the region that he had been committed…”
The centerpiece of Biden’s entire journey is a private meeting in Bali, Indonesia, on Monday with China’s Xi, the first time they’ve spoken in person since Biden took office. The two will meet on the sidelines of a meeting of the G-20, a group of countries that make up 80 percent of the global economy.
Expectations are low. The two leaders will not make a joint statement, nor are they likely to announce agreements, a government official told reporters. The idea is for Biden and Xi to talk candidly, “build a floor for the relationship” and “stop the downward spiral,” the official said.
The US has been shaken by Chinese military exercises that threaten Taiwan and raise the specter of a future invasion. After House Speaker Nancy Pelosi visited Taiwan in August, the Chinese conducted retaliatory drills to signal their dismay. A Chinese government spokesman described the exercises as “a warning” to anyone seeking to establish Taiwan’s independence.
What may come out of Biden’s appearance at the G-20 is nothing that “will turn the tide in the relationship, but just the bare minimum needed to prepare for even more choppy waters ahead in the relationship.” between the US and China,” said David Shullman, senior director of the Global China Hub at the Atlantic Council, a Washington think tank.
A central theme at the G20 meetings will be the protracted war between Russia and Ukraine. But the instigator of the conflict is not going to be there. Russian President Vladimir Putin, faced with adversity on the battlefield, would certainly be vilified at the summit if he decided to show it, analysts said.
“The noose around Putin is getting tighter,” said Melinda Haring, deputy director of the Atlantic Council’s Eurasia Center. “So I don’t think he gains anything by going to the G-20. On the contrary, he’s just going to get a lot of lectures.”
One of Biden’s goals is to convince leaders that democracies are preferable to the autocratic model that China and Russia have embraced. That argument was undermined by the January 6 uprising, when rioters broke through the U.S. Capitol and disrupted the peaceful transfer of power.
The mid-term election results fascinate Biden in this regard, with some of Trump’s carefully chosen candidates losing and having little appetite for the baseless argument that the 2020 race had been stolen. In defeat, a few leading Republican candidates he supported even graciously accepted the results rather than venting claims of voter fraud.
“Tuesday was a good day for America, a good day for democracy,” Biden said at a Democratic National Committee event on Thursday.
Another reason Biden might find the journey more fulfilling is that he has prevented the interim destruction normally experienced by sitting presidents. While control of Congress still hangs in the air, Biden can face his fellow leaders knowing that GOP lawmakers won’t be in the best position to unravel his policies as they’d hoped.
The last Democratic president to visit Asia just after the midterm elections arrived in grim circumstances. Obama’s party had lost more than 60 seats in the House and half a dozen seats in the Senate in 2010. In his memoir, “A Promised Land,” Obama wrote that when Air Force One flew to India after what he called a “shellacking” in the mid-term exams, he was unable to relax and made a card game with his tired staff scared. The morning after the election, he wrote, he woke up “with a mixture of fatigue, pain, anger and shame, the way a boxer must feel after coming out on the wrong side of a heavyweight fight.”
However, there was never any doubt that Obama would run for a second term. Biden’s midterm test went much better. In the coming week, he will tout the resilience of America’s democratic tradition. He is back in the company of his fellow leaders, who may still want an answer to the question they asked him last year: for how long?
This article was originally published on NBCNews.com