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Washington (AFP) – The leader of the free world sounds like a superhero character, but Joe Biden, heading to two European summits this week, is actually a politically fragile president who is somehow tasked with solving an unenviable set of diplomatic problems.

Biden is arriving in Germany on Saturday for a G7 summit of major Western powers, followed by a NATO military alliance summit in Madrid next week.

Both sessions will take place in the shadow of Russia’s invasion of Ukraine, as well as a global surge in inflation, fears of a recession, and the ever-growing problem of containing China while avoiding open conflict.

Surely Biden will be touting the success of a monumental western rallying effort and breathing new life into NATO — “the pinnacle of post-Cold War transatlantic solidarity,” according to a senior US official.

But a less flattering picture is that of the 79-year-old whose approval rating at home has fallen below 40 percent and the Democratic Party looks set to lose control of Congress this November to vengeful Republican opponents.

As Donald Trump, who has spent four years in the White House destroying American alliances, is preparing his own possible revenge in the 2024 presidential election, Biden is the first to admit that not everyone views the United States with confidence.

“I travel the world trying to put it all together,” Biden told an audience of union members this month, “and wherever I go…they look at me and I say — I say, ‘America is back,’ and they look and me and they say, ‘For how long?'”

Democratic unions

Biden calls his presidency a watershed in the battle for the survival of Western democracy against the likes of Russian President Vladimir Putin, as well as domestic attacks such as Trump’s attempt to cancel the 2020 election.

Russian President Vladimir Putin's war in Ukraine will hang over many issues discussed in the G7 and NATO.
Russian President Vladimir Putin’s war in Ukraine will hang over many issues discussed in the G7 and NATO. Mikhail METSELS SPUTNIK/AFP/File

Much of this campaign is about rebuilding alliances and restoring the US’s traditional role as first among equals, as opposed to Trump’s policy of treating all countries as bitter rivals.

In both Germany and Spain, Biden will be able to demonstrate significant success, especially in responding to the Russian push in Ukraine.

“He came to power with the specific purpose of revitalizing and strengthening our allies, our alliances and partnerships around the world, and that’s exactly what he did,” White House spokesman John Kirby said.

“He was not afraid to use the unifying power of the United States, which is still great, relevant and vital. The free world has demonstrated incredible unity.”

stress test

But for all the self-praise that probably comes from Bavaria and Madrid, Western partners are facing an increasingly insidious backlash against their own sanctions against Russia.

High energy costs cause political damage to President Joe Biden at home
High energy costs cause political damage to President Joe Biden at home Jim WATSON AFP

Their coordinated efforts to halt the Russian economy and undermine the ruble have clearly not worked so far, while rising energy prices instead demand a political price for leaders like Biden at home.

A US official said the G-7 would “take” even more measures to “increase pressure” on Moscow. But leaders will also need to reflect on a parallel issue.

“How can we harm the Putin regime as much as possible? How can we minimize the feedback to the rest of the world? And I think that this is how the discussion around energy markets and energy market problems will be built,” the official said.

Biden says that amid warnings of Ukraine fatigue in Western capitals, the transatlantic coalition must endure.

“At some point it will be a kind of waiting game: what the Russians can withstand and what Europe will be ready to withstand. This is one of the things we will talk about in Spain,” he said.

If that happens — and if the West is going to stick together despite the growing threat of a global recession — then a lot could depend on Biden.

“Leadership matters a lot here,” Kirby said.

“Multilateral leadership matters a lot because it affects not only the United States, but the entire world.”

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