WASHINGTON, DC: US President Joe Biden speaks virtually from the East Room of the White House in Washington, DC, to the Munich Security Conference in Germany yesterday.-AFP

WASHINGTON: President Joe Biden declared the “transatlantic alliance is back” Friday in a powerful speech seeking to reestablish the United States as leader of the West against what he called a global assault on democracy. The remarks to the annual Munich Security Conference-held by video link because of the COVID-19 pandemic-dovetailed with German Chancellor Angela Merkel’s welcoming of a return to “multilateralism” after the confrontational years of Biden’s predecessor Donald Trump.

Making his first major international address on foreign policy since becoming president in January, Biden said traditional US allies should once again have confidence in Washington’s leadership. “I’m sending a clear message to the world: America is back. The transatlantic alliance is back,” he said from the White House. “The United States is determined, determined to reengage with Europe, to consult with you, earn back our position of trusted leadership,” he said.

Biden, who earlier spoke to leaders from the G7 club of wealthy democracies, said his administration was again stressing alliance building, in contrast to Trump’s isolationist policies and abrasive treatment of US partners. “Our partnerships have endured and grown through the years because they are rooted in the richness of our shared democratic values. They’re not transactional. They’re not extractive,” Biden said in clear reference to Trump’s emphasis on redefining allies as economic rivals.

Collective strength, Biden said, is the only way to succeed when a worldwide contest between democracy and autocracy is at an “inflection point.” “In too many places, including in Europe and the United States, democratic progress is under assault,” Biden said. “Historians will examine and write about this moment. It’s an inflection point. And I believe with every ounce of my being that democracy must prevail.”

Russia, China threats
Biden said he was not seeking a return to “the rigid blocs of the Cold War,” insisting that the international community must work together on issues like the coronavirus pandemic and climate change, even where deep disagreements exist on other issues. The return of the United States-effective Friday-to the Paris climate agreement was proof of Washington’s intentions, he said.

“We can no longer delay or do the bare minimum to address climate change,” Biden said, calling this a “global existential crisis.” But Biden delivered harsh warnings about the threats he said are posed by Russia and China. “The Kremlin attacks our democracies and weaponizes corruption to try and undermine our system of governance,” he said. President Vladimir Putin “seeks to weaken the European project and our NATO alliance.”

Again urging Western unity, Biden said, “it’s so much easier for the Kremlin to bully and threaten individual states than to negotiate with a strong, closely united transatlantic community.” The White House said Biden has ditched Trump’s controversial efforts last year to reestablish the G8, which became the G7 after Russia was expelled in response to its seizing of the Ukrainian region of Crimea. “I don’t think we are making new invitations to Russia or reiterating new invitations to Russia,” Press Secretary Jen Psaki said.

Similarly, said Biden, US partners should stand together against “the Chinese government’s economic abuses and coercion that undercut the foundations of the international economic system.” “Chinese companies should be held to the same standard” as US and European companies facing onerous restrictions on their presence in China, he said. NATO chief Jens Stoltenberg, also speaking via video link at the Munich event, echoed Biden’s concerns.

“The rise of China is a defining issue for the transatlantic community with potential consequences for our security, our prosperity and our way of life,” he said. “That is why NATO should deepen our relationships with close partners, like Australia and Japan, and forge new ones around the world.” On Iran, Biden reiterated his pledge to return to international negotiations with Tehran over its nuclear program, but said “we must address Iran’s destabilizing activities across the Middle East.”

Political pick
Democratic Senator Joe Manchin announced Friday he will oppose the confirmation of Neera Tanden, Joe Biden’s pick to lead the budget at the White House, potentially sinking her chances in a setback for the US president. Tanden, the first woman of Indian descent to be appointed to head the Office of Management and Budget (OMB), has been the target of bipartisan criticism since Biden nominated her in November. While she has earned the enmity of Republicans through her biting Twitter feed, Tanden has also come under fire from the progressive wing of the Democratic Party.

“I believe her overtly partisan statements will have a toxic and detrimental impact on the important working relationship between members of Congress and the next director of the Office of Management and Budget,” wrote Manchin, a moderate Democrat. “For this reason, I cannot support her nomination.” The OMB is a powerful department responsible for developing the president’s budget and evaluating the projects and expenditures of his department secretaries. The Democrats have a slim majority in the Senate, which has the power to confirm or reject presidential nominations: with 50 seats against 50 Republicans, they can count on the vote of Vice President Kamala Harris, who has the power to break the tie.

But with Joe Manchin’s opposition, Tanden will most likely need at least one Republican for confirmation-an unlikely prospect. Biden showed himself determined on Friday to stay the course. “No,” he replied to reporters who asked him if he was giving up his nomination. “Neera Tanden is an accomplished policy expert who would be an excellent Budget Director,” White House spokeswoman Jen Psaki said Friday, saying she continues to work for her confirmation with “both parties.” A first test will take place next week with a procedural vote scheduled for Wednesday in the Senate Budget Committee. Tanden, 50, chief executive of the Center for American Progress, a liberal Washington think-tank, has been an outspoken critic of former president Donald Trump. – AFP