President Joe Biden sounded all the right notes in his Tuesday address to the United Nations General Assembly. He spoke on the need for global cooperation against pandemics and the climate crisis, as well as the need to counter rising autocracies by means other than warfare.

As an aspirational framework, the speech was admirable and spelled out what the United States should be aiming for.

Yet, Biden’s words seemed painfully divorced from the realities on the ground, especially after the White House botched the U.S. withdrawal from Afghanistan, and created a spat with France that further undermines NATO.

Those events raise questions about the Biden team’s foreign policy team’s competence, and its commitment to allies. In addition, the divisive politics of GOP Trumpsters are amplifying the world’s questions about whether America still has the capacity to lead.

Biden’s push for accelerated cooperation on COVID-19 was important. Only a tiny fraction of the vaccine doses promised to poorer nations at a June summit of the world’s richest industrial nations has been delivered. Without a wider global vaccination rate, new variants of the coronavirus will flourish. And without U.S. leadership, a wider — and effective — global vaccination push is unlikely to happen.

Yet, as with climate change, domestic U.S. political divisions are thwarting global progress on vaccinations. The undermining of the domestic vaccine process by leading GOP officials has diminished U.S. credibility worldwide.

Biden’s admirable vaccine rollout should have made America the world leader in fighting the virus. Instead, our pandemic of the unvaccinated shames us on an international stage. This makes allies question Americans’ sanity, along with the functionality of the American government and its ability to lead.

So, friends and foes listened politely on Tuesday when Biden rightly called for global action on the coronavirus and the climate crisis, as well as on upholding the U.N. human rights charter and shaping new rules on advanced technology. But even our friends question how a viciously divided America can lead in the future. The adversaries gleefully watch America tear itself apart.

Moreover, Biden’s vocal emphasis on allies seemed strangely disconnected from recent White House maneuvers. There was no coordination with NATO allies on the decision to pull all U.S. troops out of Afghanistan by Aug. 31, even though the allies had 7,500 troops in the country, three times more than the Americans. The botched departure was a slap at NATO and raises questions about the competence of the current State Department leadership.

A further insult to a NATO ally soon followed, when Biden announced a new security accord with Australia and Great Britain that excluded France. Australia also junked a $66 billion deal for the nation to buy conventional French submarines in favor of a new contract for the U.S. and the U.K. to help the Aussies build nuclear-powered submarines. Yes, the new subs will be technologically superior, but French leaders were justifiably furious that they were not informed until the last minute.

This is no way to treat a historic ally, at a time when Biden is touting the critical importance of fellow democracies in competing with Beijing. No wonder many pundits are now comparing Biden’s dissing of allies with the tactics of Donald Trump.

This brings us to the issue of China, which was a subtext of Biden’s U.N. speech (even though the word China was never used).

Biden stressed that “we are not seeking a new Cold War” but said that “the United States will compete, and we’ll compete vigorously, and lead with our values and our strength.” He added, “We’ll stand up for our allies and our friends and oppose attempts by stronger countries to dominate weaker ones, whether through changes to territory by force, economic coercion, technical exploitation, or disinformation.”

And he repeated one of the most important themes of his presidency: “We’ll lead not merely by the example of our power, but by the power of our example.” Or as he told the Munich Security Conference in February, “We’re at an inflection point between those who argue that … autocracy is the best way forward and those who understand that democracy is essential.”

In other words, unlike Trump’s saber-rattling and tariff wars, Biden recognizes that we can’t compete with China unless we up our game at home in infrastructure, education and advanced technology. And we can’t counter Chinese claims that its autocratic model — and internal repression — best suits the 21st century unless we demonstrate that democracy still works.

His call for showing “the power of our example” was the most poignant moment of Biden’s speech because it spoke to the reality of the moment.

America is still potentially capable of global leadership — if it pulls together. The Biden team can overcome its early mistakes and reboot its methods of operation. And voters can still sideline those who deny Biden’s win, oppose vaccines, and have the power to sink this country.

But if all of the above ends in failure, the ideals voiced by Biden at the United Nations will be remembered as so much hot air.

Trudy Rubin is a columnist and editorial-board member for the The Philadelphia Inquirer. Readers may write to her at: Philadelphia Inquirer, P.O. Box 8263, Philadelphia, Pa. 19101, or by email at trubin@phillynews.com.

(9) comments

Awteam2021

The speech was boring. That was great. No shenanigans, no Pushing fellow members aside. Back to the previous old US decorum, principles and values before Trump. No laughing and mocking him, like Trump’s speech. More mature with a clear focus on the further. Trudy Rubin, the contributor, may have missed in but Biden and his French counterpart Macron kissed and made up, “agreed that the situation would have benefitted from open consultations.” and plans to have a makeup meeting next month in France.

Dwasserba

[thumbup]Aw Yeah I love boring, needed the nap 💆‍♀️

TomWheatley

The French kiss everyone and at times on both cheeks :)

shiftless88

The deal with Australia was in our interests, in Britain's interests, and (of course) Australian's interests. It strengthens our alliances in that critical area of the world where China is making inroads. France knew that the deal with Australia was not signed. Business is business.

MD1756

People writing columns such as this need to start including the obvious adverse impact population growth has on climate change and other problems.

C.D.Reid

This day in history, Sept. 23rd:

"In 1987, Sen. Joseph Biden, D-Del., withdrew from the Democratic presidential race following questions about his use of borrowed quotations and the portrayal of his academic record."

The man has been a career liar for his entire life, and yet his sheeple still try to defend him. Pitiful.....

Awteam2021

Can I ask you some questions? Or are you just sulking, again.

What was the borrowed quotation? Who actually made the statement and when?

And has that stuck in your crawl for 34 years?

Who said grab them by the pu**s*? Hint, he wasn’t re-elected to office and lost by 8 million votes.

tatt2ed

Not CD, but this from the Washington Post

https://www.washingtonpost.com/investigations/echoes-of-bidens-1987-plagiarism-scandal-continue-to-reverberate/2019/06/05/dbaf3716-7292-11e9-9eb4-0828f5389013_story.html

C.D.Reid

Who made the statement, Aw? The AP, that's who. If you want the particular writer's name, I suggest you contact them.

https://www.fredericknewspost.com/public/ap/today-in-history/article_1d08d495-d339-513a-abd3-2b2d2747d2c9.html

And if it's stuck in anyone's "crawl," (do you mean "craw," by any chance?) that would be the AP's, wouldn't it? After all, they're the ones who brought it up.

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