Biden’s European tilt is nothing to be happy about

In her recent World View column “Europe’s anxieties about Biden are really anxieties about itself” (September 6), Harvard’s Nathalie Tocci tried to cheer up Europeans who are let down by U.S. President Joe Biden’s hasty and unilateral withdrawal from Afghanistan. The U.S. president’s emphasis on human rights, to be promoted not “through endless military deployments, but through diplomacy, economic tools and rallying the rest of the world for support,” she argues, is “as European as it gets.”

Precisely. However, far from comforting Europeans, this observation summarizes everything that is wrong about the current administration’s approach.

Europe’s reliance on multilateralism and moralizing, instead of hard power, is possible only insofar as it has been propped up by America’s role as a global policeman. A United States that becomes more Europe-like does not help narrow the gap between Americans who come “from Mars” and Europeans who are “from Venus,” as Robert Kagan quipped.

Instead, such a shift in Washington risks making the European outlook unsustainable. Similarly, the prospect of a U.S. that becomes more “European” in its economic policies would make Europe’s own social model less workable. This would be due to the slowing down of global innovation and technological change, as economists Daron Acemoglu, James Robinson and Thierry Verdier explained.

Multilateralism and “new policy instruments and methods, blending principles and pragmatism” are no substitute for adequate defense budgets, a willingness to use hard power when necessary and the ability to inflict costs on adversaries even when it means inflicting some costs on oneself.

Existing economic ties with China, for example, generate gains to Western consumers and businesses. Decoupling, reshoring or just keeping companies such as Huawei out of our 5G networks inherently destroys some of those real gains — arguably with the benefit of reducing the vulnerability of Western economies to Chinese intellectual property theft, economic manipulation and attacks on critical infrastructure.

Likewise, there are unpleasant trade-offs involved in Europe’s propensity toward cooperation and multilateralism, including in its efforts to keep China at the negotiating table to address the problem of climate change.

In short, the competition of democracies against the world’s autocrats requires making hard choices that do not come naturally to European policymakers. To see a U.S. administration adopt the same habits of mind should be a cause for alarm, not comfort, in European capitals.

Dalibor Rohac
Senior fellow at the American Enterprise Institute
Washington DC, USA

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