Biden faces accusations of weakness against US rivals

Is Joe Biden "weak" against Vladimir Putin, Tehran or Pyongyang? This is affirmed by opponents of the president of the United States, who is trying to reconcile firmness and pragmatism to overcome various international crises and focus on competition with China.

"Is it a surprise that Chinese planes are flying over Taiwan? Or that North Korea is testing missiles again? Or that Iran is intensifying its nuclear program? They all note Biden’s weakness"Nikki Haley, who was US ambassador to the UN under the Trump administration, tweeted this week, summing up the criticism from Republican hawks.

The confrontation with Russia over Ukraine is what has revived these accusations, which were already heard during the chaotic withdrawal from Afghanistan at the end of August.

But the Democratic president can already adopt a martial tone, multiply threats and even send soldiers to Eastern Europe as he did on Wednesday, that his determination will be questioned.

The Republican opposition, including its moderate fringe, reproaches Biden for ruling out preventive sanctions against Moscow to discourage an attack on Ukraine.

For the time being, the Biden administration is betting that the mere threat of punitive measures "devastating" in case of invasion it will deter Russian President Vladimir Putin.

"minor raid"

Another reproach made by the most warmongering is to have excluded from the outset the option of a direct military intervention to defend Ukraine.

But it was an apparent mistake in mid-January that set things off.

The 79-year-old president caused confusion by suggesting that a "minor raid" Russia’s move would provoke less pushback from the West and hint that there were divisions among NATO countries over the scale of the response that would justify such an incursion.

Republican lawmakers were quick to criticize Biden, accusing him of having tacitly "given the green light" to a Russian invasion forcing the White House to back down.

"It’s typical of Biden: he often responds more like an analyst than a president"said Celia Belin, a researcher at the Brookings Institution think tank in Washington.

Nonetheless, she believes that the US’s handling of the Ukraine crisis has been effective so far.

But his analytic answers are "a mistake as a leader"he said, especially because "Republicans insist on the idea of ​​weakness because it resonates with the general perception of Biden as old, fragile and without enough determination".

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Is "weakness test" is typical of the United States, with a tug of war "constant" between a neoconservative tendency to use force to restore order and a sector that prefers "choose your battles"estimated.

For Kori Schake, director of Foreign and Defense Policy Studies at the American Enterprise Institute, a right-leaning think tank, these differences do not call into question the "good enough job" of the US government "to find a balance" in this high-stakes crisis.


US intelligence agencies quickly identified the "russian pattern of aggression"the allies were consulted soon enough to "reach a consensus" and the Pentagon has shown "firmness and readiness"Schake told AFP.

Biden entered the White House promising allies that "America is back"indicating their willingness to seek compromises at the risk of giving the impression of hesitation.

But this return to the international arena after the unilateralism of the Trump era does not mean that Washington intends to police everywhere and at all times.

Democrats want to lead the United States out of protracted conflicts and focus their forces on a rising China, which both the Biden and Trump administrations have described as the main challenge of the 21st century.

Although Belin warned that withdrawing also has consequences, as happened with leaving Afghanistan "at the cost of a debacle"which, he says, may even have pushed Putin to "to take advantage of" the situation.

Otherwise, there are plenty of challenges to deflect Biden from his priority, both new and long-standing.

Iran looms large as Biden needs a deal to wrap up talks with Tehran to salvage a 2015 nuclear deal and avert another crisis.

Here, too, he is likely to be accused of weakness, even among Democrats, on the sensitive issue of containing Iran’s nuclear program.

At the same time, the United States appears for now to be turning a blind eye to North Korea’s recent series of missile launches.

On China, while Biden has maintained the hard line taken by his predecessor Trump, some conservatives continue to criticize him for his willingness to engage in dialogue on climate issues or his refusal to boycott the Beijing Olympics altogether.

For Schake, however, "Biden is no weaker on China or North Korea than the previous administration".

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