Biden summons history in sweeping call for renewed alliance of democracies

The Guardian

Biden summons history in sweeping call for renewed alliance of democracies

Jessica Glenza – March 26, 2022

In a speech in Poland on Russia’s invasion of Ukraine, Joe Biden indicated his intent to re-position the US as a leader in global affairs after four years of disengagement during the Trump administration.

It is not a task many thought Biden would so firmly take on when he took office in 2021. Initially, Biden focused on healing domestic wounds following four chaotic years of the Trump administration and the emergence of the Covid-19 pandemic.

But Biden’s speech in Poland appeared designed to signal a shift in US policy and a generational call to arms for democratic countries to unite against autocracy in a years-long foreign policy project, with the US at its head.

Related: Biden: ‘butcher’ Putin cannot be allowed to stay in power

“In this battle, we need to be clear eyed,” said Biden. “This battle will not be won in days or months, either. We need to steel ourselves for the long fight ahead.”

That unity, Biden signaled, would need to include democracies that have at times been at odds with one another.

The sweeping speech ended with a call for “a different future, a brighter future rooted in democracy and principle, hope and light”.

The president used the speech to draw historical parallels between the war in Ukraine, which began a month ago when Russian forces invaded, to the second world war; moments symbolic of freedom including the fall of the Berlin Wall; and the words of Pope John Paul II, who was Polish and who told the world: “Be not afraid.”

In its sweep and scope, the speech had echoes of other major foreign policy addresses given by US presidents on European soil, such as Ronald Reagan’s “tear down this wall” speech in Berlin in 1987 and John F Kennedy’s Ich bin ein Berliner call in 1963.

“All of us, including here in Poland, must do the hard work of democracy each and every day – in my country as well. That’s why I came to Europe again this week,” said Biden. “For all freedom-loving nations, we must commit now to be in this fight for the long haul.”

Biden highlighted the US commitment to Ukraine and Nato, including a pledge to defend “every inch of Nato territory with the full force of our collective power”. The US and allies “maintain absolute unity – we must, among the world’s democracies”, he said.

biden shakes hands with person as crowd gathers around him
Biden meets with Ukrainian refugees and humanitarian aid workers during a visit to PGE Narodowy Stadium in Warsaw on Saturday. Photograph: Evan Vucci/AP

“This is the task of our time. The task of this generation,” the president said about the fight against autocracy.

The speech was a far cry from one of Biden’s earliest foreign policy decisions – to follow through with the withdrawal of troops from Afghanistan after 20 years of war. In August 2021, the administration began an urgent evacuation of Americans and Afghan allies, after the capital, Kabul, fell to the Taliban in a matter of days.

Related: Russia’s invasion crystallises divide between west and rest of world

“I was not going to extend this forever war, and I was not extending a forever exit,” Biden said in August 2021.

Biden also used the speech to highlight commitments he said showed “the people of Ukraine can count on the United States”, including accepting 100,000 refugees and providing $300m in humanitarian aid and thousands of tons of food, water and medicine.

Biden called Vladimir Putin a “tyrant” and appealed directly to the Russian people. He invoked the struggles of the second world war, including the siege of Leningrad, which would be “fresh in the memory of many grandparents”.

“You, the Russian people, are not our enemy,” said Biden. “I refuse to believe you welcome the killing of innocent children and grandparents, or that you accept hospitals, schools, maternity wards – for God’s sake – being pummeled with Russian missiles and bombs.”

“These are not memories past,” said Biden. “This is exactly what the Russian army is doing to Ukraine right now.”

Author: John Hanno

Born and raised in Chicago, Illinois. Bogan High School. Worked in Alaska after the earthquake. Joined U.S. Army at 17. Sergeant, B Battery, 3rd Battalion, 84th Artillery, 7th Army. Member of 12 different unions, including 4 different locals of the I.B.E.W. Worked for fortune 50, 100 and 200 companies as an industrial electrician, electrical/electronic technician.