After three weeks in Europe and extensive discussions with dozens of well-informed and highly placed individuals from most of the principal Western European countries, including leading members of the British government, I have the unpleasant duty of reporting complete incomprehension and incredulity at what Joe Biden and his collaborators encapsulate in the peppy but misleading phrase, “We’re back.”
As one eminent elected British government official put it, “They are not back in any conventional sense of that word. We have worked closely with the Americans for many decades and we have never seen such a shambles of incompetent administration, diplomatic incoherence, and complete military ineptitude as we have seen in these nine months. We were startled by Trump, but he clearly knew what he was doing, whatever we or anyone else thought about it. This is just a disintegration of the authority of a great nation for no apparent reason.”
From the European perspective, American leadership of the West has produced excellent results and very few unpleasant surprises since the United States stepped into that role under Franklin D. Roosevelt in World War II. At that time, the entire future of Western civilization rested essentially upon the shoulders of just two men, Roosevelt and Winston Churchill, and it was the epochal good fortune of all of us that they were more than equal to their great task. The level of acuity and success of the subsequent administrations, as the competence of government of any nation must, has fluctuated. But the emphasis was on continuity, and the containment policy elaborated in the Truman Administration was generally followed through to the great bloodless victory of the West, as the Soviet Union crumbled and international Communism as we had known it evaporated.
No one could foresee that, just 30 years after the hammer-and-sickle was hauled down over the Kremlin and Russia reverted to the European borders that it had held when it was only the Grand Duchy of Muscovy 400 years ago, the international Left would have taken over the conservation and ecology bandwagon and manipulated the leading capitalist countries into a savage assault on their own economies to reduce carbon emissions. No one could have anticipated that some African Americans would have celebrated their emancipation and the elevation of an African American president by lionizing antiwhite extremists and producing policing policies that have facilitated a vertiginous spike in violent crime in America.
Even two years ago no one could have foreseen that the Chinese would inadvertently release a virus which the entire Western world would obligingly respond to by shutting down almost their entire economy for a year and increasing the money supply by 30 percent—producing an economic upheaval that will linger for a long time. And there is no precedent for the completely avoidable and shaming debacle of the American defection from its own alliance and helter-skelter flight from Afghanistan, leaving thousands of desperate people of many nationalities who had relied upon the United States, to fend for themselves against the new terrorist regime that seized power there (and $85 billion of U.S. military hardware along with it).
No one could have foreseen that the egregious chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, General Mark Milley—who appears to have been stuffed into his over-decorated tunic and bears more evidences of military distinction than victorious five-star combat generals George C. Marshall, Douglas MacArthur, and Dwight D. Eisenhower combined—would promise his Chinese analogue that he would warn him if President Trump intended to attack China, that he agreed with House Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.) that his commander-in-chief (Trump) was insane, that he would proudly help institute “diversity, equity, and inclusion” lessons in the Armed Forces, and that he would inform a congressional committee while under oath that he had warned Biden about the dangers of his Afghan policy (warnings the president professes not to have received). We have now also learned that despite President Trump’s hugely expensive renovation of the American military, it now has no answer to Chinese and Russian hypersonic weapons.
Milley and the rest of his over-promoted cabal were too busy politicizing their apolitical offices and confusing the ranks with their historical revisionism to assure the comprehensive defense of the United States, consult normally with allies serving at American request in the mission in Afghanistan, or to demand a sane evacuation plan when the commander-in-chief determined to scuttle the 20-year Afghan deployment.
Flummoxed by Biden
Various well-informed British and Europeans told me that they found a variety of utterances by Joe Biden and his spokespeople grievously inappropriate or absurd. Most upsetting were Homeland Security Secretary Alejandro Mayorkas’ po-faced assurance that “the border is closed” while on the other half of the split-screen people were simultaneously wading or walking into the country illegally; climate czar John Kerry importuning the Chinese government to decelerate their pell-mell commissioning of new coal-fired power plants; Secretary of State Antony Blinken’s fatuous lamentation about the “lack of diversity” in the new Taliban government in Afghanistan; and White House press secretary Jen Psaki’s assertion that the administration “welcomed the competition” of Russia’s hypersonic nuclear-tipped missiles. The Internet assures a very widespread transmission of such howlers and the next time Biden or Blinken lay the egg about America being “back” and trusted, the Washington Post should dedicate its entire front page to Pinocchio.
The British and Europeans have always worried about the Americans, largely out of envy and continental vanity which produced disbelief that any other country could perform the role of the world’s leading power more effectively than Britain and the other major European countries had done. They feared that Harry Truman was a rube, Dwight Eisenhower an aging golfer, that JFK and Clinton and Obama were too inexperienced, that LBJ knew nothing of the world, that Nixon was devious, Ford and Carter were not up to it, Reagan was a mere actor, the Bushes were too inarticulate, and that Trump was completely infeasible. They warmed to most of those men, (except Trump, though he is recognized as uncategorizable and inexplicably formidable), but they are completely flummoxed by Biden.
For three years ending in 2019, Britain had a prime minister who professed to be enacting the wishes of the narrow public majority in favor of withdrawing from the European Union by continuing in that Union and pretending to secede: Theresa May was articulate and diligent but when the plausibility of trying to reconcile contradictory options became clear, she was advised that her support had vanished and she left the prime minister’s office as if fired from a cannon. The thought of the most successful alliance in history being “led” for three more years by an American president whose round-the-clock gaffes are not protected in Europe as Biden is in the United States by a totalitarian social media platform cartel and terminally biased national political media is a subject of profound and general disconcertion.
Despite my substantial agreement with their concerns, I vigorously attempted to defend the American interest. The best I could do was to remind them that the United States was the most successful country in history and always worked out its problems and that even after three more years of this ramshackle defeatism, a nation as great as America could quickly be restored to its traditional confidence and solidity. I was not entirely persuasive: my knowledgeable British and European friends not only do not think America is back, they think it has gone mad.
About Conrad Black
Conrad Black has been one of Canada’s most prominent financiers for 40 years, and was one of the leading newspaper publishers in the world as owner of the British telegraph newspapers, the Fairfax newspapers in Australia, the Jerusalem Post, Chicago Sun-Times and scores of smaller newspapers in the U.S., and most of the daily newspapers in Canada. He is the author of authoritative biographies of Franklin D. Roosevelt and Richard Nixon, one-volume histories of the United States and Canada, and most recently of Donald J. Trump: A President Like No Other. He is a member of the British House of Lords as Lord Black of Crossharbour.