In 2017 the president of the United States shocked Washington’s Western allies during his first European trip, scolding them for failing to pay their “fair share” on defense, physically shoving aside one prime minister, and white-knuckling another leader in a public handshake.
After four tumultuous years for the transatlantic relationship under Donald Trump, his Democratic successor Joe Biden’s words of friendship and promise that “America is back” as he meets Western allies this week and next are a welcome relief.
But they’re not enough, diplomats and foreign policy experts say.
Biden faces lingering doubts about America’s reliability as a partner. Leaders from the Group of Seven advanced economies, NATO and the European Union are worried about the pendulum of U.S. politics swinging yet again, and are looking for concrete action, not words after the shock of the Trump years.
“Is this a an interregnum between Trump 1.0 and Trump 2.0? Nobody knows,” said David O’Sullivan, a former European Union ambassador to Washington. “I think most people are of the view that we should seize the opportunity with this administration to strengthen the relationship and hope that this can survive beyond the midterms and 2024.”
European leaders have been upbeat publicly, hailing the survival of multilateralism – but their doubts go beyond the scarring of the Trump years. The Biden administration’s foreign policy has been sending mixed signals, marked by some missteps and uncertainty over key policy areas such as China, thanks to lengthy reviews, former U.S. officials and diplomatic sources said.