President Joe Biden boards Air Force One for Rome, Italy.BRENDAN SMIALOWSKI/POOL/AFP via Getty
Joe Biden needs to reset his presidency.
His poll numbers are slipping and his policies are moving slowly through Congress.
If he wants to jumpstart his term, then he should take a trip abroad.
Brett Bruen was the director of global engagement in the Obama White House and a career American diplomat. He runs the crisis-communications agency Global Situation Room.
This is an opinion column. The thoughts expressed are those of the author.
Joe Biden needs to reboot his presidency. His poll numbers have cratered, and much of his agenda remains stalled out. The elusive infrastructure bill finally passed, but so far it does not seem to have supplied the big boost the White House expected. Months of Democrats squabbling — and the continued fight over the Build Back Better bill — deflated the oxygen that the massive investment bill was supposed to deliver.
The president’s biggest swings have so far come on the domestic front, and those haven’t been able to move the needle. Given that problem, I believe he’ll have to look outside of our borders if he wants to resuscitate some of his prior political strength.
Foreign policy offers the President a much freer hand than domestic policy. He can leave a lot of the bruising battles between congressional moderates and progressives behind. Biden has a unique chance to demonstrate strong leadership abroad and rack up some desperately needed wins. So, fire up Air Force One and set off beyond the sunset.
Plenty of problems to tackle
Foreign policy is an area where Biden is extremely experienced. He spent most of his career focused on global affairs and returning to that familiar territory would allow him to play up those strengths. He was the guy we sent to resolve international issues when I was on the National Security Council. Not only does he know a lot of these leaders, he knows how to get deals done, such as when he leaned on a personal bond with Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu to halt plans for new settlements in 2011.
There is definitely no shortage of areas where Biden could engage. Africa could use some attention, taking a trip to deliver some of the 1.1 billion doses of the COVID vaccines Biden has pledged to countries around the world would help to highlight Biden’s promise to proactively engage with the rest of the world. He could stop by Eastern Europe and deliver military aid to countries living under threat of Russian invasions. The President could also deliver a strong signal to Putin that the US is taking his threats to the world seriously. Biden could also visit a few of our key allies around the Pacific to shore up confidence in America’s leadership and willingness to confront China.
Then there is the massive Irish homecoming. Ireland has always had a special place in its heart for the Man from Mayo. Streets would fill with well-wishers and the warm words would make a Hallmark writer blush. Biden could enjoy Obama or Kennedy-level star power. Those images would play well with the large Irish-American community back home.
It’s worth noting that the precipitous decline in Biden’s popularity started with his decision to proceed with a hasty withdrawal from Afghanistan. It was a call that cost him. Yet, also provides a possible path back to restoring his and America’s standing.
The goodwill tour could offer the president a desperately needed opportunity to really remind voters about why they supported him. He largely stayed at home for a long stretch to manage the pandemic and get his Build Back Better agenda through Congress, so this would be a smart moment to hit the road. It is a chance to recapture some of the campaign’s spirit and reset his relationship with Congress. Speaking of which, it would not be a bad idea to bring a bunch of them along – from both parties. There is nothing like a long trip to build bipartisan bridges.
Either way, Biden is going to need a new strategy. His heavy emphasis on the domestic front during his first year in office has not worked out very well. There are clearly too many landmines and fault lines, even within the Democratic Party. He needs to find a way to rise above those divisions. Overseas it is possible to put a lot of distance between him and those parochial problems.
Political salvation will not be found beyond our shores. But, a week of good headlines could provide the respite and recalibration needed to begin the second year in office on firmer footing. Because at this stage, surely the best strategy for building back his presidency better is to just, “let Joe be Joe.”
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