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The Exorcism: Biden in Helsinki vows U.S. will stay in NATO, blasts GOP Sen. Tuberville hold on military promotions: ‘It is jeopardizing U.S. security’
“No one can guarantee the future. But this is the best bet anyone could make,” Pres. Biden vowed in newest NATO member Finland July 13 that the U.S. will stay in NATO despite U.S. political volatility
It was a press conference as exorcism, in the very same Helsinki room where one of the most disgraceful episodes in recent American foreign policy happened.
U.S. President Joe Biden vowed at a press conference in newest NATO member Finland today (July 13, 2023) that the United States will stay in NATO, despite American political volatility. It could be lost on very few that Biden’s passionate remarks urging faith in America’s commitment to the growing transatlantic alliance took place in the very same room and city where his predecessor Donald Trump stood five years ago with Russian President Vladimir Putin, taking the Russian autocrat’s side on multiple points.
But the fact that America and the world once again face the prospect of a U.S. presidential election with Trump possibly on the ticket means the kind of exorcism many desire of the extremism and American abnormalcy of the Trump years is still incomplete. And the threat that another Trump term could pose to American democracy at home and America’s allies abroad has, unfortunately, still not entirely receded.
Biden, asked by a Finnish reporter about how can he assure Finland that the United States will remain a reliable NATO partner for years to come, made the case for American constancy.
“There's overwhelming support [for NATO] from the American people,” Biden said. “There's overwhelming support from the members of the Congress, both House and Senate, in both parties, notwithstanding . . . some extreme elements of one party. We will stand together.”
“No one can guarantee the future,” he said. “But this is the best bet anyone could make. …As sure as anything could possibly be said about American foreign policy, we will stay connected to NATO.”
Finnish President Sauli Niinistö, in a seeming nod to the conviction with which Biden spoke, addressed the Finnish reporter: “It seems that the President has solved your problems. … I have no reason to doubt about USA policies in the future.”
Then Biden interjected to say one more thing.
“We learned a hard lesson,” Biden said, referring to Russia’s massive ground invasion of Ukraine in February 2022. “Peace and security in Europe is essential for U.S. security and peace. The idea that there could be conflict in Europe among our friends, and us not engaged, has never happened in modern history. That’s why we’re staying together.”
Biden is an authentic, true believer in the transatlantic alliance, observed former U.S. Assistant Secretary of State for Europe Daniel Fried.
“My theory of Biden is that he comes of age during the administration of [John F. Kennedy], almost a pre-Vietnam Democrat,” Fried, now with the Atlantic Council, said in an interview. “And he believes in the free world, he believes in the transatlantic alliance, without any of Obama’s ironic distance. And I think that’s important.
“He also picked up the caution about confrontation with Moscow also, I think, from the Kennedy administration, which explains some of his care in thinking through the escalatory potential moves on Ukraine, which has frustrated a lot of people, myself included sometimes, but it’s understandable,” Fried, a former U.S. Ambassador to Poland, continued.
“And I think the [NATO] summit was good enough,” Fried said. “We could have gone further, but on the big question of Ukraine, we ended up in a right enough place.”
Fried said it is entirely understandable that Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskyy pushed for more concrete language on future Ukraine NATO membership from the NATO summit in Vilnius earlier this week, and the administration should cut him some slack.
“He’s at war and we are not,” Fried said. “But I think all that stuff aside, we came out in a decent place.”
Ukraine was not expecting to be offered NATO membership at the NATO summit this week, but was seeking language that discussed a future “invitation,” said Liana Fix, a Europe expert with the Council on Foreign Relations.
“It was never about immediate NATO membership for Ukraine,” Fix said on a CFR virtual panel on the summit Wednesday. “It was always about the question what kind of language can be included [in the NATO summit communique] which hints at the criteria and the timeline….which includes a hint at a timeline, and the word ‘invitation.’ It should be an invitation to join NATO after the war.”
What of the continued extremist/isolationist wing of the Republican party, with Trump saying he could end the Russian war on Ukraine in one day (presumably, by offering Putin Ukrainian territory); Georgia Republican Marjorie Taylor Greene pushing an amendment calling for withdrawing the United States from NATO, and Alabama Republican Senator Tommy Tuberville blocking hundreds of US military appointments, among other examples? (Another Greene amendment, that would have blocked $300 million in U.S. security assistance to Ukraine, was overwhemingly defeated today, with 89 members voting for, and 341 against.) Fried says though the wing represents a minority of GOP members, it can’t be entirely dismissed.
“On one level, it’s noise, because most of the Republicans in Congress…are pretty strong on Ukraine,” Fried said. “Trump represents the American foreign policy tradition of the American First crowd of the late 1930s, early 1940s. … We call them isolationist. That’s too pretty. They were indifferent to Hitler. They were hostile to helping Britain and France…And Trump represents that tradition. It is an odious tradition. And it is linked now, as it was then, with a kind of white nativist backlash.”
“So it’s not just noise,” Fried continued. “It’s a bad tradition. And Biden is well aware of this. …So when he goes to Helsinki and talks about the transatlantic alliance, he’s trying to reassure people that America is steady, even though they see Trump as the presumptive [Republican] nominee.”
Biden: Republican Senator Tuberville hold on military nominations is “jeopardizing U.S. security”
Biden was also asked in Helsinki about how U.S. military readiness was being affected by Republican Senator Tommy Tuberville’s blocking of hundreds of U.S. military promotions to protest a Pentagon policy that compensates service members for the costs incurred to travel out of state for an abortion. Among the positions left without confirmed leaders due to Tuberville’s hold are the commandant of the US Marine Corps.
“He’s jeopardizing U.S. security,” Biden said. “I expect the Republican party to stand up, stand up and do something about it.”
“The idea that we have all these promotions that are in abeyance right now, and we don’t know what’s going to happen,” Biden said. “The idea that we’re injecting into fundamental foreign policy decisions what in fact is a domestic… debate on social issues is bizarre. I don’t ever recall it happening. Ever. And it’s just totally irresponsible.”
“I’m confident that the mainstream Republican party…does not support what he’s doing,” Biden said. “But they’ve got to stand up and be counted. That’s how it ends.”
Following Biden’s Helsinki press conference, CNN reported that Secretary of Defense Lloyd Austin’s office tried to set up a call with Tuberville today about the military nominations hold, but that Tuberville’s office declined, saying he was too busy.
“He needs to lift the holds,” Austin told CNN in an interview earlier today. “This is a national security issue. It’s a readiness issue.”
Update July 13, 2023, 6:40PM: Pentagon spokesman Brig. Gen. Pat Ryder said today that Secretary of Defense Austin and Alabama Sen. Tuberville did have a brief telephone conversation today (July 13).
Ryder in a phone briefing with reporters said:
So today, at Secretary Austin's request, he did briefly speak with Senator Tuberville to discuss the unprecedented blanket hold the Senator has placed on hundreds of general officer and flag officer nominees at the Department of Defense.
During the brief call, Secretary Austin explained to Senator Tuberville the impact the holds are having to military readiness and uncertainty in the force. The call follows Secretary Austin's remarks on Monday at the Relinquishment of Responsibility for the Marine Corps, which is now without a confirmed Commandant in place for the first time in more than 100 years.
This conversation also follows a call initiated by Secretary Austin earlier this year, as well as ongoing engagement at the staff level. The two did agree to speak again next week. Thank you.
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