U.S. allies “greatly relieved” as Biden steps up, but they’ve learned to be wary, too

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London — Donald Trump’s administration was not a conventional one in the view of many U.S. allies and some of the international reaction on Inauguration Day to the change in Washington didn’t follow diplomatic norms. 

German President Frank-Walter Steinmeier said he was, “greatly relieved that Joe Biden will be inaugurated as president and move in the White House.”   

“After 4 long years, Europe has a friend in America,” said Ursula Von der Leyen, president of the European Union’s governing body.

Iran had a different take. President Hassan Rouhani, whose country was hit by round after round of damaging economic sanctions under Mr. Trump, said: “A tyrant’s era came to an end today.”

In Moscow, Vladimir Putin’s spokesman insisted that, “nothing will change for Russia.”

Perhaps the most candid comment came from Nicola Sturgeon, the leader of the government in Scotland, who said she was, “very happy to say ‘cheerio,’ to Donald Trump,” adding: “Don’t haste ye back.”

There had been suggestions that Mr. Trump might take post-presidential refuge at one of his golf clubs in Scotland. Such a visit was discouraged by Sturgeon herself, and not just on coronavirus grounds.

But, much as a change in administration has been anticipated among America’s allies and adversaries, no magic switch will be thrown that changes all the problems that have existed under — and in many cases been exacerbated by — the outgoing U.S. president.


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There is an understanding in Europe and elsewhere that there won’t be a complete reversal of course in U.S. foreign policy.

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Similarly, Mr. Biden’s team has said they’ll bring the U.S. back into the Iran nuclear deal, if Tehran comes back into compliance. But what price might Tehran demand to cut back its refinement of nuclear fuel? What expansion of that deal to curtail Iran’s disruptive non-nuclear activities, including the state sponsoring of terrorism, might the new administration insist on?

European allies certainly expect the Biden administration to reengage, to take a more cooperative approach to solving the world’s biggest problems. The incoming team has clearly hinted at intentions to do just that.  

Biden meets Merkel
German Chancellor Angela Merkel (CDU) receives U.S. Vice President Joe Biden at the Federal Chancellery in Berlin, Germany, in a February 1, 2013 file photo.

Maurizio Gambarini/picture alliance/Getty


But those allies know not every element of Mr. Trump’s foreign policy will be rolled back.

Anthony Blinken, Mr. Biden’s pick for Secretary of State, has confirmed, for instance, that the U.S. Embassy so controversially moved by the Trump administration to Jerusalem in 2017, is staying put. Some of America’s closest European allies were quick to condemn that move.

Overall, America’s allies are approaching the new White House with optimism, but it is optimism tempered by a wariness learned over the past four years.

They know that Trumpism, and the 74 million Americans who voted for the last president, represent a real thing, and one that isn’t simply going to disappear after Wednesday’s swearing-in ceremony at the Capitol.

Behind every comment welcoming America back into the fold on Wednesday was an unspoken worry that many in the U.S. have demonstrated a happy willingness to sit outside of that fold. 

The hope is that the Biden presidency will re-establish the post-World War II equilibrium and commonality of purpose that bound the United States to its allies. But there are no more illusions that the bond is unbreakable. 



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