Biden Allies Abroad Think It’s Untenable for Him to Stay On

(Bloomberg) -- There was a time when US President Joe Biden’s allies abroad would make allowances for his age, let the slip-ups slide, gently bring him back to the fold when he appeared to wander off. No longer.

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His calamitous presidential debate performance changed the calculus. Now even Brazilian President Luiz Inacio Lula da Silva — a leading South American leftist who wants a Democrat in the White House and is hosting the next G-20 summit — is saying the quiet part out loud.

“I think Biden has a problem,” Lula — who like Republican presidential challenger Donald Trump is 78 — told a local radio station. “He’s moving more slowly, he is taking longer to answer questions. The US elections are very important for all the world.”

The chorus of voices that want the oldest American president (he’s 81) to step aside is growing louder, not only at home but also among nations that in the past months and years made excuses for the president’s wobbly syntax and gaffes. That’s because the prospect of Trump returning to the White House was seen by Western capitals as the bigger threat.

European officials are now saying privately — and more forcefully — that Biden should step aside for someone with a better shot at beating Trump and preserving allied unity on Ukraine and NATO, people familiar with the matter said. There is anxiety about how Biden will present at a NATO summit he is due to host in the US next week, where his every move, gesture and word will be scrutinized in an unforgiving light.

In this environment, any potential miscues that he makes in closed door meetings will surely be made public by attendees and fuel demands for him to go. One G-7 official, who had seen Biden up close, described him as a loose cannon in an unscripted setting, without the help of a teleprompter.

The people, who asked not to be identified discussing private assessments, said the octogenarian’s performance at the debate only exposed what they had witnessed for months, from a D-Day commemoration in France — where a frail-looking Biden was awkwardly trying to sit down while his wife and France’s Emmanuel Macron were standing up — to a Group of Seven summit in Italy, where viral social media clips showed him straying away from the group during a skydiving demonstration and needing to be guided back by Giorgia Meloni.

There is anger too at the small close-knit team that concealed the true state of his health, these officials say, and that it’s no longer possible to hide the fact that the president is a shadow of his former self and may not even be able to govern or set policies.

That age was taking its toll was simply no longer up for debate — in spite of forceful pushback from the White House about clips being cropped by conservative media that have it in for Biden. The reality is that in several summits, going back to a 2022 gathering in the Bavarian Alps, it was apparent that the president’s schedule was kept thin and his advancing years were being accounted and accommodated for in the planning.

One G-7 official at the Italy meeting said an air of worry hung in the room around his cognitive health. That was less than two weeks before the catastrophic campaign debate between Biden and Trump. Biden went on to blame jet lag and a grueling travel schedule for his performance.

Biden heads into a make-or-break weekend that could end his political career if the lapses keep multiplying. On July 4, in an interview with the Philadelphia WURD radio station, he flubbed again and seemed to mix himself up with Vice President Kamala Harris, who is emerging as a clear alternative to Biden and unlike some other potential Democrat contenders already has both a national and international profile.

A top official from a European country described Biden’s disastrous June 27 debate as the ending of a foretold film that few people wanted to see. The president is seen as a great guy, but obviously finished politically. The fear is that the road is now wide open for Trump — and even if Democrats were to find a replacement, it would come too late anyway, the person added.

In an ideal world, Europeans want a continuation of Biden’s “America’s Back” approach instead of the 45th president’s “America First” stance. But after watching Biden in last week’s debate, many officials are being less deferential and more open about how the protective bubble wrap around him has to be removed.

One senior NATO diplomat said US counterparts have acknowledged they can’t afford such moments from the president and their priority is to ensure the summit is not overshadowed by the spotlight on Biden — versus the issues many of them want to focus on, such as how to counter Russia’s aggression in Ukraine.

Allies were already uneasy about the prolonged Congressional fight over funding for Ukraine that delayed crucial military aid and opened the door to Russian battlefield advances.

And then there is the challenge of how to counter China’s growing clout. A person familiar with the French thinking said tensions between Washington and Beijing are likely to continue regardless of who wins the election, which would reverberate across the world and further harm EU-US trade ties.

One European official pointed also to the Supreme Court ruling that Trump has some immunity from criminal charges for trying to reverse the 2020 election results. The sense is the traditional system of checks and balances in the US is broken, the official said.

Ivo Daalder, the former US ambassador to NATO, pointed to a moment in last week’s debate that was largely overlooked at home but jolted US allies: When Biden asked Trump if he’d defend a NATO country against Russian President Vladimir Putin, Trump responded with a shrug.

“That’s not a comforting answer for countries who have, for 75 years, depended on America’s security commitment to their defense as core to their security,” Daalder said in an interview.

--With assistance from Iain Marlow, Courtney McBride, Josh Wingrove and Simone Iglesias.

(Adds throughout thinking from more officials in 8th, 12th and penultimate paragraph.)

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