The Media Said Trump Would Unleash Global Chaos. It Happened Under Biden’s ‘Steady Hand’ Instead

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February 15, 2024

War is roiling the Middle East, America's enemies are emboldened, and our allies doubt our competence and commitment. This is the world the media expected under former president Donald Trump. Instead, it's the foreign policy record on which President Joe Biden is running for reelection.

Flashback: Well before Trump took office, news outlets started predicting the international order would not survive his presidency. He was too chummy with dictators and too mean to Europeans and the United Nations, they said. He doesn't listen to the experts, they gasped. Didn't he understand Iran and the Palestinians had to be appeased? A nuclear World War III was said to be just around the corner.

"Hillary Clinton Is Right: Donald Trump Threatens World War III": Daily Beast, July 29, 2016:

Will a President Trump allow Russia—still a serious threat to world peace even after the demise of communism—to gobble up not just Crimea and eastern Ukraine but the Baltic states? This would threaten a confrontation with Western Europe much as Adolf Hitler’s demand for "breathing room" in Czechoslovakia and other states kicked off World War II.

"Is This the Start of World War III? That's What People Are Worried About": USA Today, April 17, 2017:

President Trump ordered a missile launch against Syria on Friday, in response to a chemical weapons attack.

And some are wondering (seriously and with memes) whether this is the start of World War III.

"How US and North Korea Could Stumble Into World War III": Politico, Jan. 6, 2018:

The threats that Trump and Kim [Jong Un, the leader of North Korea] are lobbing add unnecessary fuel to an already dicey situation, say those with direct experience managing the U.S. nuclear arsenal.

"World Holds Breath for Trump’s Iran Deal Decision": CNN, May 8, 2018:

President Donald Trump on Tuesday can land his most devastating blow yet on the legacy of Barack Obama, but a move to pull out of the Iran nuclear deal could also spark a dangerous global crisis. ...

It gives him the chance to cement his "America First" philosophy but risks triggering unknowable consequences that in a worst case scenario could lead to war with Iran.

"Will Trump Be Meeting With His Counterpart—Or His Handler?": New York Magazine, July 9, 2018:

As Trump arranges to meet face-to-face and privately with [Russian president] Vladimir Putin later this month, the collusion between the two men metastasizing from a dark accusation into an open alliance, it would be dangerous not to consider the possibility that the summit is less a negotiation between two heads of state than a meeting between a Russian-intelligence asset and his handler. ...

More recently, as Trump has slipped the fetters that shackled him in his first year in office, his growing confidence and independence have been expressed in a series of notably Russophilic moves.

"Trump Isn’t a Climate Denier. He’s Worse": Atlantic, Nov. 5, 2019:

The president is withdrawing the U.S. from the Paris Agreement on climate change because he just can’t quit carbon. ...

If the United States is not among those governments [who decide the carbon age is over], then American banks—whose wealth is deeply bound to fossil fuels—will suffer a sudden revaluation. And the mighty dollar, that last guarantor of American power, will go up in carbonism’s flame.

"Trump Plunges Toward the Kind of Middle Eastern Conflict He Pledged To Avoid": Washington Post, Jan. 4, 2020:

With a single momentous decision to authorize a drone strike killing a top Iranian commander in Baghdad, President Trump immediately thrust himself into the center of a volatile and unpredictable region—taking his presidency into just the kind of foreign entanglement he pledged to avoid.

Trump followed early Friday’s targeted strike on Maj. Gen. Qasem Soleimani—the leader of Iran’s special operations forces abroad—with a decision to send an additional 3,500 soldiers to the Middle East to respond to the heightened tensions.

Coming in quick succession, the drone strike and troop deployment cast Trump as a pivotal figure in what could be the United States’ next military conflict with a foreign power.

Some of the media’s most dramatic Trump foreign policy scandals never actually happened. In 2020, the New York Times and others went wild with leaks alleging that Trump was letting Russia get away with putting bounties on the heads of U.S. troops in Afghanistan. Only months later, after Biden was in the Oval Office, did U.S. intelligence walk back the claims.

Nor did Trump trigger a nuclear holocaust. In fact, his much-maligned policies coincided with a historic peace and relative quiet even in the Middle East.

Still, journalists breathed an audible sigh of relief after Biden's election in 2020: The world was sure to be stabilized by Biden's "steady hand."

"Analysis: Biden Prioritizes Experience With Cabinet Picks": Associated Press, Nov. 25, 2020:

Competence is making a comeback. ...

[President Joe] Biden has rolled out a team of careerists with bursting resumes and little need of a learning curve. ...

"Experience" is indeed the coin of the realm on Biden’s burgeoning team.

"'America Is Back'—Biden Touts Muscular Foreign Policy in First Diplomatic Speech": Reuters, Feb. 4, 2021:

After a Trump-inspired mob attacked the U.S. Capitol on Jan. 6, protesting Biden’s election win, foreign allies and rivals alike expressed doubts about the health of American democracy.

Biden's speech on Thursday was a full-throated attempt to vanquish those doubts, and convince Americans of the value of a forceful international approach.

"Under Biden, Diplomacy Is an Attractive Career Again": New York Times, March 27, 2021:

Joel Hellman, the dean of Georgetown University’s Edmund A. Walsh School of Foreign Service, said that the excitement was also trickling to academic programs that train future diplomats. ...

"It’s absolutely striking," Mr. Hellman said in an interview. "I think there is a sense that America is back."

"Biden Sees 'Genuine Opportunity' for Israeli-Palestinian Peace. Could It Actually Happen?": NBC News, May 22, 2021:

President Joe Biden said that he believes there is "a genuine opportunity to make progress" toward Israelis and Palestinians living in peace. ...

Some experts see glimmers of hope this time, however.

Biden and his team are viewed by many internationally as more competent and even-handed than their predecessors in the Trump administration ...

"Joe Biden’s Message to Vladimir Putin? The Adults Are Back in Charge.": CNN, June 16, 2021:

While Biden didn’t seek to fully explain what it was he came to do, the evidence was everywhere in his answers: Make clear that the traveling circus of the Trump presidency was over–and that the adults were back in charge. ...

Nuts and bolts. Pragmatism over pomp. Total frankness over Trumpism.

"Leave Joe Biden Alone": Atlantic, June 14, 2022:

Oh, and by the way: He’s also managed (so far) to head off World War III and a possible nuclear conflict. We seem to forget that this is Job One for every American president, but while we’re griping about the gas prices (over which Biden also has no control), the Russians are replaying the Eastern Front against 40 million Ukrainians and also threatening NATO. It’s been reassuring to have a steady hand in charge of our foreign policy.

In reality, Biden's botched withdrawal from Afghanistan in 2021 kicked off a series of destabilizing world events—from Russia's invasion of Ukraine in 2022 to Iran-fueled conflict across the Middle East that has already killed American troops. The media knew who to blame.

"Biden Says 'America Is Back,' But 'America First' Has Haunted His First 100 Days": CNN, April 28, 2021:

The first 100 days of an American presidency is as much about setting a tone as it is about getting things done. In President Joe Biden’s case, his message to the world has been loud and clear: Donald Trump’s "America First" isolationism is over. "America is back. Diplomacy is back," Biden proclaimed in his first foreign policy speech in February.

But the specter of Trump is already haunting Biden’s mission to reengage with the world and lead it once again. ...

"A Biden Administration Review of the Afghanistan Withdrawal Blames Trump": NPR, April 6, 2023:

President Biden's White House is blaming the "conditions created by his predecessor" for the way the U.S. ended its more-than-two-decade-long military presence in Afghanistan in 2021.

"Behind Biden’s Middle East Crises Is the Long Tail of Trump’s Legacy": Washington Post, Jan. 31, 2024:

"Iran was not dissuaded from pursuing its nuclear quest—quite the contrary," wrote Le Monde columnist Gilles Paris this week, referring to Trump’s legacy in the region. "America’s word has been devalued, which partly explains the inability of Biden’s administration to re-engage with Tehran ..."

With Trump once again running to be president in 2024, the worst could be yet to come.

"Donald Trump Poses the Biggest Danger to the World in 2024": Economist, Nov. 16, 2023:

Yet a Trump victory next year would also have a profound effect abroad. China and its friends would rejoice over the evidence that American democracy is dysfunctional. ... The global south would be confirmed in its suspicion that American appeals to do what is right are really just an exercise in hypocrisy.

"Trump Would Install Loyalists to Reshape US Foreign Policy on China, NATO, and Ukraine": Reuters, Dec. 18, 2023:

Donald Trump in a second term would likely install loyalists in key positions in the Pentagon, State Department, and CIA whose primary allegiance would be to him, allowing him more freedom than in his first presidency to enact isolationist policies and whims, nearly 20 current and former aides and diplomats said.

"For Europe and NATO, a Russian Invasion Is No Longer Unthinkable": New York Times, Jan. 30, 2024:

Now, with the rise of former President Donald J. Trump, who in the past has vowed to leave NATO and recently threatened never to come to the aid of his alliance allies, concerns are rising among European nations that Mr. Putin could invade a NATO nation over the coming decade and that they might have to face his forces without U.S. support.