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Friday, August 19, 2022

OPINION:

Wish as they may that President Joe Biden could leverage the powers of King Midas – best known from Greek mythology for turning everything he touched to gold –Democratic campaign operatives gearing up for 2024 are likely to concede that the president’s failures make him a flawed candidate.

The latest polling by Gallup finds that just 38% of respondents are satisfied with Biden’s performance, an all-time low for the nearly octogenarian president. In July, just 13% of Americans “strongly” approved of Mr. Biden’s performance, with 45% “strongly” expressing disapproval.


Even Donald Trump and Jimmy Carter, hardly standard bearers for successful statesmen, were higher at this point in their respective terms in office.

And it’s not just Republicans that are dismayed, a recent nationwide New York Times/Siena College poll found that 64% of Democratic voters said they would rather support а candidate other than Biden.

Similarly, a July CNN poll “found that 75% of Democratic voters want their party to nominate someone other than Biden to the presidency in 2024.”Independents too, an essential constituency in battleground swing states, report strong 43% disapproval ratings, according to Gallup.

Americans, it seems, are less enthused with Biden’s legislative accomplishments, and more troubled by his repeated stumbles.

The Inflation Reduction Act, newly passed by the Senate and signed into law this week, was pitched by Democrats as a “historic down payment on deficit reduction to fight inflation.” In actuality, the law authorizes massive entitlement spending on climate and health care initiatives, measures necessitating new taxes to offset spending.

Many Americans perceive these as mortgages on America’s future, not investments – and a sizable number are dissatisfied with the leadership they are witnessing from 1600 Pennsylvania Avenue.

How did it go so wrong?

The U.S. withdrawal from Afghanistan in the summer of 2021 may have been a turning point for the Biden presidency.

“Every president has a crisis early in their terms. For the Biden administration, it was the start of a sort of litany of things that didn’t go as well as they would have drawn up on the whiteboard,” observes John Gans, a former Pentagon official.

On the domestic front, an energy crisis, rampant inflation, and persistent economic stagnation sparked a sustained fiscal panic across the nation. Then a colossal spike in gasoline prices exacted a costly toll on American families – signaling economic failure from coast to coast.

Mr. Biden’s trip to Riyadh in July 2022 could have easily been mistaken as an effort to shore up U.S. foreign policy with Gulf states. But the visit was also intended to facilitate an end to America’s domestic crisis at the gas pump.

Instead, it resulted in a fiasco when the administration failed to secure Saudi output increases, and global crude prices soared. The Kingdom’s unwillingness to cave to Washington’s insistence that it increase crude supply to world markets was hardly a surprise to those who track the Middle East.

The Kingdom did increase production, but only by a paltry 220,000 barrels per day – a clear indication that Biden was ill-equipped for Riyadh’s savvy petroleum politics.

And optimistic spinning by White House officials dispatched to defend the administration’s policies on weekend cable shows aside, GDP fell during the two first quarters of 2022 – the standard rule of thumb definition for a recession by most economist’s standards.

Turning to foreign policy, former Deputy Director of CIA for Counterintelligence Mark Kelton, a 34-year veteran of intelligence operations, recently suggested that the biggest winner in Ukraine is Beijing as NATO failed to stop the Russian meatgrinder in Ukraine despite the harsh Biden sanctions policies.

Not even Western economic firepower seems to be working for Mr. Biden, with one Guardian analyst declaring that “the {Russian} ruble is soaring and Putin is stronger than ever – our sanctions have backfired.”

To be clear, the U.S. sanctions may eventually harm Russia’s economy and compel action by oligarchs with the most to lose. But let’s face it: Most Russians support Putin’s war, despite their personal losses and general dissatisfaction.

If Mr. Biden’s goal was to topple Mr. Putin or at least raise the stakes on Moscow to facilitate a pullout from Ukraine, the opposite has happened: Russian elites have rallied around their hardline leader, and are hunkering down for a long fight with Western powers.

Moreover, the expulsion of Russian businesses, artists, scientists, and other elites from the West has made ordinary Russians more dependent on the Kremlin.

Another beneficiary will be Iran. The growing cooperation between Russia and China – and correspondingly between Russia and Iran, including a recent deal to sell the Kremlin 1,000 war drones – is cause for grave security concern. The Moscow-Beijing-Tehran nexus constitutes an authoritarian axis that is likely to consume U.S. attention for the long future.

Tehran’s mullahs continue to leverage their participation in negotiations over nuclear matters while playing to Team Biden’s soft spot for a return to the failed Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action (JCPOA). That they are doing so with a goal of sneaking towards nuclear breakout – and as the Islamic Republic engages in assassination plots targeting prominent U.S. officials – seems to be lost on the administration.

Republicans have a strong hand to play as they square up to do battle for Congress in November 2022, and ready themselves for a presidential contest in 2024. It would be a mistake to breathe life into “deep state” conspiracy theories or rally around a former president under siege at Mar-a-Lago.

Republicans don’t need a nominee with a Midas touch. But Americans won’t turn one down.

  • Prof. Ivan Sascha Sheehan is the executive director of the School of Public and International Affairs at the University of Baltimore. Opinions expressed are his own. Follow him on Twitter @ProfSheehan


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