President Joe Biden turned up almost three hours late to his Nato press conference tonight. He offered no apology, because, well, why should he? He then gave a short speech. It was adequate enough, albeit predictable and rigid — read as it was almost entirely from a teleprompter. It wouldn’t be Biden if he didn’t open with a gaffe, though. He managed to stumble early by saying ‘we’re still averaging in the last seven days the loss of 300 deaths per day.’
In answer to a press question about Putin, he said ‘I’ll be happy to discuss with you when it’s over, not before, about what the discussion will entail’. That didn’t make much sense. He successfully quoted Benjamin Disraeli and said ‘the proof will be in the pudding’ without jumbling the words. But it was another flat and deeply uninspiring performance from a president who looks bored and sounds listless on the world stage. ‘America is back,’ he keeps saying. ‘Diplomacy is back.’ But it isn’t very impressive. The G7 summit last weekend came and went, as it always does, with lots of big talk and no great breakthroughs.
It cost the British government more than $5 million to expand the runway tarmac at Newquay airport in Cornwall so that Biden could land at last week’s G7 summit. Who are we to criticize such largesse — diplomacy is infrastructure, too. In these spending days of magic-money make-believe, what’s another few million here or there? Still, cynical people might wonder what — beyond local economy stimulation — people gained from Biden and the other world leaders’ hellaciously expensive trip to the Cornish seaside. The total bill for the 2013 G8 meeting in Northern Ireland came to around $127 million, but at least the then Commander-in-Chief, Barack Obama, was able to give one or two of those pretty speeches he did so well.
There’s nothing pretty about a Joe Biden address. We all know that he has a speech-impediment. It is to his great credit that, as a young man, through hard work and grit, he turned himself into a half-decent speaker. At times in his career he has given powerful and moving addresses. But he’s not young any more — and his public performances are less and less convincing. Nastier right-wingers like to call his speeches ‘CAR CRASH’ as they share clips of the most cringe-inducing moments. But the most disheartening thing about Biden’s speeches is not that they are ‘disastrous’ — just that they are mediocre, sad and flat. He mumbles and fumbles and rambles; he umms and errs, he seems lost in his own mind. He is the president of platitudes, delivered badly and without conviction. He sounds bored and he makes awkward errors.
Yesterday at the G7, Biden called COVAX, the global vaccine rollout scheme, ‘The COVID project.’ He added: ‘I know you all know but a lot of people may not know what COVID is.’ He talked about ‘enfueling infrastructure’. He said ‘the bottom line is’ repeatedly as his notes bottomed out. Then came a tame question-and-answer session. He waffled harmlessly through, before he got unstuck towards the end talking about sanctions on Russia.
He said: ‘I shouldn’t be starting off in negotiating in public here, but let me say it this way. Russia has engaged in activities which we believe are contrary to international norms, but they have also bitten off some real problems they’re going to have trouble chewing on. For example, the rebuilding of Syria, of Libya. They’re there. And as long as they’re there without the ability to bring about some order in the region and you can’t do that very well without providing for the basic economic needs of people, so I’m hopeful that we can find an accommodation that where we can save the lives of people, for example, in Libya, consistent with the interest of, maybe for different reasons, but reaching for the same result.’
Hmmm. Did he mean Libya? Was he confusing Libya and Syria? Who knows?
Then came that last, niggly additional question. ‘I’m going to get in trouble with my staff,’ Biden said, repeating a joke he’d already made. ‘Yeah, go ahead. But I can pretend that I didn’t answer you.’
Well, he didn’t answer it. Asked about the continuation of Trump-era steel tariffs, the President leaned into the microphone and said: ‘Hundred and 20 days, give me a break. Need time.’ He meant it to be endearing but sounded irate — a recurring theme in his presidency so far.