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The Biden Miracle

On the global stage, he may just rise from the rank of a ‘caretaker’ president to one of the greats

by
Bernard-Henri Lévy
October 21, 2022
Saul Loeb/AFP via Getty Image
Saul Loeb/AFP via Getty Image

There is a Zelensky miracle.

But maybe there is also a Biden miracle.

The 46th president of the United States was said to be barely hanging on.

He was described as one of the architects of the fatal strategy of “leading from behind” by the man for whom he served as a dull second, Barack Obama.

He showed no reservations when his leader, after having declared the use of chemical weapons a red line for Damascus, renounced hitting Bashar Assad, who had on Aug. 28, 2013, clearly crossed that line.

He was a partisan cheerleader for the Iran nuclear deal.

At the evacuation of Kabul and, before that, during the still disgraceful partial retreat of American forces out of Syrian Kurdistan, he out-Trumped Trump with the most rancid of America First isolationism, rebranded as progressivism.

And, in the Ukrainian crisis, in the weeks before the invasion (when he behaved like a little telegraphist from some random press agency announcing the catastrophe without commenting on how it might be avoided or responded to) just as in the weeks that followed (when his first reflex was to propose exfiltration, to which the young Ukrainian Churchill responded with the magnificent “I need ammunition, not a ride”), the line remained the same, and all signs pointed to the empire, once again, retreating before the five kings: Russia, China, Iran, Turkey, and Sunni radical Islamism.

But then, what happened?

What vibrated in this man when, at the end of March, in Poland, after a short encounter with refugees from Lviv, he called out Vladimir Putin, correctly labeled him a “butcher” and intoned “for the love of God” this man should “not remain in power”?

And how did this politician who we thought cynical, protected from his own emotions, and having lost the grand Virgilian ambition that was always at the heart of American exceptionalism, find the Rooseveltian accents to lead the free world in supporting a martyred but soon-to-be triumphant Ukraine?

But there you have it.

Overnight, his weapons factories returned to being the arsenal of an attacked democracy.

The military aid provided so far is already approaching a record—never seen, in this short amount of time, in any conflict—of some $20 billion.

The United States—like Macron in France and Johnson in the U.K.—was not intimidated by the blackmail, nuclear or otherwise, that the master of the Kremlin and his magi attempted.

America is back.

It’s America, not the Kremlin, that wants to go all the way.

And now, as Kyiv is bombarded again, insulted, martyred, America seems to be seriously considering designating Russia a terrorist state.

Let’s suppose that this state of mind persists.

Let’s suppose that President Biden doesn’t fall, even after the midterms, for any of the traps that his adversary will set for him by proposing “negotiations” whose only goal would be to regroup and take a breath.

Let’s suppose that he relearns, unlike his predecessor, to count to two; that he remembers that America has the means to have more than one enemy, even redoubtable ones, at the same time; and let’s suppose that, recalling a Machiavellian principle (the best way to beat multiple enemies is to deal with them simultaneously, not one at a time as Livy thought in his account of the Horatii and Curiatii), he understands that, yes, he will never confront Russia better than by facing China.

Let’s hope that his recent statements on the threat of a nuclear Pakistan, that black hole of American alliances since at least the murder of Daniel Pearl, are serious.

Let’s hope that his words last Saturday—about the courage of “the brave women of Iran” who “stunned” him and “awakened,” in their country, “something” that won’t “be quieted” for a long time—are more than words, and let’s suppose that he finishes once and for all with these discussions over a nuclear Iran, which will never do anything except sell to a thug state not the rope to hang us but the bomb to vitrify us.

And let’s pray that, on this point as on others, he continues to resist the strong current of wokeness that, on the fringes of his own party, make him say the veil is a piece of clothing like any other and that only an incorrigible neo-imperialist can demand to meddle in the domestic affairs of a corrupt and incredulous clique of mullahs shooting women on sight for the crime of showing their faces.

Joe Biden will then have conjured all of Thucydides’ traps.

He will be, in the coming Persian world war, Themistocles and Miltiades the Younger, victors in Salamis and Marathon, rather than Demetrius, Aristides, or Eurybiades, the defeatists of the era.

He will have forced the hand of destiny, renewed ties with the best of his country’s Manifest Destiny and, through one of those reversals of history that shape exceptional men, he will have become a great American president.

Translated from the French by Matthew Fishbane.

Click here to attend a Q&A with the author and screening of his film, ‘Why Ukraine,’ on Thursday, Oct. 27, at 6 p.m. at the United Nations headquarters in New York City. Attendance is free.

Bernard-Henri Lévy is a philosopher, activist, filmmaker, and author of more than 30 books including The Genius of Judaism, American Vertigo, Barbarism with a Human Face, Who Killed Daniel Pearl?, and The Empire and the Five Kings. His new book, The Will to See: Dispatches from a World of Misery and Hope, was published on October 25, 2021 by Yale University Press.

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