Joe Biden: America’s ‘Last Politician’
This week, the book “The Last Politician,” authored by Franklin Foer, sheds light on President Biden’s first two years in power and his approach to domestic and foreign crises. Foer, who had relatively broad access to White House officials, emphasizes that Biden is the exact opposite of “anti-politician” figures like Obama and Trump, lacking Washington experience. With extensive Senate experience, Biden is a persistent politician who seeks compromise with his political rivals, standing against the prevailing notion of viewing Washington politics as something negative. In American politics, where politicians who promised to “drain the Washington swamp” have often gained an advantage, Biden stands out as one of the recent politicians demonstrating that classic compromise politics can be successful.
Aware that the American people elected him because they expected him to “beat the virus,” Biden, upon taking office, focused on the distribution of Covid-19 vaccines and managing the pandemic’s economic impact. His primary challenge was distributing the vaccines, which were rapidly developed with 3-4 billion dollars of incentives given to the private sector during the Trump era. By keeping expectations low and thus minimizing the risk of failure, Biden adopted a strategy that prioritized effectiveness. While the Trump administration demonstrated courage in taking significant steps, it lacked competence and organization when it came to implementation. As a result, Biden’s administration managed to provide access to vaccines for the American people within a few months.
With the advantage of a majority in Congress, Biden had the opportunity to pass a $1.9 trillion spending package. Despite warnings of inflation, he drew lessons from the Obama era and believed that, despite the risk of inflation, significant spending was necessary to quickly provide employment to millions who lost their jobs due to the pandemic. Furthermore, Biden aimed not only to combat the pandemic’s effects but also to take steps to transform the American economy and address climate change.
Operating in a mode resembling a “war mobilization” regarding the fight against Covid-19 and the economic package, Biden also found himself managing two classic wars. Promising to bring an end to the longest war in American history, Biden was always one of the most skeptical politicians regarding Afghanistan. Relying on his extensive foreign policy experience, Biden did not have much trust in the analyses of foreign policy experts and military personnel regarding Afghanistan. The fact that these sectors repeatedly offered proposals to stay in Afghanistan a little longer was one of the issues that bothered Biden. In one interesting anecdote in the book, when Putin asked, “Why did you leave Afghanistan?” Biden responded, “Why did you leave (Afghanistan)?” He believed that this country was an “imperial graveyard” and that nation-building efforts in this region were futile.
The book analyzes Biden as a practical leader who understands his counterpart’s political dilemmas and tries to achieve results through empathy in his relationships with leaders such as Putin, Xi, Netanyahu, Erdogan, Zelensky, and Ghani. Despite being deeply disturbed by the media’s amplification of the chaos during the withdrawal process from Afghanistan, Biden never doubted his decision. Known for his personal diplomacy and greater respect for more experienced leaders, Biden is unafraid to speak openly and often makes gaffes as a result. Despite the need to clarify his statement that “this guy can’t stay in power” regarding Putin, Biden does not hesitate to shower his counterparts with compliments during one-on-one meetings. Viewing this as a requirement of old-school politics, Biden demonstrates significant diplomatic skills by being aware of the political needs of his counterpart.
After receiving intelligence about Russia’s invasion of Ukraine, Washington’s struggle to persuade its European allies, Ukrainian President Zelensky’s swift request for NATO membership, and his attempts to pressure Washington through the media have been prominent developments that have unsettled President Biden on the Ukraine issue. However, despite these challenges, Biden’s effective relationship with his former colleagues in Congress, where he managed to secure $50 billion in aid for Ukraine during the first eight months of the occupation, has played a significant role. The opportunity to address the image of American weakness created by the chaotic withdrawal from Afghanistan, along with the invasion of Ukraine, allows Biden to demonstrate that a return to Western alliance leadership is not an empty promise.
Foer’s book generally gives Biden a favorable review, without taking a critical stance on issues such as the pandemic, revitalizing the economy, midterm elections, the withdrawal from Afghanistan, and the Ukraine crisis. Foer notes that Biden is a leader who has consistently been underestimated, and due to his awareness of this, he is a sensitive politician. Biden stands out as a leader who constantly seeks compromise with rivals and adversaries, emphasizing his low expectations. Despite his accomplishments in the first two years, it’s a significant paradox that his popularity is so low. These days, with polls showing Biden neck and neck with Trump, perhaps his biggest challenge, as stated in the book’s title, is being the “last politician.” Whether the American people will choose Biden, who seeks results by operating the system competently, or an candidate like Trump who promises to dismantle that system, remains to be seen.