Foreign diplomats express horror at Biden's disappointing debate performance


President Joe Biden's disappointing performance in the CNN presidential debate against former President Donald Trump reverberated around the world, with foreign diplomats expressing surprise and concern as well as raising questions about the consequences of the U.S. election, which could overturn the foreign policy status quo if Trump is re-elected.

Several foreign diplomats speaking to CNN described Thursday night's debate between Biden and Trump as “tough to watch.”

Of more than a half-dozen diplomats from Europe, the Middle East and Asia that CNN spoke to, one European diplomat said it was “a bad night for Biden.”

“It's a sad truth that Biden is old and he's getting older. We've seen that. I had a hard time understanding what he was saying, even though I understand English very well,” a second European diplomat said.

“Trump ate him alive,” said one Arab diplomat.

One Asian diplomat said of Biden's performance, “I was stunned. I couldn't believe my eyes.”

Biden's debate fiasco was front-page news across Europe, with left-wing and right-wing newspapers criticising the president – even in France, which goes to the polls this weekend.

The president's debate performance exacerbated already obvious concerns about the policies Trump would implement if he wins in November. Trump on Thursday once again displayed his isolationist tendencies and NATO-skeptical worldview that often worried U.S. allies during his first presidential term. In the debate, Trump questioned Russia's continued funding of Ukraine's war against Russia and falsely claimed that the U.S. had given Ukraine more aid than all other European countries combined.

Trump even said he had spoken to Russian President Vladimir Putin about his “dream” of invading Ukraine. He also attacked Biden over the withdrawal from Afghanistan and argued that this was the reason Putin invaded Ukraine in 2022.

“When Putin saw that, he said, you know, I think we'll go in and maybe I – that was his dream. I talked to him about that, about his dream. The difference is he never invaded Ukraine. Never,” Trump said.

A Ukrainian politician told CNN he found Trump's statement on the war in Ukraine “worrying”.

“We are very concerned because we more or less understand what it means for Ukraine, (a) Biden presidency, and we don't really know what it means for Ukraine, a Trump presidency,” Oleksiy Goncharenko told CNN. “It could be very good, it could be very bad. We just don't know. And that's of course worrying.”

Biden's performance on Thursday did not lead diplomats who spoke to CNN to question his ability to serve as commander in chief at this time, with many saying he has a good team working with him. But it did lead some to question how the Democratic Party would handle the issue.

Polish Foreign Minister Radek Sikorski wrote on social media that Biden must now responsibly manage succession planning.

“Marcus Aurelius was a great emperor, but he messed up his succession by giving the position to his son Commudos (that is, from Gladiator), whose disastrous role initiated the fall of Rome. Managing his ride into the sunset is important,” he wrote.

Another Polish diplomat also spoke out, calling Biden’s performance “a catastrophe, a car crash.”

After the debate, it wasn’t just Democrats who were pondering the possibility of replacing Biden for November — foreign diplomats were also wondering whether Democrats might turn to Plan B.

“If they can change horses, they should do so,” said a second European diplomat. “If it were possible to call the governor of California and say to Biden, ‘You go and I’ll get out,’ that would be the right thing to do.”

But like many Americans, diplomats woke up Friday uncertain about what could be done.

“There are several options that are being discussed, but we don't see any that is self-evident,” the first European diplomat said.

Some of them are reaching out to US contacts to find out whether the Democrats are moving ahead of Biden.

“Some US contacts say there was always debate about replacing Biden, but now the doubts have come out in the open. The roof is on fire,” said a third European diplomat. “I'm told that if the Democrats do it, they will have to go with Kamala (Harris), because they can't ignore a black woman vice president, but they wonder what effect that will have on their base. They think they could still lose.”

Diplomats were not surprised by Trump’s comments on foreign policy during the debate — one called it “the same recipe as always” — but they also said they were even more concerned about his lack of commitment to Ukraine and what that could mean for European security.

“Trump has certainly won this election. His worldview is problematic. So Trump is not good for those who believe in a rules-based order,” said one NATO official. “Rules mean predictability, so Trump means unpredictability. He could go soft on Russia – he has a penchant for hobnobbing with powerful people. He could also double down on supporting (Ukrainian President Volodymyr) Zelensky. The problem is there is no strategy, it all seems to be done on impulse.”

Other diplomats also said Trump's comments on the Israel–Hamas war would hurt his image among Arab American voters.

“When he called Biden a Palestinian, it was wrong. It was an insult to the Palestinians — he lost Arab voters,” the Arab diplomat said. “He could have said in many other ways that he is a big supporter of Israel.”

Still, despite Trump's emphasis on long-term issues, there was genuine surprise and concern about Biden's performance and its impact on his prospects in November.

The diplomatic response was echoed by the British media. In an unusual unanimity, the usually sober Financial Times declared, “Democrats have panicked,” and the indomitable tabloid, famous for its scathing criticism, also joined the chorus — “Joe ‘Mattosed,’” Britain’s most popular tabloid The Sun declared. Another outlet, the left-wing Guardian, also said, “Biden bombed.”

Biden's stumbles on the Atlanta debate stage shocked the entire continent. His halting, confused comments were heard on Europe's morning radio stations.

No country has been immune from concern about Biden’s performance. Even in France, which faces its own surprise election this weekend where President Emmanuel Macron’s coalition faces a challenge from the far-right, newspapers took time to lament the frailties of a man who visited the country just a few weeks ago.

The ubiquitous left-wing Le Monde declared: “An old, tired, absent Biden: how the debates against Trump turned into a disaster.”

Indeed, waves of concern were rising around the Mediterranean, with headlines ranging from Greece’s To Vima, “Time for Biden to quit the race,” to Italy’s Ansa and La Repubblica suggesting that Democrats were “looking for an alternative.” Questions about Biden’s withdrawal ranged from a 2013 headline.

But while much of Europe's media was shocked, Russia's media was positively delighted. Moscow's state TV station, Russia 1, mocked Biden's debate performance.

The show's presenter, Olga Skabeeva, laughingly congratulated him for not falling, then criticised him for remaining still for 20 seconds and said she was having trouble remembering who and where he was.

Putin's spokesman said the Russian leader did not stay long enough to watch the debate and that it was “not on the list of main issues on (Putin's) agenda.”

However, it seems reasonable to assume that he will now pick up the pace on the matter, even if it is all through the unfriendly filter of his own media.

The parody of Biden on Russian TV immediately after the debate likely reflects the Russian president's mood, possibly also emboldened by the fact that Trump, who has criticized NATO, hinted at cutting funding to Ukraine and said peace would be established in Ukraine before the end of the year.

Behind closed doors, Europe's leaders will no doubt be focusing less on the shortcomings and failings of Biden's performance and more on the substance of what they have heard. After all, many of them met Biden at the G7 summit in Italy two weeks ago, so his weakness was perhaps no surprise.

On both days at the luxury resort hotel in southern Italy’s opulent Puglia region, Biden kept them waiting for up to half an hour, arriving late for no apparent reason and, even then, at times looking slightly uneasy.

Trump’s return is the last thing most European leaders want, as the world is far more dangerous than it was when he left office.

Leave a Comment

“The Untold Story: Yung Miami’s Response to Jimmy Butler’s Advances During an NBA Playoff Game” “Unveiling the Secrets: 15 Astonishing Facts About the PGA Championship”