Biden addresses the U.N.

Reactions to his speech were not positive.
Isaac Saul Sep 22, 2021
I’m Isaac Saul, and this is Tangle: an independent, ad-free, subscriber-supported politics newsletter that summarizes the best arguments from across the political spectrum on the news of the day — then “my take.” First time reading? Sign up here. Would you rather listen? You can find our podcast here.

Today's read: 11 minutes.

Biden's address at the U.N. Plus, a question from a teacher in Quakertown, PA.


Quick hits.

  1. House Democratic leaders will not delay a Sept. 27 vote on the $1.2 trillion infrastructure bill, despite the larger reconciliation package not being ready. That means the two bills will no longer be moving through Congress together. (The vote)
  2. Former President George W. Bush is planning to campaign for Rep. Liz Cheney (R-WY) as she faces a Trump-endorsed Republican in the 2022 midterms. (The appearance)
  3. Johnson & Johnson says a booster shot following its single-dose vaccine increases protection against Covid-19. (The boost)
  4. Democrats pulled $1 billion in funding for Israel's Iron Dome missile defense system after progressives threatened to vote against a stopgap funding bill if the money wasn't removed. (The funding)
  5. Thousands of Haitian migrants in Texas are being released into the United States with notices to appear at an immigration office within 60 days. (The release)

Today's topic.

The U.N. General Assembly. Yesterday morning, President Joe Biden delivered his first-ever speech to the U.N. General Assembly, a gathering of leaders from across the world. You can read a transcript of his remarks here.

In the address, President Biden focused on Covid-19, climate change, emerging technologies and defending human rights. He reinforced the United States' commitment to keeping nuclear weapons from Iran and out of the Korean peninsula, as well as our commitment to defending the state of Israel and pushing for a two-state solution. He issued warnings to nations like China for their human rights violations while also calling on global leaders to lean into diplomacy instead of armed conflict.

"Instead of continuing to fight the wars of the past, we are fixing our eyes on devoting our resources to the challenges that hold the keys to our collective future: ending this pandemic; addressing the climate crisis; managing the shifts in global power dynamics; shaping the rules of the world on vital issues like trade, cyber and emerging technologies; and facing the threat of terrorism as it stands today," Biden said. "We've ended 20 years of conflict in Afghanistan. And as we close this period of relentless war, we're opening a new era of relentless diplomacy; of using the power of our development aid to invest in new ways of lifting people up around the world; of renewing and defending democracy; of proving that no matter how challenging or how complex the problems we're going to face, government by and for the people is still the best way to deliver for all of our people."

"I stand here today, for the first time in 20 years, with the United States not at war," he added. "We've turned the page."

Below, we'll take a look at some reactions to his speech from the right and left, then my take.


What the left is saying.

The left was mostly critical of the speech, arguing that Biden's words have not matched his actions.

In Vox, Jen Kirby said Biden is "still trying to convince" the world America is back.

"Biden, since his 2020 campaign, has promised to deploy American leadership to help solve the world’s problems, and to do so alongside allies and partners," Kirby wrote. "He has repeatedly framed his presidency as a defense of democracy in a global struggle against authoritarianism... But that rhetoric has not always matched Biden’s foreign policy reality to date. For example, though Biden is raising the US refugee cap to 125,000 as of this fiscal year, in Afghanistan, tens of thousands of allies were likely still left behind, and the administration is deporting Haitians at the southern border and returning them to uncertain futures. The withdrawal from Afghanistan also raised questions among allies about whether the US did enough to consult with them, and the US’s new deal with the United Kingdom and Australia over nuclear submarines shows America is still flexing to counter China, while angering France, another close ally, in the process.

"At the same time, the US is debating whether to give out booster shots, which the World Health Organization has said should not be a priority because of unequal vaccine access around the world," Kirby said. "On climate change, Biden reiterated the emergency and repeated the US’s climate commitments under the Paris climate agreement. But actually achieving some of these goals requires real policy steps, and a lot of that depends on Congress. Right now the future seems uncertain for the Democrats’ big bill on climate, social spending, and more — and that could endanger the scaled-down bipartisan infrastructure and climate bill, too."

In The Washington Post, Max Boot criticized Biden for alleging that the U.S. is no longer at war and has turned the page.

"But have we really? That’s not what Biden himself said in a letter that he sent on June 8 to the leaders of the House and Senate in accordance with the War Powers Act... Most of these deployments are relatively small in scale, and the nature and extent of the operations remain classified," Boot said. "But Biden’s letter noted the presence of U.S. troops on counterterrorism missions in Iraq, Syria, Yemen, Jordan, Lebanon, Turkey, East Africa, Lake Chad and the Sahel region of Africa, and the Philippines.

"The biggest deployments are in Iraq, with about 2,500 U.S. troops, and Syria, with about 900 U.S. troops," Boot said. "The battle is much reduced from its peak, when the United States had tens of thousands of combat troops in Afghanistan and Iraq, but it hasn’t ended. As the U.S. military likes to say, the enemy gets a vote — and militant Islamist organizations are still fighting. So the United States and its allies are fighting back. That means that, contrary to what Biden said on Tuesday, we remain at war."

In The New Republic, Alex Shephard asked what the "Biden doctrine" actually is.

"The Biden administration was savaged for failing to communicate and coordinate with European allies on the withdrawal; similarly, the U.S. did not give France an advance warning that it would be replacing it as Australia’s go-to nuclear sub manufacturer," Shepherd said. "These communication problems could be chalked up to incompetence, a defining characteristic of the Trump era.

"If Biden’s speech at the United Nations had one theme it was simple: I am not Donald Trump," Shepherd said. "But there wasn’t much beneath the feel-good veneer. Biden offered little clarity as to his foreign policy priorities; some greater transparency might have been appropriate given his administration’s actions over the past six weeks. It’s still not clear why the Biden administration failed to consult with NATO allies on the Afghanistan withdrawal, for instance. The French submarine issue is sillier—and, it should be noted, is also being exploited by French president Emmanuel Macron for domestic political reasons (he has a tough election coming up)—but the failure to communicate with an ally over the matter is a head-scratcher."


What the right is saying.

The right was critical of Biden's speech, saying it put other nations' interests above America's and was divorced from reality.

The New York Post editorial board said Biden's "empty platitudes" won't fix his tattered global image.

"We’re 'rebuilding alliances,' he insisted, even as allies across the world are furious at being shut out of the planning that produced his disastrous withdrawal from Afghanistan," the board wrote. "And after France just withdrew its US ambassador in protest after Biden announced a security deal with Australia that sank a $66 billion plan for the French to sell Canberra 12 submarines. We’ve re-engaged with the World Health Organization, the prez also boasted — and never mind that organization’s cooperation with China’s COVID cover-up.

"'We’re back at the table,' he promised. In other words, US interests will again take a back seat to whatever the world body’s thugs and corruptocrats prefer. He even means to restore the Iran nuclear deal. No surprise there: Pretending that Iran’s terror-sponsoring regime will truly abandon its drive to become a nuclear power is no more absurd than Biden’s belief that the Taliban may run Afghanistan as a peace-loving, rights-honoring good global citizens."

In Fox News, James Carafano said the speech was "a guaranteed delight" to inept globalists.

"Suffused with promises of multinational cooperation, it addressed all of the standard progressive pet projects, from climate change to global equity, universal labor and environmental standards," Carafano said. "He even promised to 'build back the world better,' and open up the American ATM for still more foreign assistance for everybody. What Biden’s speech lacked was context on how America is actually leading. Among the more shocking statements, in the wake of his catastrophe in Afghanistan, was his declaration that America 'stands up for allies and friends.' Coming right after his administration abandoned 38 million Afghans to the mercies of the radical Taliban -- who have already started beheading children and torturing journalists – this was borderline laughable.

"Biden’s folly didn’t end with clueless references to Afghanistan, sadly," Carafano said. "He had the gall to talk about democracy for Cuba only weeks after abandoning the protesters, opting instead for policies that shore up the stability of its authoritarian regime. He declared he would help bring peace and democratic values to places like war-torn Yemen and Ethiopia, both examples of countries where Biden’s policies have so far only managed to make things worse."

The Wall Street Journal editorial board said "nowhere was Mr. Biden’s rhetoric more divorced from reality than on women and Afghanistan."

“In his speech he highlighted 'the expectations to which we will hold the Taliban when it comes to respecting universal human rights. We all must advocate for women—the rights of women and girls to use their full talents to contribute economically, politically, and socially.' Meanwhile in Kabul, the Associated Press reports: 'The Taliban expanded their interim Cabinet by naming more ministers and deputies on Tuesday, but failed to appoint any women, doubling down on a hard-line course.'

"This weekend the Taliban announced that girls would not be allowed to return to school," the board added. "All signs so far in Kabul are that the Islamist group is reverting to the same medieval approach to girls and women it enforced the last time it controlled the country. Perhaps the Administration thinks its well-meaning gender appeals can’t hurt. But the dissonance between the Administration’s words and its actions in abandoning Afghanistan to the Taliban discredits its liberal humanitarian project."


My take.

I liked it!

That's right: I actually disagree with the prevailing reactions from pundits on both sides of this issue.

I had a press pass to the United Nations for a few years, and it is simultaneously one of the most interesting and most boring places on the planet. Spend a few hours walking down the halls and you're bound to bump into some of the most important and inspiring people on earth — presidents, prime ministers, children who’ve survived war, scientists charting the future of technology, activists fighting climate change. They're all there, and they all have a story.

But it's also predictable. We'll work together, we'll take on these challenges, we'll fight for peace (an expression worth mulling over), and on and on and on.

Some of that was there in Biden's speech; the usual platitudes that any 8th grader could write. These speeches are largely symbolic, though. It's never an honest account of what we've done — and this speech was no different. It is absurd to suggest the U.S. is no longer at war or has been a staunch defender of women's rights and human rights in the last year (see our inaction in China, the state of Afghanistan, etc.)

Instead, I like to think of these speeches as a State of the Union Address for the globe. A roadmap for what we hope to do and a statement of this administration’s mission. In that sense, Biden's speech was good — it was actually an intersection of traditional liberal globalism and the Trump-esque "America first" attitude that resonated with so many (including me).

Celebrating a nation that prioritizes diplomacy over war? Sign me up. Cheering for spending less on neverending interventions and more on solutions? Yup. Fighting climate change? Standing up to China? Refusing Iran or North Korea a nuclear bomb? Preparing to address the dangers of evolving technology? Yes, yes, yes and yes. All good things.

My mom once told me that in order to be a good partner in a relationship, you often need to prioritize yourself before you can give your full self to the person you're with. I thought of that today reading about this speech. Bad globalism is when we prioritize other nations over our well-being in service of the naive belief that our generosity will always be reciprocated. Good globalism is understanding that in 2021, the world is as connected as American citizens were 100 years ago. We can't fight a pandemic or humanitarian rights violations or climate change without global cooperation. Shoot, our stock market (and your retirement funds!) are now liable to be disrupted by what a Chinese real estate firm does.

Biden's speech may have been full of platitudes and fibs, even a few outright lies. He still has plenty of work to do on prioritizing himself (in this case, the United States’ domestic agenda). But he at least seemed to grasp the fact that our actions don’t happen in a vacuum, and we can’t accomplish any of these goals without help from other nation-states. Even if his actions aren't yet matching his words, in this day and age, I can at least appreciate some admirable goals.


Your questions, answered.

Q: I am a 9th grade American History teacher.  I was wondering if I could have your blessing to share some of your newsletters with my students.  I plan to collect some from a variety of topics over time and let them choose and analyze which one(s) interest them for an assignment.  I didn't want to just do it without asking if it was okay with you first.

— Matt, Quakertown, PA

Tangle: Okay, today's reader question is a little self-serving, but: Yes! Please!

I have been trying (and failing) to get Tangle in front of a younger audience. The single smallest demographic of Tangle readers is the under 18 age group, and it’s not close. I have more 80-year-olds reading Tangle than teenagers! In Tangle's early days, I used to offer a membership tier of $1,000 that was basically to generate seed money for the newsletter, and in return I promised to donate as many Tangle subscriptions as anyone wanted to a high school of their choice. It wasn’t pure altruism, either, as much as a win-win way to offer a perk to young readers and build our audience all at once. I’m still trying to grow that audience, so happy to allow younger readers to read for free.

If you have or are a teacher and work in a classroom with kids, just let me know and I can donate subscriptions. All I need are their emails. I'd love to have more young people reading and expanding their news bubbles, and it’s a good business decision for Tangle, especially if in 10 years they are loyal readers who started in high school and down the road can become paying subscribers. Win-win-win-win. So yes, go ahead, and the same offer goes for any other teachers reading this!


A story that matters.

Charter schools in the U.S. have picked off hundreds of thousands of students from public schools during the pandemic, according to a new report from Axios. With many public school teachers still in Zoom classes, and teacher fatigue and student disengagement taking their toll, parents are trying a new strategy to keep their children in classrooms. U.S. charter school enrollment increased by 7 percent in the 2020-2021 school year compared to the 2019-2020 school year. During the same time, non-charter public school enrollment dropped by 3 percent — a loss of about 1.5 million students. (Axios has the story)


Numbers.

  • 3.5 million. The estimated number of women who became new gun owners between January of 2019 and April of 2021.
  • 33%. The percentage of voters who said they would blame Democrats if the U.S. were to default on its debt.
  • 42%. The percentage of voters who said they would blame both parties if the U.S. were to default on its debt.
  • 16%. The percentage of voters who said they would blame Republicans if the U.S. were to default on its debt.
  • 193. The number of member states in the United Nations.
  • 14. The number of times the word "climate" was spoken in Biden's U.N. speech.
  • 8. The number of times the word "Covid" was spoken in Biden's U.N. speech.

Have a nice day.

6 in 10 young Americans say they are more financially confident than they were before the pandemic. That piece of optimism is according to a new poll of 2,000 Gen Z and millennial Americans (born between 1981 and 2003). The same respondents also said they are being more financially responsible, with over 30 percent saying they're budgeting for the first time and 39 percent using new methods like apps or dedicated spreadsheets. “It’s encouraging to see that young Americans are feeling more financially confident throughout what continues to be a very difficult and challenging time, and that so many are focused on maintaining their hard-earned savings,” Alyssa Schaefer, Chief Experience Officer at Laurel Road, who conducted the survey, said. Good News Network has the story.


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Isaac Saul

I'm a politics reporter who grew up in Buck County, PA — one of the most politically divisive counties in America. I'm trying to fix the way we consume political news.

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