President Biden delivered his debut address to the annual gathering of world leaders at the United Nations on Tuesday amid strong new doubts about his ability to vault the United States back into a position of global leadership after his predecessor’s promotion of “America First” isolationism.
Speaking to a smaller than usual audience of his peers because of the still-raging Covid-19 pandemic, Mr. Biden called for a new era of global unity against the coronavirus, climate change, emerging technological threats and the expanding influence of autocratic nations such as China and Russia.
“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,” he said, insisting that the United States and its Western allies would remain vital partners.
“Our security, our prosperity and our very freedoms are interconnected, in my view as never before,” Mr. Biden said.
Calling for the world to make the use of force “our tool of last resort, not our first,” he defended his decision to end the U.S. war in Afghanistan, a chaotic withdrawal of American troops that left allies blindsided.
“Today, many of our greatest concerns cannot be solved or even addressed by the force of arms,” he said. “Bombs and bullets cannot defend against Covid-19 or its future variants.”
But Mr. Biden’s efforts to move America past President Donald J. Trump’s more confrontational policies come amid growing frustration among allies with his administration’s diplomatic approach.
His familiar refrain that the world must choose between democracy and autocracy looks different now that the Taliban are once again in control of Kabul, reversing many of the democratic gains of the past 20 years. Covid is resurging in much of the world. And the French just recalled their ambassador in outrage — not just over losing a $60 billion-plus submarine contract, but because it was made clear they are not in the inner circle of allies.
The event is a major test of credibility for Mr. Biden, who was among the first to address the 193-member General Assembly. The last to speak in the morning session was President Xi Jinping of China, via prerecorded video, bookending with the competing views of the two most powerful countries in the world.
Both leaders announced potentially significant steps to address climate change, a rare moment of common purpose: Mr. Biden said he intended to double the American financial contribution to developing countries’ efforts to tackle the climate crisis, and Mr. Xi said China would stop financing coal-fired power projects abroad, a major source of heat-trapping gases.
Secretary General António Guterres, who has openly fretted about the bitter rivalry between China and the United States, said he was encouraged by “the leaders of the world’s two largest economies regarding their commitment to climate action.”
Still, a dominant theme of Mr. Biden’s speech was what he described as the choice faced by s the world between the democratic values espoused by the…
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