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Stephens suggests that Biden’s legacy will be reduced, like most presidents, to a one-sentence blurb: “He defeated Donald Trump, and _____.” (Today in 2023, we consider Nixon’s 1973 presidency in significantly more depth than Stephens suggests people in 2073 will consider Biden’s 2023 presidency, but let’s go with Stephen’s premise for now)
So, what will the blank be?
Stephens argues Biden won’t be remembered for his legislative victories, like the infrastructure bill, the Inflation Reduction Act, or the CHIPS Act; Biden won’t be remembered for inflation; or a reduction in global greenhouse-gas emissions; or Hunter Biden’s emails.
What Stephens believes Biden will be remembered for is “whether he reversed the global tide of democratic retreat that began long before his presidency but reached new lows with the Taliban’s victory in Afghanistan and Russia’s invasion of Ukraine.”
According to Stephens, Biden occupies the White House at a pivotal turning point in global history; if Biden can turn the tide of democratic retreat “it will be a historic achievement.” But if Biden fails, “much darker days will lie ahead.”
Right, so standard neocon stuff – end of days, democracy in free-fall, USA must stand strong, etc., etc. I do want to go on a brief tangent here, to point out that The New York Times is willing to broadcast Stephens’s views because one: his Bush-endorsing, neocon outlook is pretty much just the mainstream outlook, weirdly enough, and two: if you take an anti-Trump stance, decry Iran for misogyny, and harken FDR, liberals are going to give you a free pass.
Anyways, I digress.
Stephens continues his well-written, well-informed run-down of Biden’s legacy-building opportunity by making the observations you would expect. Biden needs to support Ukraine, for example (who, by the way, “has more than earned the right” to join NATO). Stephens is jazzed up that the U.S. is sending 31 M-1 Abrams tanks to Ukraine, believing that “the decision brings Ukraine a significant step closer to eventual NATO membership.”
That Ukraine’s NATO courtship is what prompted Russia’s invasion in the first place is not mentioned.
Yet, Stephens believes Biden is not doing enough (“why not announce 62 tanks, or 124?”), Stephens believes Biden needs to take the next step – and “arm Ukraine with the arms it needs to win quickly – including F-16s – not just to survive indefinitely.” Stephens dismisses the argument that care should be taken not to provoke Russia because “Putin has shown that he is provoked by the weakness of his enemies, not by their strength.” Okay, quantify that. And doesn’t Putin still have the world’s largest nuclear weapon stockpile?
Stephens takes similar hardline tacks on Iran and China. In Taiwan, “it’s time to arm the island to the point where it can defend itself, by itself, against Chinese invasion while preserving a viable American option to intervene.” In Iran, “the objective is to stop the regime from reaching a nuclear breakout” and stand tough alongside Israel.
You know the drill; you know the rhetoric. By paragraph two of Stephens’ article, the reader starts to suspect that maybe the article isn’t about guessing Biden’s legacy at all but rather about pushing a hyper-interventionist worldview down your throat.
To secure a favorable foreign policy legacy, Joe Biden should focus on stabilization and American prosperity; he should initiate negotiations towards an end of the Russo-Ukraine conflict, even if that means some concessions are made to Russia; he should take every effort to avoid war with China – a conflict that would be catastrophic for all involved.
What’s so concerning about Stephens’s perspective is that it’s a blueprint for global calamity. More concerning still is the widespread acceptance Stephens’ perspective enjoys.
Harrison Kass is the Senior Editor at 19FortyFive. An attorney, pilot, guitarist, and minor pro hockey player, Harrison joined the US Air Force as a Pilot Trainee but was medically discharged. Harrison holds a BA from Lake Forest College, a JD from the University of Oregon, and an MA from New York University. Harrison lives in Oregon and listens to Dokken.