Many here in Europe view President Biden’s age, a source of so much criticism and anxiety in the United States, as a lifeline rather than a liability.
Biden saved Ukraine and is protecting Europe from Russian imperialism, and arguably has succeeded in doing so because is old enough and been around long enough to know Europe’s not so distant past, recognizes the threat posed by an historical foe, and realizes how important it is for America to keep the bond firm with its oldest ally.
Biden is someone whose public service was forged during the Cold War, witnessing America’s role in curbing Moscow’s ambitions and dismantling communism. And so, in 2022, with such experience, he distinctly saw the aggression against Ukraine as a threat to all Europe and ultimately to American interest.
Biden’s advanced age is a virtue, a plus, a testament to a lifetime of experience that has steadied the Western alliance in the face of authoritarian challenges. His physical agility and verbal ability are lessened but Biden is what Europe, Ukraine, Georgia, the Baltic States and all the potential victims of the continuous Russian aggression need the most. Not despite his age, but because of it.
Yet Biden’s age is a frequent target of critique in the U.S., even within his own party, and I keep hearing about how he is too old to withstand an exhausting election campaign against Donald Trump, who is not exactly a young novice himself. Trump’s age escapes scrutiny despite his troubling gaffes, such as confusing fellow Republican Nikki Haley with Democrat Nancy Pelosi, and Barack Obama with Hillary Clinton.
Biden and Trump have more or less the same age, but while the President has experienced all the major geopolitical events of the past half-century in the front row, and has often dealt with them directly, his predecessor has made a name for himself by helping his father’s company to avoid renting apartments to African-Americans in New York, building hotels, owning a beauty pageant, and firing people on a tv reality show. Few people I talk to in Europe thinks Trump’s advanced age is a benefit.
Nonetheless the American electorate seems indifferent to Trump’s age, perhaps because his potential return to the White House poses a far greater risk to the American democracy than his lack of stamina.
Biden’s wisdom is something mainstream European governments and opinion makers noticed clearly, while American chattering class strangely dismissed. «Those who ridicule U.S. President Joe Biden for his age,» former German Foreign Minister Joschka Fischer wrote in an op-ed for The Irish Examiner, «should consider what would happen if this latest Middle East crisis were unfolding without such prudent and experienced leadership in the White House. The world would be a more uncertain and dangerous place than it already is».
Echoing Fischer, the derision Biden faces over his age overlooks the stability his sage leadership brings, particularly evident not only in the battle to save Ukraine, but also in the latest Middle East crisis where Biden’s blend of force and diplomatic finesse reassures everyone cautious of unpredictability and conflict. No one knows what will happen in the Middle East, but it is reassuring to Europe to see the U.S. in such sophisticated hands. Panic is one of the dangers. Biden reduces panic. Trump not so much.
Italy’s President, Sergio Mattarella, who is one year older than Biden, is nearly unanimously revered for his political wisdom. Two years ago the Italian Parliament reelected him for a rare second term, exactly for his long tested ability to deal with difficult times.
And these were indeed very difficult times that Mattarella had to face to prevent inexperienced populist and far-right governments, also very close to Trump and Putin, from putting Italian and European institutions upside down.
Mattarella wisely dealt with them, and Italy survived. His reverence extends beyond Italy, reflecting a broader European consensus that values depth of experience over the chaos of the unlearned.
Today, as Russia violently attacks the sovereignty of Ukraine, a nation inching towards EU and possibly NATO membership, Biden’s seasoned perspective is invaluable in Paris, Berlin, Rome and Brussels.
America’s historical role as Europe’s defender is not lost on Europeans, who fear a disengagement of U.S. from the Old Continent. Biden embodies the spirit of past American leaders like Harry Truman, reassuring Europe with his strategic acumen and commitment to democracy. Biden’s recognition of the threat posed by Russia has solidified the transatlantic bonds and renewed Nato unity and its expansion.
Notably, European right wing leaders, such as Italy’s Giorgia Meloni, acknowledge the importance of a strong relationship with Washington, pivoting towards Biden’s experience despite previous and reckless inclinations pro Trump and pro Putin.
This is a crucial time: pro-Atlantic sentiment and support to Ukraine’s defense in Europe face the unsettling prospect of Trump’s return to the White House and therefore new lifeblood for Putin. There is no doubt about what the Europeans’ interest is.
The American obsession with Biden’s age disregards that his presidency, marked with unprecedented historical and political insight due to his long career, has proven indispensable on both side of the Atlantic in navigating the complexities of contemporary global politics.