Joe Biden keeps Boris Johnson guessing

www.politico.com
6 min read
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The president and the British prime minister have discovered they need each other to reset their reputations on the world stage.
President Donald Trump and Britain's Prime Minister Boris Johnson at the G7 summit on Aug. 25, 2019, in Biarritz, France. | Stefan Rousseau - Pool/Getty Images

Since taking office, Biden has ignored Downing Street's advice to change course on the Afghanistan withdrawal, and has been critical of his British counterpart over the Brexit impact on Northern Ireland.

But through it all Biden has thrown numerous bones to Johnson, inviting the U.K. into a select defense pact, offering a big helping hand ahead of a crucial British climate summit, and going the extra mile by inviting the prime minister to the White House.

"It's hard not to get along with Boris Johnson. He is this larger-than-life personality who very much wants to be loved and appreciated," said Heather Conley, a former George W. Bush administration State Department official now with the Center for Strategic and International Studies.

The aim, when the two leaders met in the Oval Office on Tuesday, was to show a united front and smooth the ups and downs of recent months, making clear that whatever their differences, the U.K. and U.S. need each other to tackle the global challenges facing the West.

"What is unusual about this moment is that both Biden and Johnson have much at stake in reframing their nations' global reputations, and they appear to have recognized this mutual interest and are investing in it," said Sophia Gaston, director of the British Foreign Policy Group. "Biden knows that targeted acts from America will carry outsized importance for the domestic reception of Johnson's Global Britain agenda, and he is strategic about deploying these in a way that keeps Britain working hard to maintain the relationship."

Both need each other to keep the COP26 environment summit show on the road, for instance; Johnson because as the host of the November event he has staked a good chunk of his political reputation on it, and Biden to show the U.S. as a leader on climate issues, in particular after the…
Emilio Casalicchio, Nahal Toosi
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