Thu, Jul 25, 2024
Biden will mark D-Day anniversary in France as Western alliances face threats at home and abroad

Biden will mark D-Day anniversary in France as Western alliances face threats at home and abroad

  • PublishedJune 5, 2024

PARIS – United States President Joe Biden will mark the 80th anniversary of the D-Day invasion in France this week as he tries to demonstrate steadfast support for European security at a time when some allies fear Donald Trump threatens to upend American commitments if he wins another term in the White House.

The trip comes as the deadliest fighting on the continent since World War II continues in Ukraine and allied countries struggle to find ways to turn the tide against Russia, which has recently gained ground on the battlefield. It is also set against deepening cracks between the U.S. and many European allies over how to manage the ongoing Israel-Hamas war in Gaza.

Biden arrived in Paris on Wednesday morning, and he was welcomed by French officials and an honor guard. On Thursday, he’ll visit hallowed ground near the beaches of Normandy, where rows of bone-white headstones mark the graves of U.S. soldiers who died to bring an end to World War II. He’ll also speak on Friday at Pointe du Hoc, a spot on the French coast where Army Rangers scaled seaside cliffs to overcome Nazi defenses.

White House National Security adviser Jake Sullivan said aboard Air Force One on the way to France that Biden will stress how the men on those cliffs “put the country ahead of themselves” and detail “the dangers of isolationism, and how, if we back dictators and fail to stand up to them, they keep going and ultimately America and the world pays a greater price.”

“Eighty years later, we see dictators once again attempting to challenge the order, attempting to march in Europe,” Sullivan said, “and that freedom-loving nations need to rally to stand against that, as we have.”

He also said Biden would be meeting with Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskyy in France to discuss “how we can continue and deepen our support for Ukraine.”

On Saturday, Biden, along with his wife Jill, will be honored by French President Emmanuel Macron with a state visit, including a military parade in Paris and a banquet at the Élysée Palace, as well as business sessions where the leaders are to discuss strengthening their alliance, trade, and security cooperation for the upcoming Olympic games.

The two leaders also are expected to discuss the Middle East. Biden has invested geopolitical capital in brokering a ceasefire to the Israel-Hamas war that would see the release of hostages, even as he has maintained his staunch support for Israel and resisted European efforts to recognize a Palestinian state or investigate Israel over its handling of the war.

Biden, a Democrat, is scheduled to return to the United States on Sunday, but before he leaves France he’s expected to stop at a cemetery where American soldiers who died in World War I are buried. Trump, a Republican, skipped plans to visit the same site during a 2018 trip to France, a decision that the White House blamed on weather at the time.

However, subsequent reporting found that Trump told aides he didn’t want to go because he viewed the dead soldiers as “suckers” and “losers.” He has denied the comments, which Biden referenced during a fundraiser in Greenwich, Conn., on Monday.

“This guy does not deserve to be president,” Biden said.

Although foreign trips are ostensibly nonpartisan, Biden left no doubt that he sees a political connection between the D-Day anniversary and the election. The president described the invasion as “one of the most important moments in the history of defense of freedom and democracy.”

“I want to say as clearly as I can,” he added. “Democracy is literally on the ballot this year.”

Biden’s trip to France will be followed by another to Italy later this month for the annual Group of Seven summit, a rare doubleheader of international diplomacy in the middle of the presidential election season. Biden will skip a subsequent gathering in Switzerland, where leaders will be focused on the war in Ukraine, to attend a campaign fundraiser in Los Angeles with Hollywood stars. Vice President Kamala Harris will represent the United States instead.

Biden’s travels, plus the North Atlantic Treaty Organization summit in Washington next month, aim to embody a vision of global American leadership that’s central to his political identity but faces renewed threat from Trump.

Although the two presidents are from the same generation — Biden, 81, was born one and a half years before D-Day; Trump, 77, was born two years after the invasion — they developed divergent views on Europe and American alliances over the years.

For Biden, U.S. ties to Europe are a cornerstone of stability and a source of strength. For Trump, they’re a drain on precious resources, and he’s expressed more affinity for autocratic leaders like Russian President Vladimir Putin, whose invasion of Ukraine has upended the continent.

Even before voters decide which vision they prefer, cracks in Biden’s foreign policy foundation have emerged. It took months to secure additional military assistance for Ukraine due to GOP resistance, and the delay led to depleted ammunition reserves and Russian advances on the battlefield.

“All that happened with a die-hard Atlanticist and die-hard alliance supporter in the White House,” said Charles Kupchan, a Georgetown University professor who previously served as Europe director on President Barack Obama’s National Security Council. “Europeans have no option but to ask how reliable the United States can be.”

Kupchan noted that “the bipartisan compact behind a steady and robust American internationalism has collapsed.”

Given the political complications at home, Kupchan said, Biden should be careful about drawing historical parallels between D-Day and Ukraine while he’s in France.

“I’m not sure that he wants to say that this is a moment like 1940 or 1941,” he said, especially since Biden has ruled out sending American troops to fight against the Russian invasion.

Like all of his international engagements, Biden’s trip will be shadowed by Trump’s potential return to the White House. The presumptive Republican candidate, who last week became the first U.S. president to be convicted of a crime, has pledged to unravel American commitments to allies in Europe.

“It’s every conversation. Every conversation is, what will happen?” said Max Bergmann, who leads Europe research at the Center for Strategic and International Studies.

Bergmann, who was in the middle of a trip around the continent in the days before Biden arrived, said some European officials hope that a second Trump term would be no more damaging than his first, when he failed to follow through on some of his more extreme ideas. But he doubts Trump will be held in check without moderate members of his administration — such as former Defense Secretary James Mattis — who are unlikely to return.

“I’m not reassuring to them,” Bergmann said.

Rachel Rizzo, a nonresident senior fellow at the Atlantic Council, said there’s a “palpable sense of uncertainty” as the United States and Europe wrestle with populist movements that have proven durably popular.

“This is not an aberration, this is not an accident,” she said. “There are real grievances that citizens of both continents have, and they’re playing out in support of right-wing parties.”

In another complication for Biden, his trip is taking place at the same time that his son, Hunter, is standing trial in Delaware. The younger Biden is accused of lying while purchasing a gun by claiming that he was not a drug addict. He has pleaded not guilty.

The prosecution began presenting its case Tuesday, just days after Trump became the first U.S. president to be convicted of a felony. Trump was found guilty in New York of making illegal hush money payments to an adult film actress who said they had sex. Trump denies the affair.

Paul Begala, a longtime Democratic strategist, said Biden is probably better off ignoring Trump while he’s in France.

“When you’re 81 years old, and three-fourths of the country thinks you’re too old, one of the things you have to do is to show strength,” he said. “That’s what he’s got to do over there. He’s got to show strength.”


Associated Press writers Sylvie Corbett in Paris and Fatima Hussein in Greenwich, Connecticut, contributed to this report.

Copyright 2024 The Associated Press. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed without permission.

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