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Our allies and enemies watching Joe Biden

As much as the dramatic events that followed the president’s disturbing debate performance can feel like an insular melodrama at times, the rest of the world is paying close attention to the president’s status. America’s allies as well as its enemies are watching, and they will take their cues.

It would be foolish of America’s adversaries to infer from Joe Biden’s infirmities that they have a window of opportunity to maximize their advantages over the United States, but our rivals are operating in an imperfect information environment, too. And it seems as though everyone in the president’s orbit is perfectly comfortable signaling to the world’s opportunists that the time to act is now.

“No nation was immune to concerns about Biden’s performance,” CNN declared following its survey of the diplomatic landscape in Europe. Media outlets and government officials alike expressed horror over Biden’s performance and anxiety for the immediate future. The reaction was all but universal, save in Russia, where local media was “positively gleeful” over the president’s embarrassing presentation.

“Asked if one could imagine putting Mr. Biden into the same room with President Vladimir V. Putin of Russia today, a former U.S. official who had helped prepare for the trip went silent for a while, then said, ‘I just don’t know,’” read a chilling aside in one of the New York Times’ articles detailing the scale of the panic overtaking the president’s allies. “A former senior European official answered the same question by saying flatly, ‘No.’”

Hardly reassuring, but the potential threat of unsuccessful summitry isn’t the greatest of our worries. An acute crisis involving America’s near-peer competitors or stateless terrorist actors is.

Would Beijing weigh Biden’s impairments in its decision-making process to such a degree that it opts to manufacture an incident in the South China or Philippine Seas? Would similar calculations lead Moscow to increase the tempo of air attacks on Ukraine’s western cities near the NATO frontier, risking the prospect of accidentally striking NATO assets and territory?

Will the Iranian regime conclude that the rewards associated with increased attacks on U.S. positions in Iraq and Syria or strikes on America’s allies in the region outweigh the risks? How do Biden’s infirmities impact the Israeli government’s deliberations as it contemplates the prospect of a broader war against Hezbollah? Is a diplomatic resolution to the crisis in Southern Lebanon off the table now that its foremost geostrategic partner is preoccupied with the prospect of his own defenestration?

And what about the looming (indeed, growing) threat posed by the prospect of a terrorist attack? The threat environment hasn’t been as active as it is now in decades, according to the FBI director, a former CIA director, and others. Just this week, U.S. military bases abroad drew up the threat level to “Condition Charlie,” the second-highest threat level just below that which indicates imminent hostilities, because of intelligence indicating that plots against American bases from potential terrorists and Russian proxy forces are in the works.

The Biden administration would react to these events in real time. But the president’s infirmities may convince foreign malefactors who wish to do Americans harm that the administration would be slow to respond to a crisis. That alone is a serious condition that cannot be allowed to persist by inertia for another six months. The world is watching the president, and it’s a certainty that America’s enemies like what they’re seeing.

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