Type to search

U.S. News & Politics

Biden’s Incapacity Invites Danger Abroad


Most of the commentary on President Biden’s poor debate performance has focused on his chances for reelection. But that is only one side of a dangerous coin. The other side is explored by Naval War College professor James Holmes in a compelling article in The National Interest titled “Joe Biden and the Perception Paradox.”

Holmes worries that China could “run wild in the South China Sea, Taiwan Strait, or other embattled zones.”

“Perception,” Holmes writes, “is king in power politics.” The nations of the world that wish us well and ill undoubtedly watched the Biden-Trump debate or at least read the post-debate commentary about Biden’s awful performance — from both Republicans and Democrats. Holmes worries that the perception of America’s “capability, competence, and fortitude” was seriously damaged by Biden’s debate performance. “Aggressors will be emboldened” and “friends will blanch.” The mental ability and therefore the credibility of the American superpower’s leader has been called into question. Our friends and foes will act accordingly.

Holmes does not write this as a Trump supporter. Trump is irrelevant to his concerns because Biden is the president and will be until at least January 20, 2025. There is a lot bad happening in the world — in Eastern Europe, the Middle East, and most important, in the western Pacific. Plenty more bad things can happen in six months, as both our adversaries and allies perceive weakness from Washington. Holmes writes that “we’re in for a bumpy ride between now and January 20, 2025. If not longer.” (READ MORE from Francis P. Sempa: Hong Kong Affords a Glimpse of the Future for Taiwan)

Holmes reports that the alarm at Biden’s debate performance extended to Europe, where some observers called it “an unmitigated disaster.” Chinese commentators compared Biden to a “corpse.” The debate, Holmes writes, “implanted doubts about President Biden’s mental fitness among decisionmakers and average citizens at home and abroad.” And that affects three very important, though intangible, elements of a nation’s foreign policy that vary according to perception: deterrence, coercion, and reassurance.

If our enemies perceive not only weakness but doubt the mental capacity of our nation’s top decisionmaker, deterrence is more likely to fail. Holmes references Henry Kissinger’s formula for deterrence, which is composed of capability, willpower, and belief.

During the Cold War, for example, West Berlin, surrounded by Communist East Germany, survived repeated Soviet pressures because Soviet leaders believed that the United States and its allies had the capability and will to defend the city. The idea that the United States would sacrifice New York for West Berlin was based on the credibility of that threat — which means the credibility of the U.S. president to carry out the threat. When the Soviet Union achieved strategic parity with the United States in nuclear weaponry, the credibility of that deterrent weakened until President Reagan installed intermediate-range nuclear weapons in Central Europe.

Our enemies and allies also need to believe that we have the capability and will to use coercion to advance and protect our interests. Again, Reagan was the great example when he armed the Contras in Nicaragua, which led to the removal of the Sandinista communist regime in free and fair elections, and invaded the small island of Grenada to overthrow a communist regime that was allied to Cuba and the Soviet Union.

Reagan showed that he took the Monroe doctrine seriously — he backed up threats with decisive coercive action.

It is our allies that most need to feel reassurance from America’s leader. Holmes defines reassurance as “convincing allies, partners, or friends you have the capability and the determination to keep your commitments to them.” Reagan showed despite opposition from many Democrats in Congress that he was willing to support our allies in El Salvador who were under attack from communists supported by Nicaragua and Cuba. It was Reagan’s reassurances and his actions that saved El Salvador from falling to the communists in the 1980s.

Deterrence, coercion, and reassurance will fail if enemies and allies perceive that America’s president lacks the mental competence to understand what is at stake and to take decisive action to preserve and protect U.S. interests. As Holmes explains:

An incompetent head of state might yield to unwise policy

counsel, broadcasting threats or promises the nation cannot

keep. Idle threats discredit future professions of purpose. Or

he could fail to craft believable threats or promises when

circumstances demand a strong stance. An inconstant leader

might suffer bewilderment or despair in the midst of a crisis, or

lash out with unforeseeable consequences…. Influential

audiences could come to doubt American reliability in world


Holmes worries that China could “run wild in the South China Sea, Taiwan Strait, or other embattled zones.” And our allies will also take note of the untrustworthiness of America’s leader. This is a recipe for an international catastrophe. (READ MORE: With Biden, the Lippmann Gap Returns)

All of the talk about the domestic political fallout from the Trump-Biden debate misses the big picture. James Holmes is to be commended for having the courage to focus on the geopolitical fallout from that debate. We are indeed in for a bumpy ride during the next six months.

Download Now
The American Spectator

The American Spectator is a conservative U.S. monthly magazine covering news and politics, edited by R. Emmett Tyrrell, Jr. and published by the non-profit American Spectator Foundation.

  • 1