You can tell a lot about a president’s politics by his foreign visits. Joe Biden’s decision to skip King Charles’s coronation in favour of a fly-by visit to Belfast and three days in the Republic of Ireland gave an indication of his priorities. Biden presents himself at home as an Irish-American with a charmingly unserious hostility towards Britain: ‘The BBC?’ he told a reporter after his election victory in 2020. ‘I’m Irish!’ But it’s not all lighthearted. As President, Biden’s reflexive anti-Britishness seems to have coloured his foreign policy. He’s shown a striking reluctance to reciprocate Rishi Sunak’s attempts to refresh Britain’s credentials as America’s great ally.
Part of this may be down to Biden’s own fuzziness. When he posed with Gerry Adams for a photo, what message did he think this would send to those people who lived for so many years under the threat of IRA violence? He may just have not been thinking. When he mispronounced the Prime Minister’s name as ‘Rashid Sanook’, it may have been put down to an understandable confusion, given the revolving door at No. 10. The occasional anti-British briefing by his advisers might also be attributed to the fact that he has so many of them, quick to see the world as good liberals vs bad conservatives, with Brexit and Trump in the latter camp.
Nevertheless, over the coming week Biden, who is in fact as English as he is Irish by descent, will be travelling to Britain. He will meet both the King and the Prime Minister. The visit represents another opportunity to put the US’s relationship with Britain on a more friendly footing. For all Biden’s schtick, Britain remains America’s most durable and reliable ally. It is Britain, once again, which is playing the major role in a US-led military campaign – in this case providing weapons and other support for Ukraine to resist Putin’s invasion.