After their three-hour meeting, Biden’s sunny disposition stood in sharp contrast to the more sober, taciturn tone of Putin, who at times became defensive when asked questions by reporters about human rights violations in Russia and the country’s invasion of Ukraine.
Even so, Biden acknowledged his optimism was more wishful thinking than reality.
“I’m going to drive you all crazy because I know you want me to always put a negative thrust on things, particularly in public,” he said shortly before boarding Air Force One, adding, that way, “you guarantee nothing happens.”
It highlighted the president’s negotiating style, whether it be with Putin or with Senate Republicans at home on infrastructure — in which he publicly expresses his belief that a deal can be struck despite often overwhelming odds.
“I know we make foreign policy out to be this great, great skill that somehow is sort of like a secret code,” Biden said. “All foreign policy is a logical extension of personal relationships. It’s the way human nature functions.”
He later added, “There’s a value to being realistic and to put on an optimistic front, an optimistic face.”
Biden’s eight-day, three-country foreign trip demonstrated his emphasis on personal relationships above all.
“There’s no substitute, as those of you who have covered me for a while know, for face-to-face dialogue between leaders. None,” Biden said, declaring his summit with Putin a success simply for the fact that they spoke in person.
Throughout his trip, most of Biden’s meetings were conducted in private, without cameras, or with only a few moments open to media.
It highlighted Biden’s faith in intangible personal ties that can drive policy outcomes, both foreign and domestic.
And it marked a clear departure in style from Trump, whose freewheeling public meetings with global leaders became something of legend on the international stage. Relationships tended to flow one way — with obsequious public displays by heads of state and government trying to get on Trump’s good side.
Biden is banking that those leaders will welcome a return to the “old school” approach.
Domestic tensions cloud global talks
After four years of “America First” under Trump, Biden set out to show the world that “America is back,” but lingering domestic instability cast a long shadow overseas.
Whether it be the last president’s temperament and isolationist policies or the months of efforts to undermine the 2020 election and the Jan. 6 Capitol insurrection, the tumult of the last four years remains a fresh and raw memory for allies and adversaries alike.
Biden’s actions and public comments showed the lengths to which he felt he needed to go to reassure allies that the US could be a credible leader on the world stage.
“They have seen things happen, as we have, that shocked them and surprised them,” Biden said Monday of American allies. “But I think they, like I do, believe the American people are not going to sustain that kind of behavior.”
Even if allies were convinced, it was clear that adversaries were unwilling to forget so soon.
In his news conference following his meeting with Biden, Putin repeatedly deflected from his own deadly crackdowns on political dissenters with familiar — but now more potent — whataboutisms, by pointing to the Capitol assault and Black Lives Matter protests against racial injustice and police brutality in the US last year. Biden called it a “ridiculous comparison,” though it was clear some damage couldn’t be swiftly undone.