Questions remain over whether the 'America First' policy has ended, says think tank

  • People around the world still feel that the U.S. is taking an "America First" approach despite President Joe Biden's pledges to rebuild alliances, said Thorsten Benner of the Global Public Policy Institute.
  • U.S. allies are asking themselves if Washington's actions will match its rhetoric, he said.
  • Benner also discussed the dispute with France that emerged after a new U.S.-Australia-U.K. security partnership was formed.

People around the world still feel that the U.S. is taking an "America First" approach despite President Joe Biden's pledges to rebuild alliances, according to a director at a Berlin-based think tank.

Thorsten Benner of the Global Public Policy Institute said Biden's speech at the United Nations General Assembly on Tuesday presented the narrative that the U.S. has turned a page on endless wars and the era of "Trumpism and 'America First.'"

"All in all, it was an effective speech, I thought," he told CNBC's "Capital Connection" on Wednesday. "But allies and people around the world alike ask themselves — will Biden be able to deliver, and … do U.S. actions match the rhetoric."

Biden's speech is something that will go down well if it's combined with concrete action, Benner said.

However, he questioned whether the U.S. can deliver on climate change commitments. Earlier this year, climate change measures were omitted from an infrastructure bill, which Republicans said should only address traditional transportation issues.

In the same way, U.S. actions to address the Covid pandemic also did not match the rhetoric, said Benner, noting that the U.S. had barriers to exporting vaccines despite being a major producer.

"That's changing now, but people around the world still have the feeling that there's quite a bit of 'America First' left," he said.

Dispute with France

The dispute with France, which emerged after a new U.S.-Australia-U.K. security partnership was formed, also threatens to undermine "the overall rebuilding of alliances and U.S. credibility" if Washington doesn't make amends with Paris, Benner said.

"The U.S. had good reasons to enter this deal with Australia and the U.K., but didn't fully take into account the fallout," he said, adding that Biden should show he is serious about including France in cooperation in the Indo-Pacific.

European allies have doubts about the U.S. following the "botched Afghanistan exit which left a sour taste" in their mouths, and Poland is not happy that it was bypassed by the U.S. in the Nord Stream 2 deal with Germany.

"There are some question marks on whether this rebuilding of alliances has really ended 'America First,'" he said.

But the U.S. decision to ease travel restrictions for vaccinated foreign visitors, including those from the U.K. and EU, is a good sign, said Benner.

The restriction was a "major irritant" to Europeans, he said. "Hopefully that will signal a new outreach and a new tone on the part of the U.S. administration."

— CNBC's Amanda Macias, Emma Newburger, Silvia Amaro, Leslie Josephs and Robert Towey contributed to this report.

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