The president who declared “the battle between democracy and autocracy” to be the defining struggle of his time has concluded that he needs to accept some imperfect but important friends.
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Peter Baker reported from Washington, and Mujib Mashal from New Delhi.
June 21, 2023, 5:01 a.m. ET
“President Biden has declared “the battle between democracy and autocracy” to be the defining struggle of his time. But when he rolls out the red carpet on the South Lawn of the White House for Prime Minister Narendra Modi of India on Thursday morning, Mr. Biden will effectively call a temporary truce.
In granting Mr. Modi a coveted state visit, complete with a star-studded gala dinner, Mr. Biden will shower attention on a leader presiding over democratic backsliding in the world’s most populous nation. Mr. Modi’s government has cracked down on dissent and hounded opponents in a way that has raised fears of an authoritarian turn not seen since India’s slip into dictatorship in the 1970s.
Yet Mr. Biden has concluded, much as his predecessors did, that he needs India despite concerns over human rights just as he believes he needs Saudi Arabia, the Philippines and other countries that are either outright autocracies or do not fit into the category of ideal democracies. At a time of confrontation with Russia and an uneasy standoff with China, Mr. Biden is being forced to accept the flaws of America’s friends.
Two and a half years into his administration, the democracy-versus-autocracy framework has, therefore, become something of a geopolitical straitjacket for Mr. Biden, one that allows for little of the subtleties his foreign policy actually envisions yet that virtually guarantees criticism every time he shakes hands with a counterpart who does not pass the George Washington test. Even some of his top advisers privately view the construct as too black-and-white in a world of grays.”