Opinion: How will Joe Biden be remembered in 50 years?

File photo/Pete Marovich/The New York Times / President Joe Biden walks towards Marine One on the South Lawn of the White House in Washington on March 23, 2022. “What will matter in 2073 is whether he reversed the global tide of democratic retreat that began long before his presidency but reached new heights with the Taliban’s victory in Afghanistan and Russia’s invasion of Ukraine,” writes The New York Times columnist Bret Stephens about Biden’s legacy 50 years from now.

A half-century from now, Joe Biden's presidency will be remembered, as most presidencies are, with a short summary sentence. It will read: "He defeated Donald Trump, and ------------------------."

It won't be the infrastructure bill, the rate of inflation or the Inflation Reduction Act. It won't be Hunter's emails. Nor will it be whether he served one term or two.

What will matter in 2073 is whether he reversed the global tide of democratic retreat that began long before his presidency but reached new lows with the Taliban's victory in Afghanistan and Russia's invasion of Ukraine. If Biden can turn it, it will be a historic achievement. If not, much darker days will lie ahead.

He has a real chance.

On the positive side, there is last week's announcement of 31 M1 Abrams tanks for Ukraine, unlocking German Leopard 2 tanks to be sent as well. Then there's the apparent end of attempts to revive the Iran nuclear deal and a visibly tougher posture by the administration toward Iran's misogynistic tyrants.

And there is the president's repeated public statements that the U.S. will defend Taiwan in the event of a Chinese attack.

For Ukraine, the minimal U.S. objective is to deny Russia any gains from its aggression in the past year -- anything less and Russian President Vladimir Putin will be able to claim victory, freeze the conflict and bide his time against an enfeebled and demoralized Ukrainian state. For Iran, the objective is to stop the regime from reaching a nuclear breakout. For Taiwan, it's to arm the island to the point where it can defend itself, by itself, against Chinese invasion while preserving a viable U.S. option to intervene.

On all this, the administration is a portrait in ambivalence.

Thirty-one tanks for Ukraine are better than none, even if they won't arrive on the battlefield for months. So why not announce 62 tanks, or 124, which would bring Ukraine much closer to the 300 it says it needs to win? The old argument that these tanks are beyond Ukraine's capabilities to operate is now inoperative. So is the argument that we must take care not to provoke Russia: Putin has shown that he is provoked by the weakness of his enemies, not by their strength.

As for Iran, what's the administration's policy now that it acknowledges negotiations for a renewed nuclear deal have failed? Biden has so far remained mostly silent. Maybe he's hoping for a return to bargaining now that the protest movement seems to be receding. But he isn't likely to get an acceptable deal from a regime that has only moved much closer into Russia's orbit in the past year. Is there a Plan B?

There had better be. An Iran that crosses the nuclear threshold, as North Korea did in the 1990s, will be followed by nuclear proliferation elsewhere in the Middle East, a curse that will haunt successive generations of Americans.

And Taiwan: Last year, the administration approved a little more than $1 billion in arms sales to Taipei, which is a small fraction of what the island will need to defend itself against invasion. Last week, Air Force Gen. Mike Minihan, head of the Air Mobility Command, sent a memo to his officers with a blunt warning: "I hope I am wrong," he wrote about the prospect of the United States getting into a war with China. "My gut tells me we will fight in 2025."

In 50 years, Biden's sentence could be, "He defeated Trump, and then he defeated Putin, Khamenei and Xi." Or it will be, "He defeated Trump, but then he came up slightly but fatally short." Time will tell.

The New York Times