The first foreign trip of Joe Biden's presidency will be far more than a few smiling photo ops and well-manicured communiqués.
Many see his attendance at the Group of Seven summit and then the NATO summit over the next week as a one-shot chance: not just to help fix relations with Washington's bruised allies, but also to reassert the faltering influence of the U.S. and the West itself.
The visit will also be shadowed by questions about whether Biden, for all his trans-Atlantic experience, is actually more focused on the rising competitor in Beijing than in old Cold War allies across the pond.
"After four tumultuous years of Trump, the Europeans have now got the U.S. leadership they always dreamed of," said Fabrice Pothier, NATO's former head of policy planning. "Except now the story has moved on."
Image: G-7 leaders meet at 2019's summit in Biarritz, France
The G-7 leaders meet at 2019's summit in Biarritz, France.Ian Langsdon / Pool via Reuters file
From Friday to Sunday, Biden and his team will attend the G-7 summit of the leading industrial nations, an international spectacle crammed into the small Cornish seaside resort of Carbis Bay, in the southwest corner of England.
On Monday, he will travel to Brussels for a brief NATO summit before he flies to Geneva for a face-to-face meeting with Russian President Vladimir Putin on Wednesday.
The meeting with Putin is likely to involve strong words. But the G-7 is where decisions that will shape U.S. international relations and the world will or won't be made.
On the agenda are the global coronavirus response, climate change, trade and technology. But Biden has made it clear that he sees the trip more broadly as an opportunity to rally allies behind the cause of liberal democracy in what he considers to be a struggle against the authoritarianism of Chinese President Xi Jinping, a characterization Beijing rejects.
The White House says the most immediate way to do that is through the global coronavirus response — to provide "a high-standard, climate-friendly, transparent and rules-based alternative to what China is offering," as national security adviser Jake Sullivan put it in a briefing Monday.
President Joe Biden disembarks from Air Force One after landing at Joint Base Andrews, Md., last month.Evelyn Hockstein / Reuters file
The past year has hardly been an ad for the West, as the U.S. and others failed to stop mass Covid-19 deaths and then distributed vaccines only domestically before agreeing to donate them to poorer countries.
Meanwhile, China has controlled the virus within its borders, its economy is booming this year, and it has sought to improve its image abroad by donating or selling tens of millions of vaccine doses.