“That fella from Down Under”? At the risk of being accused by national media outlets of pouncing or seizing, this Joe Biden moment is worth noting — because our allies certainly noticed it. While announcing a new defense agreement with the UK and Australia, Biden thanked Boris Johnson by name. And apparently that’s the only name Biden could remember, as this Australian news outlet reports:
US President Joe Biden appeared to forget Prime Minister Scott Morrison’s name during this morning’s historic announcement of a new defence pact.
— 9News Australia (@9NewsAUS) September 15, 2021
The virtual event on Thursday morning, saw the three leaders come together to reveal the new trilateral security partnership that will see Australia’s alliance with the US cemented and provide “stealth, speed and manoeuvrability” to counter potential threats from China, a senior Pentagon official said.
But as the leaders spoke one-by-one on the significance of the deal, Mr Biden appeared to have forgotten the Australian Prime Minister’s name.
“Thank you Boris (Johnson) and I want to thank uh, that fella Down Under,” he said and turned to the TV screen Mr Morrison was on.
“Thank you very much pal, appreciate it Prime Minister.”
Mr Morrison simply smiled back and gave a thumbs up.
Biden eventually circled back and mentioned Morrison by name, but the damage had already been done. The diplomatic faux pas had enough significance that Politico Europe even pounced on it. Or did they seize?
Sure, Washington, London and Canberra have just signed a huge new defense pact. But what Australians are talking about is U.S. President Joe Biden appearing to forget their prime minister’s name.
Biden announced the new AUKUS military alliance with Britain and Australia to share advanced technologies, including the acquisition of nuclear-powered submarines, at a press conference on Wednesday. He was flanked by television screens beaming in U.K. Prime Minister Boris Johnson and Australian PM Scott Morrison at their own press conferences.
“Thank you Boris,” Biden said to the British PM. He then turned to the screen featuring Morrison, saying: “And I want to thank that fellow Down Under. Thank you very much, pal. Appreciate it, Mr. Prime Minister.”
Needless to say, Biden isn’t winning friends and impressing enemies of late. But for that matter, neither is the American media, which conveniently ignored this gaffe when it occurred, even while our allies nervously took note of it elsewhere. Had Ronald Reagan done this, media outlets would have demanded a competency test. Had Donald Trump done it, the media would have howled over his lack of preparation and ignorance of diplomatic protocols. But with Biden, it’s as if it never happened, except for the inconvenient video demonstrating that it did.
How big of a deal is this, really? People forget names in social situations without it becoming an issue of competence. Biden has made public gaffes for decades too, although usually of the unfiltered-stream-of-thought variety. However, Biden’s habit of avoiding reporters, his strange lack of response in some interviews (such as the one last month with George Stephanopoulos on the question of leaving Americans behind), and lack of energy in public certainly raise questions as to whether Biden’s up for the job physically and mentally. But of course, we already know from his decision to abandon Americans to the Taliban that he’s not up to the task morally or intestinally already. That’s something that Boris and that fella from Down Under will keep in mind too when it comes to relying on Biden in this new defense pact. Boris had better be prepared to do most of the heavy lifting.