Advertisement

In Normandy speech, Biden looks to inspire the push for democracy abroad and at home

President Biden delivers a speech next to the Pointe du Hoc monument overlooking the sea
President Biden speaks at the Pointe du Hoc monument in Normandy, France, on Friday.
(Evan Vucci / Associated Press)
Share

President Biden on Friday looked to summon Americans to defend democracy from threats at home and abroad — and cast an implicit contrast with Donald Trump — by drawing on the heroism of Army Rangers who scaled the seaside cliffs of Pointe du Hoc in the D-day invasion 80 years ago.

The same spot was etched in the nation’s political memory in 1984, when President Reagan honored the “boys of Pointe du Hoc” and drew common cause between their almost unthinkable feat in the face of Nazi Germany’s tyranny to the then-Cold War struggle against the Soviet Union.

Now, Biden sought to channel both historic moments to advance his own vision for the country’s global role amid two grueling wars and the persistence of former President Trump, who has continued to lie about his 2020 election loss and threatened to dismantle U.S. commitments overseas.

Advertisement

“As we gather here today, it’s not just to honor those who showed such remarkable bravery that day June 6, 1944,” Biden said. “It’s to listen to the echo of their voices. To hear them. Because they are summoning us. They’re asking us what will we do. They’re not asking us to scale these cliffs. They’re asking us to stay true to what America stands for.”

While ostensibly an official speech, coming a day after Biden marked the anniversary of the Normandy landings with solemn ceremonies alongside allies, Biden’s remarks were steeped in political overtones, as his campaign makes a renewed play for national security-minded Republican voters who lionized Reagan and have never warmed to Trump’s “America First” foreign policy.

“They’re not asking us to do their job,” Biden said of the “ghosts of Pointe Du Hoc.” “They’re asking us to do our job: to protect freedom in our time, to defend democracy, to stand up to aggression abroad and at home, to be part of something bigger than ourselves.”

A day earlier, Biden paid his respects to the D-day force in an emotional ceremony at the Normandy American Cemetery that was attended by dozens of veterans in their late 90s and older.

As a Navy officer recited “The Watch,” affirming that a new generation was taking up their post in defense of freedom, and a 21-gun salute cast eerie smoke over 9,388 white marble headstones, the president grew heavy-eyed, and he pumped his fist as an F-35 flypast performed a missing-man salute.

Far-right nationalist-populist parties are expected to make major gains in European Parliament elections. How will they use their new clout?

June 6, 2024

Biden cast himself — and the nation — as their inheritors in the timeless struggle between freedom and tyranny.

Advertisement

“We’re the fortunate heirs of the legacy of these heroes — those who scaled the cliffs of Pointe du Hoc,” Biden said. “We must also be the keepers of their mission ... the bearers of the flame of freedom they kept burning bright.”

But the country’s willingness to take up their mantle has in many ways never been more uncertain amid the possibility of Trump’s return to the White House.

It comes as Biden is also seeking to end fighting between Israel and Hamas in the Gaza Strip — to free hostages held by the militant group and surge humanitarian assistance to civilians — while also trying to reorient U.S. foreign policy to confront China’s rising power in Asia.

“Does anyone doubt they would move heaven and earth to vanquish hateful ideologies of today?” Biden said.

Before flying to Normandy, Biden sat down with Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky on Friday in Paris, where he emphasized the U.S. commitment to Ukraine in the face of Russia’s invasion and for the first time publicly apologized to the Ukrainian people for a months-long congressional holdup in military assistance that let Moscow make battlefield gains.

It was their first meeting since Biden signed the legislation authorizing the additional military assistance. He also announced a new $225 million in ammunition shipments, including mortars, artillery rounds and air-defense missiles.

Advertisement

President Biden publicly apologized to Ukraine’s president for a congressional holdup of military aid that let Russia make battlefield gains.

June 7, 2024

“I apologize for those weeks of not knowing what’s going to happen in terms of funding,” Biden said, insisting that the American people were standing by Ukraine for the long haul. “We’re still in. Completely. Thoroughly.”

Jake Sullivan, Biden’s national security advisor, told reporters before the speech that it was focused on “the dangers of isolationism and how if we bow to dictators and fail to stand up to them, they keep going and ultimately America and the world pays a greater price.”

Trump says he warned NATO allies as president that he ‘would encourage’ Russia ‘to do whatever the hell they want’ to members who are ‘delinquent.’

Feb. 10, 2024

Pointe du Hoc is on the sheer cliffs between Omaha and Utah beaches. Before D-day, the Nazis were believed to have stationed artillery there, which would have allowed them to shell crucial landing zones for Allied troops.

Army Rangers used ropes, ladders and their hands to scale Pointe du Hoc while under fire. When they reached the top, they realized that the artillery had been moved elsewhere and only decoys remained. The weapons were tracked down nearby and disabled, and the Americans spent two days repelling Nazi counterattacks.

The mission was memorialized by Reagan on the 40th anniversary of D-day in 1984.

“These are the boys of Pointe du Hoc,” he said. “These are the men who took the cliffs. These are the champions who helped free a continent. These are the heroes who helped end a war.”

Reagan’s speech, during the Cold War with the Soviet Union, was also a call for the U.S. to not turn its back on Europe.

Advertisement

“We in America have learned bitter lessons from two World Wars,” he said. “It is better to be here ready to protect the peace, than to take blind shelter across the sea, rushing to respond only after freedom is lost. We’ve learned that isolationism never was and never will be an acceptable response to tyrannical governments with an expansionist intent.”

It’s a view that would probably put him out of step with the modern Republican Party, which under Trump’s leadership has become increasingly skeptical of foreign entanglements.

Biden highlighted the contrast during his State of the Union this year.

“It wasn’t that long ago when a Republican president, Ronald Reagan, thundered, ‘Mr. Gorbachev, tear down this wall,’” a reference to another famous speech in Berlin. “Now, my predecessor, a former Republican president, tells Putin, ‘Do whatever the hell you want.’”

Trump made that comment at a February rally in South Carolina, warning European allies not to be “delinquent” in their military spending or he would refuse to help them as president.

Megerian and Miller write for the Associated Press.

Advertisement