Biden makes the case to fight extremists by invoking war waged on D-Day


POINTE DU HOC, France — Invoking the soldiers who braved Nazi fire on D-Day, President Joe Biden called upon Americans to put country first and not cast aside the democratic traditions that an earlier generation died to protect.

Biden spoke one day after the 80th anniversary of D-Day, standing atop the sheer 100-foot cliff that Army Rangers scaled to destroy artillery and push back German forces that had overrun Europe in the Second World War.

He drew a parallel between the sacrifices made to defeat Hitler’s forces and the struggle to overcome what he called the “hateful ideologies today,” an apparent reference to extremist movements at home and abroad.

Soldiers who strung rope ladders to climb the cliff in the face of enemy machine guns would have wanted Americans to show the selflessness needed today to preserve democratic freedoms, he said.

“American democracy asks the hardest of things: to believe that we’re part of something bigger than ourselves,” Biden said, standing atop a German bunker used to fire at troops who’d landed on Omaha Beach. “Democracy begins with each of us. It begins when one person decides there’s something more important than themselves. When they decide that their country matters more than they do. That’s what the Rangers at Pointe du Hoc decided.”

Despite Hitler’s defeat and America’s victory in the Cold War that followed, the battle for a free and independent Europe persists, Biden said. He pointed to Russian President Vladimir Putin’s invasion of neighboring Ukraine, a democratic state and Western ally.

“Does anyone doubt that they [the soldiers who captured Pointe du Hoc] would want America to stand against Putin’s aggression here in Europe today?” he said, looking out at an audience that included Pfc John Wardell of New Jersey, a 99-year-old veteran who landed in France after D-Day in June 1944.

After the assault at the cliffs of Pointe du Hoc by the 2nd Ranger Battalion, German prisoners are gathered and an American flag is deployed for signaling in June 1944. (Galerie Bilderwelt / Getty Images)After the assault at the cliffs of Pointe du Hoc by the 2nd Ranger Battalion, German prisoners are gathered and an American flag is deployed for signaling in June 1944. (Galerie Bilderwelt / Getty Images)

After the assault at the cliffs of Pointe du Hoc by the 2nd Ranger Battalion, German prisoners are gathered and an American flag is deployed for signaling in June 1944. (Galerie Bilderwelt / Getty Images)

Earlier in the day, Biden met with Ukraine President Volodymyr Zelenskyy in Paris. He announced a new $225 million aid package to Ukraine that includes air defense interceptors, artillery ammunition and other capabilities. He also issued an unusual apology to Zelenskyy over a months-long delay in aid deliveries stemming from partisan disagreement in Congress.

“You haven’t bowed down,” Biden told Zelenskyy. “You haven’t yielded at all. You continue to fight in way that’s just remarkable. And we’re not going to walk away from you.”

Describing the stakes in the same terms as Biden, Zelenskyy said: “Like it was during World War II, how the United States helped to save human lives, to save Europe — and we count on your continuing support and standing with us shoulder to shoulder,” he said.

The two are scheduled to meet again next week in southern Italy during a summit meeting of the Group of 7 (G7), a collection of the wealthy democracies.

Though Biden framed his speech in Pointe du Hoc as a broad struggle between authoritarianism and democracy, freedom and repression, the campaign subtext was hard to miss.

Biden and his rival, Donald Trump, symbolize different strains in American foreign policy. Biden is an internationalist who believes that aligning with like-minded nations makes the U.S. more prosperous and formidable.

Trump’s “America First” approach is heir to an isolationist movement that has persisted through the decades. If Trump wins, former aides worry he might pull out of a NATO alliance that safeguards Europe from Russian aggression.

“They stormed the beaches alongside their allies,” Biden said of D-Day troops. “Does anyone believe these Rangers would want America to go it alone today?”

Polling shows that Biden’s age is one of the main obstacles to his reelection. Happily for him, he’s spent the past two days in the company of 90- and 100-somethings who make him look fresh-faced, by comparison.

Before giving a speech at Omaha Beach on Thursday, the 81-year-old president met with a group of veterans who were wheeled into see him by active service members.

“Don’t get old,” one advised Biden.

Another veteran in an Army jacket shook hands with Biden. When the man sat back down in his wheelchair, the president said, “Good move, man.”

Biden is set to hold meetings in Paris on Saturday with his French counterpart, Emmanuel Macron. He’ll also take part in a parade procession to the Elysee Palace and, later, will attend a state dinner on his behalf.

There are signs that his son Hunter Biden‘s legal troubles have been a distraction. First Lady Jill Biden joined her husband for the D-Day speech on Thursday but later flew home to attend the criminal trial in Wilmington, Del. She was expected to rejoin Biden in Paris on Saturday for the state dinner.

Headlines about his son’s fate intrude on the president’s trip from time to time. Just as Biden began his speech at Pointe du Hoc, there was a fresh one: The prosecution in Hunter’s trial had rested its case.

This article was originally published on NBCNews.com



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