Then-Chinese Vice President Xi Jinping, right, invites his U.S. counterpart Joseph Biden to review an honor guard during a welcoming ceremony inside the Great Hall of the People on Thursday, Aug. 18, 2011 in Beijing.

Then-Chinese Vice President Xi Jinping, right, invites his U.S. counterpart Joseph Biden to review an honor guard during a welcoming ceremony inside the Great Hall of the People on Thursday, Aug. 18, 2011 in Beijing. Lintao Zhang/AP file photo

Biden’s Long Foreign-Policy Record Signals How He'll Reverse Trump, Rebuild Old Alliances and Lead the Pandemic Response

How would Joe Biden engage a world upended by Trump? A diplomacy expert explains what Biden's history says about his foreign policy priorities.

Even without a flashy virtual Democratic National Convention to formally introduce his presidential campaign, Joe Biden would be well known worldwide. He was President Barack Obama’s second-in-command for eight years and sat on the Senate Foreign Relations Committee for decades, chairing it for several years.

Yet for all Biden’s foreign policy credentials – which several Convention speakers cited in their endorsements – his international agenda remains somewhat opaque. How would a President Biden face the disjointed and radically different world order left by his predecessor?

Here’s my projection, based on Biden’s long track record in global politics and my many years of teaching, studying and practicing international diplomacy.

Joe Biden, internationalist

As vice president, Biden’s relationships with world leaders were based on personal chemistry and empathy, enriched by his often rambling anecdotes.

Dating back to the early years of Chinese president Xi Jinping’s tenure, for example, Biden took many walks and held private dinners in an effort to get Xi to open up. He identified the Chinese leader’s nationalistic and authoritarian instincts, which helped to shape Obama’s China policy.

But this is no longer the Obama era. If elected, Biden would need new approaches to demonstrate that the U.S. can be a responsible world power.

Biden’s campaign has over 2,000 foreign policy advisers divided into some 20 working groups, each focusing on major international issues such as arms control, the environment, intelligence and regions. Among those slated for high-level posts in his administration are former Deputy Secretary of State Tony Blinken, former National Security Advisor Susan Rice and several other veteran diplomats.

While presidents don’t always listen to their advisers, this team is a signal that Biden believes in a multilateral, deliberate foreign policy. They include globalists and isolationists, liberal interventionists and doves.

First up: Undoing Trump’s foreign policy

Biden has been all of those things, by turns, in his long career. When Russia annexed Crimea in 2014, Biden wanted to send weapons to help Ukraine defend itself. Yet he was among the lone voices in Obama’s administration to oppose a troop surge in Afghanistan.

One constant, though, is Biden’s strong belief in engaging with the world. He would likely erase and reverse many of Trump’s isolationist policies if elected.

Biden has promised to rejoin the 2015 Paris Climate Accord, the World Health Organization and other international agencies shunned by Trump. Biden has also announced that he will undo Trump’s Muslim immigrant ban and stop work on the U.S.-Mexico border wall – both policies congressional Democrats fiercely opposed.

As every past Democratic president has done, Biden plans to reverse the so-called “global gag rule,” which forbids using U.S. foreign assistance funds for abortion-related services. Research shows this rule doesn’t reduce abortions worldwide – it just makes them more dangerous.

Biden is also likely to reverse Trump’s abdication of U.S. leadership in the coronavirus pandemic. During the 2009 swine flu pandemic, Biden was among those who pushed the Obama administration to release stockpiled vaccines and other emergency equipment and was the point person for getting additional funding from Congress.

Next up: Rebuilding America’s relationships

Biden’s internationalism indicates he would move quickly to reconstruct the United States’ badly ruptured relations with many allies, including NATO, the European Union and Germany, a country Trump has criticized.

During the Obama years, Biden worked with the Europeans to coordinate policies countering Russian aggression and pushed for the development of a common trans-Atlantic strategy toward trade and market access issues with China. Economists say reform of the global trading system is now long overdue.

Helping the EU deal with Hungary and Turkey – two authoritarian countries, one located right in Europe’s heart and the other at its critical border with the Middle East - is another likely area of trans-Atlantic cooperation under Biden, an advocate of liberal democracy.

As vice president, Biden had good relations with Turkey’s president Recep Erdogan. But recently he has become much more critical, calling him an “autocrat.”

Russia and China

One world leader Biden has never been charmed by: Vladimir Putin.

“I am looking into your eyes,” Biden once told the Russian president, “and I don’t think you have a soul.”

Putin’s military aggression toward Ukraine, his Syria campaign and his use of cyber espionage and disinformation strategies to interfere in other nations’ elections have frayed U.S.-Russia relations.

Still, Biden – a longtime proponent of nuclear disarmament – says he would negotiate extending the last remaining Cold War disarmament treaty with Moscow, which expires in February 2021.

China is one area of consensus between Biden and Trump. Democrats in general agree with Trump’s hard-line policy toward what he considers “unfair” Chinese trade policies, lack of market access and intellectual property protections.

On the campaign trail, Biden has been highly critical of China’s assertive territorial behavior in the South China Sea and toward Taiwan, and condemned its repression of Hong Kong and the much abused Uighur Muslim minority in Xinjiang.

Still, analysts predict he would seek more professional and constructive relations with China than the Trump White House. Biden knows Xi and has worked with him before.

Engaging the Middle East

Candidate Biden has promised to end America’s “forever wars” by continuing to withdraw American troops from Afghanistan and avoid reengaging in Iraq, Syria and other trouble spots.

Early in his career, he believed in U.S. intervention. In 1993 Biden favored arming the Bosnian Muslims, which the Clinton administration declined to do, and he supported George W. Bush’s invasions of Afghanistan and, more reluctantly, Iraq after 9/11.

As Obama’s vice president, however, Biden vacillated on U.S. military involvement abroad. He opposed intervention in Libya and wanted to replace soldiers in Afghanistan with drone warfare, while encouraging Obama to bomb Syria after the government used chemical weapons against civilians.

 A wholesale withdrawal from the Middle East under a Biden presidency is unlikely. He is attached to too many issues there, among them rethinking the U.S.‘s morally dubious alliance with Saudi Arabia and pushing for a two-state solution to the Israeli-Palestinian crisis. Biden also hopes to reactivate the 2015 Iran nuclear deal he helped create – but with new geopolitical concessions required of Tehran.

Biden has said that the United States has “an obligation to lead.” With his reputation for being a collaborative and principled politician, I expect his leadership would be welcomed by America’s allies – and perhaps even some of its foes.

The Conversation

This post originally appeared at The Conversation. Follow @ConversationUS on Twitter.

X
This website uses cookies to enhance user experience and to analyze performance and traffic on our website. We also share information about your use of our site with our social media, advertising and analytics partners. Learn More / Do Not Sell My Personal Information
Accept Cookies
X
Cookie Preferences Cookie List

Do Not Sell My Personal Information

When you visit our website, we store cookies on your browser to collect information. The information collected might relate to you, your preferences or your device, and is mostly used to make the site work as you expect it to and to provide a more personalized web experience. However, you can choose not to allow certain types of cookies, which may impact your experience of the site and the services we are able to offer. Click on the different category headings to find out more and change our default settings according to your preference. You cannot opt-out of our First Party Strictly Necessary Cookies as they are deployed in order to ensure the proper functioning of our website (such as prompting the cookie banner and remembering your settings, to log into your account, to redirect you when you log out, etc.). For more information about the First and Third Party Cookies used please follow this link.

Allow All Cookies

Manage Consent Preferences

Strictly Necessary Cookies - Always Active

We do not allow you to opt-out of our certain cookies, as they are necessary to ensure the proper functioning of our website (such as prompting our cookie banner and remembering your privacy choices) and/or to monitor site performance. These cookies are not used in a way that constitutes a “sale” of your data under the CCPA. You can set your browser to block or alert you about these cookies, but some parts of the site will not work as intended if you do so. You can usually find these settings in the Options or Preferences menu of your browser. Visit www.allaboutcookies.org to learn more.

Sale of Personal Data, Targeting & Social Media Cookies

Under the California Consumer Privacy Act, you have the right to opt-out of the sale of your personal information to third parties. These cookies collect information for analytics and to personalize your experience with targeted ads. You may exercise your right to opt out of the sale of personal information by using this toggle switch. If you opt out we will not be able to offer you personalised ads and will not hand over your personal information to any third parties. Additionally, you may contact our legal department for further clarification about your rights as a California consumer by using this Exercise My Rights link

If you have enabled privacy controls on your browser (such as a plugin), we have to take that as a valid request to opt-out. Therefore we would not be able to track your activity through the web. This may affect our ability to personalize ads according to your preferences.

Targeting cookies may be set through our site by our advertising partners. They may be used by those companies to build a profile of your interests and show you relevant adverts on other sites. They do not store directly personal information, but are based on uniquely identifying your browser and internet device. If you do not allow these cookies, you will experience less targeted advertising.

Social media cookies are set by a range of social media services that we have added to the site to enable you to share our content with your friends and networks. They are capable of tracking your browser across other sites and building up a profile of your interests. This may impact the content and messages you see on other websites you visit. If you do not allow these cookies you may not be able to use or see these sharing tools.

If you want to opt out of all of our lead reports and lists, please submit a privacy request at our Do Not Sell page.

Save Settings
Cookie Preferences Cookie List

Cookie List

A cookie is a small piece of data (text file) that a website – when visited by a user – asks your browser to store on your device in order to remember information about you, such as your language preference or login information. Those cookies are set by us and called first-party cookies. We also use third-party cookies – which are cookies from a domain different than the domain of the website you are visiting – for our advertising and marketing efforts. More specifically, we use cookies and other tracking technologies for the following purposes:

Strictly Necessary Cookies

We do not allow you to opt-out of our certain cookies, as they are necessary to ensure the proper functioning of our website (such as prompting our cookie banner and remembering your privacy choices) and/or to monitor site performance. These cookies are not used in a way that constitutes a “sale” of your data under the CCPA. You can set your browser to block or alert you about these cookies, but some parts of the site will not work as intended if you do so. You can usually find these settings in the Options or Preferences menu of your browser. Visit www.allaboutcookies.org to learn more.

Functional Cookies

We do not allow you to opt-out of our certain cookies, as they are necessary to ensure the proper functioning of our website (such as prompting our cookie banner and remembering your privacy choices) and/or to monitor site performance. These cookies are not used in a way that constitutes a “sale” of your data under the CCPA. You can set your browser to block or alert you about these cookies, but some parts of the site will not work as intended if you do so. You can usually find these settings in the Options or Preferences menu of your browser. Visit www.allaboutcookies.org to learn more.

Performance Cookies

We do not allow you to opt-out of our certain cookies, as they are necessary to ensure the proper functioning of our website (such as prompting our cookie banner and remembering your privacy choices) and/or to monitor site performance. These cookies are not used in a way that constitutes a “sale” of your data under the CCPA. You can set your browser to block or alert you about these cookies, but some parts of the site will not work as intended if you do so. You can usually find these settings in the Options or Preferences menu of your browser. Visit www.allaboutcookies.org to learn more.

Sale of Personal Data

We also use cookies to personalize your experience on our websites, including by determining the most relevant content and advertisements to show you, and to monitor site traffic and performance, so that we may improve our websites and your experience. You may opt out of our use of such cookies (and the associated “sale” of your Personal Information) by using this toggle switch. You will still see some advertising, regardless of your selection. Because we do not track you across different devices, browsers and GEMG properties, your selection will take effect only on this browser, this device and this website.

Social Media Cookies

We also use cookies to personalize your experience on our websites, including by determining the most relevant content and advertisements to show you, and to monitor site traffic and performance, so that we may improve our websites and your experience. You may opt out of our use of such cookies (and the associated “sale” of your Personal Information) by using this toggle switch. You will still see some advertising, regardless of your selection. Because we do not track you across different devices, browsers and GEMG properties, your selection will take effect only on this browser, this device and this website.

Targeting Cookies

We also use cookies to personalize your experience on our websites, including by determining the most relevant content and advertisements to show you, and to monitor site traffic and performance, so that we may improve our websites and your experience. You may opt out of our use of such cookies (and the associated “sale” of your Personal Information) by using this toggle switch. You will still see some advertising, regardless of your selection. Because we do not track you across different devices, browsers and GEMG properties, your selection will take effect only on this browser, this device and this website.