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Democratic presidential front-runner Joe Biden said Thursday that he would lead a sweeping overhaul of U.S. foreign policy to reverse many of Donald Trump’s actions.
The former vice president said he would focus on restoring America’s central role in mobilizing democracies against global threats by restoring alliances and relationships that have been damaged by the administration. He also emphasized domestic priorities such as recasting immigration policies, reinvigorating U.S. democracy and equipping Americans to better succeed in the global economy.
“Political wisdom holds that Americans, the American public, doesn’t vote on foreign policy,” he said in New York, speaking before a crowd that included some former diplomats. “But I think that’s an old way of thinking. In 2019 foreign policy is domestic policy in my view. And domestic policy is foreign policy.”
Biden is coming off several difficult weeks on the campaign trail where he’s faced criticism for his record. The attempt to reset the conversation follows a rocky performance at the first Democratic debate, a weekend speech to apologize for comments he made about segregationist senators, and efforts to explain some of the many potential policy landmines from his six terms in the Senate.
The speech was his first of the campaign devoted to foreign policy, which Biden and his advisers see as an area of clear strength for him given his long experience and voters’ understanding of his powerful role in the administration of President Barack Obama. It’s also a return to more directly taking on Trump after fending off attacks from other Democratic presidential hopefuls.
“The challenge of following this disastrous presidency will not be just to restore the reputation of our credibility,” Biden said. “It’ll be to enact a forward-looking foreign policy for the world as we find it today and as we anticipate it will be tomorrow and years to come.”
Biden pledged to end a range of Trump policies, including the travel ban halting immigration from a group of mostly Muslim countries, efforts to cut down on asylum applicants and the global gag rule, which blocks federal funding for nongovernmental organizations that provide services related to abortion.
In trade negotiations with China, “there’s not going to be a back to business as usual,” he said. “We need new rules. We need new processes that has the voices of all the shareholders at the table including leaders representing labor and the environment. We must negotiate from the strongest possible position” along with fellow democracies, instead of the U.S.’s go-it-alone approach under Trump.
Biden’s speech, delivered at the City University of New York, was heavy on indictments of Trump’s conduct. The world sees Trump as “insincere, ill-informed and impulsive -- and sometimes corrupt,” he said. “Above all diplomacy requires credibility and Donald Trump has absolutely corroded our credibility” while also alienating the U.S. from its allies and treating the NATO alliance like a protection racket.
Like Obama and Trump during their presidential campaigns, Biden called for an end to the “forever wars” in Afghanistan and the Middle East. He would bring back most U.S. troops from Afghanistan, end support for the Saudi-led war in Yemen and focus efforts in the region on defeating al-Qaeda and ISIS. “It’s long past time we end the forever wars which have cost us untold blood and treasure,” he said.
Biden also said he would restore daily press briefings at the White House and departments of State and Defense that Trump has severely curtailed.
The former Delaware lawmaker has been involved in foreign policy throughout his political career as a longtime member of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee and the top Democrat on that panel for more than a decade before taking on an even bigger role in the Obama administration.
But focusing on his international expertise might not bring much political gain: In June, just 3 per cent of Americans surveyed by Gallup said foreign policy and national security-related issues were the country’s most important problem.
Biden has already come under fire from some of his rivals as the only candidate in the race who voted in 2002 to authorize the use of force in Iraq. The other 2020 contender who was in Congress at the time, Vermont Senator Bernie Sanders, was against military action.
Bin Laden Raid
And rivals are likely to point out that Obama didn’t always follow Biden’s foreign policy advice. In 2009, the president sided with Secretary of State Hillary Clinton over Biden in approving a troop surge in Afghanistan. Biden urged Obama not to go forward with the May 2011 raid that killed Osama bin Laden. But Obama approved the mission, which Biden has since touted as an accomplishment of their administration.
Biden didn’t point to any major breaks from the Obama era. Asked how Biden’s approach would differ, an official speaking on the condition of anonymity ahead of the speech said the former vice president would need to address new challenges around the world and would put an especially strong emphasis on fighting climate change, including by re-entering the Paris climate agreement and pushing countries to make commitments that go beyond that pact.
Biden said that if Iran returns to compliance with the 2015 nuclear accord, the U.S. would also rejoin the agreement while demanding that it be strengthened and lengthened. He didn’t directly address whether he would continue direct talks with North Korean leader Kim Jong Un but said he would empower negotiators to “jump start a sustained coordinated campaign” with allies and other stakeholders in the region such as China.
Within his first year in office. Biden said he would convene a gathering of the world’s democracies as part of an effort “to renew the spirit and shared purpose of the nations of the free world” after Trump and other world leaders have sought to erode it. The Summit for Democracy would urge democracies to make new commitments to fight corruption, defend against authoritarianism, and advance human rights on their own soil and abroad.
He would also use the summit to call for social-media and other technology companies to agree to take steps to protect democracies and freedom of speech while guarding against abuses of technology around the world.
Biden would also convene a summit with the world’s major carbon emitters to push them to make even more ambitious national pledges than those in the Paris agreement.