Joe Biden's Ideas

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By SIMON TISDALL*

For many on the left, Biden's global perspective does not represent so much a new dawn as a return to policies led by the Washington establishment.

Anyway, Joe Biden is old in the ways of the world. As vice president under Barack Obama, he got to know all the big international actors. As chairman of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, he helped direct the US foreign policy.

After four years of manic leadership by Donald Trump, the Democrats offer a steady and reliable hand at the helm. Biden's big goal: a glorious American restoration, at home and abroad.

But his long experience is a double-edged sword. For many on the left, Biden's global outlook does not represent so much a new dawn as a return to pre-Trump-era Washington establishment-led policies.

Those hoping for radical action on pressing issues such as the climate crisis and global inequality, or confronting 'tough' authoritarian leaders, may be disappointed.

If he wins, Biden supporters say, America will be back in control of the world's direction. Normal operation will return. Biden's critics say he is little more than the shadow of his former boss - a careful, centrist politician like Obama, but without his vision.

In any case, who Biden picks to fill the posts of secretary of state, national security adviser and secretary of defense could be crucial.

Pressure from Democratic party progressives like Bernie Sanders and Elizabeth Warren pushed Biden to the left during the campaign.

The twin health and economic crises caused by the coronavirus pandemic also displaced his ideas. He now speaks of 'reimagining' America's relations with the rest of the world.

Whether your perspectives have really changed, time will tell. And for all his foreign policy experience, it's clear that Biden's primary focus, if elected, will be domestic.

Writing the magazine Foreign Affairs earlier this year, he laid out a "middle-class foreign policy" whose top priority was "to enable Americans to succeed in the global economy."

Strengthening the United States internally was a prerequisite for restoring global leadership, he said. His priorities were clear.

The idea that America can and should lead internationally, and that Trump has 'abdicated' from this task is, above all, branded in Biden, a child of the cold war.

That assumption of sovereignty is now challenged by those who believe that America's post-1989 and post-11/XNUMX leadership – and particularly its armed interventions in other countries – has served neither the United States nor the world. They point to Iraq – a war Biden championed.

“If you liked American national security policy before Trump screwed it up, then Biden is probably your guy,” he wrote. historian Andrew Bacevich, former army colonel. "Install it in the Oval Office and the blind pursuit of 'dominance in the name of internationalism' will resume."

Bacevich argues that foreign policy making – decisions about sanctioning Cuba or Iran, for example – must be taken out of the hands of the political elite, and must be publicly debated and democratized.

O approach Biden is more of a top-down type. To be fair, he says he will rebuild alliances, cultivate multilateralism and always try diplomacy first.

But worries persist that his grand project could turn out to be a tragedy, heralding a return to archaic and arbitrary American exceptionalism.

Climate and Health

Trump abandoned the Paris Agreement last year; Biden promised to return immediately, committing the US to meeting global warming targets by cutting greenhouse gas emissions. In July he announced a four-year, $2 trillion plan to invest in a wide range of climate solutions and a separate scheme to decarbonize the power sector by 2035. On the pandemic, Biden said the US will again join the World Health Organization and resume its funding. He proposed a US-led coalition to coordinate the search for a vaccine and new treatments for Covid-19.

Democracy and Values

Biden says the world is locked in a battle between democracy and authoritarianism — and that the United States must be at the forefront. “As a nation, we must prove to the world that America is ready to lead again – not just by the example of our power, but also by the power of our example,” he wrote to the Foreign Affairs. He says he will convene a "global democracy summit" in his first year in office "to renew the shared spirit and purpose of the nations of the free world." He vowed to ensure that the US presidency will once again be seen as a champion of free and open elections, judicial independence, human rights and free speech.

UK and Europe

A man proud of his Irish roots, Biden opposes any Brexit outcome that would jeopardize the Good Friday deal or threaten peace in Ireland. Even if such concerns are allayed, a quick free trade agreement between the US and the UK, as promised by Trump, is likely to prove elusive. Given Boris Johnson's clear 'Trumpian' style of right-wing populist politics, Biden is expected to appeal to Berlin and Paris, rather than London, as key partners on European affairs. Like Obama, he favors a strong, united European Union that makes common cause with the US. Biden could be the gravedigger who finally bury the 'special relationship'.

China

Despite Trump accusing him otherwise, Biden says he will be tough on China, citing his threats to Taiwan, its 'unfair' business practices, its habit of 'stealing' the technology and intellectual property of American companies. To do so, he proposes "building a united front of US allies and partners to confront China's abusive behavior and human rights violations - even as we seek to cooperate on issues where our interests converge, such as climate change, non-proliferation and global health security”. He has been notably critical of Beijing's treatment of Uighur Muslims.

nuclear proliferation

Biden's plans to revive the nuclear weapons treaty system with Russia degraded during the Trump years, starting with an extension of the 2010 New Start treaty negotiated by Obama. He also says he will rehabilitate the nuclear deal with Iran, from 2015, which Trump abandoned, if Tehran commits again to observing its terms. On North Korea's nuclear weapons, he has little new to say. However, the modernization of the US nuclear arsenal, initiated by Obama, seems to be about to continue.

Conflicts

Biden says he wants reinvigorate NATO and strengthen alliances in Asia; that it will adopt a dissuasive position in the face of Russia's anti-Western maneuvers; that he will try to revive the peace process between Israel and Palestine, short-circuited by Trump; that it will end US support for the Saudi war in Yemen; that will end the separation of families on the border with Mexico and reform immigration; and that will support UN and international law. Like Trump, he also vows to end what he calls “infinity wars”. “We must bring back the vast majority of our troops from the wars in Afghanistan and the Middle East and narrowly define our missions to defeat al-Qaeda and ISIS,” he says. Another war in the Middle East, Syria, is rarely mentioned.

diplomacy first

“Diplomacy requires credibility and Trump has ruined ours,” says Biden. “In the conduct of foreign policy, a nation's word is its most valuable asset. As president, I will elevate diplomacy to the role of a primary tool of US foreign policy.”

*Simon Tisdall is a columnist and assistant editor for The Guardian newspaper.

Originally published in the newspaper The Guardian.

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