So far, 2020 isn’t turning out to be a defense and foreign policy election, with voters viewing overseas commitments and threats as merely the sixth-most-important issue, according to a Pew Research poll completed in August. Foreign policy ranks behind the economy, health care, Supreme Court appointments, the coronavirus, and violent crime and just ahead of gun policy in the concerns of voters.
That foreign policy isn’t higher on this list is both a tribute to the Trump foreign policy team, led by Secretary of State Mike Pompeo, and a frustration to Washington’s old guard, most of whom foretold of chaos and war under Trump’s presidency—and most of whom are lining up to work for Biden, should he win in November.
So, how does former Vice President Joe Biden’s foreign policy compare to President Trump’s?
Now that Donald Trump has been President for three and a half years, his foreign policy principles are clear: make America stronger by revising unfair trade agreements; don’t get America into any new wars (while attempting to draw down our existing military commitments); encourage our allies to shoulder more of their own defense burdens; take a more active approach to lessen the threat from the nuclear weapons programs in Iran and North Korea; and, most significantly, address the growing danger from the People’s Republic of China with a laser-like focus.
Trump’s emphasis on China ought not surprise any who were paying attention. Back in 2011, when many in the establishment were still clinging to the notion that communist China could be shaped into some version of an international rules-abiding liberalized nation, Trump declared that China’s mercantilist trade policies resulted in its holding a trillion dollars in U.S. debt while withering the American manufacturing base—and to address it, the U.S. should place a tariff on Chinese goods.
To emphasize: for Trump, everything else pales in comparison to the China threat.
Joe Biden was first elected to the U.S. Senate 48 years ago. As a result, he has the longest record on foreign policy of anyone who has ever run for president. That record isn’t particularly compelling.
In his book Duty, Robert Gates, the former defense secretary under the previous two presidents, Bush and Obama, wrote of Joe Biden in 2014, “I think he has been wrong on nearly every major foreign policy and national security issue over the past four decades.”
Biden’s lifetime of foreign policy miscues include:
- Opposing Ronald Reagan’s military buildup and the Strategic Defense Initiative
- Voting to invade Iraq in 2002, saying in 2003, “I voted to go into Iraq, and I’d vote to do it again.”
- Early support for the 1999 bombing of Serbia which pushed Serbs to back the authoritarian leader there while stifling the nascent pro-democracy movement.
- Criticism of President Trump’s authorization to kill Iranian Gen. Qassem Soleimani, the head of the Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps and the man responsible for paying bounties to the Taliban for the killing of American troops in Afghanistan.
- Advising President Obama to wait for more information before approving the raid that killed Osama bin Laden in 2011—advice, that if acted upon, might have led to bin Laden’s escape.
Reviewing Biden’s campaign statements and materials for clues on his foreign policy proposals suggests a Biden administration would major on the minors. In a sprawling 4,444-word essay entitled, “Why America Must Lead Again,” Biden sets out his vision. He mentions China 13 times:
- Suggesting U.S. tech giants shouldn’t be aiding China’s repression.
- Claiming his foreign policy will help the middle class “…win the competition for the future against China or anyone else… (author’s italics).“
- Saying “There is no reason we should be falling behind China or anyone else (author’s italics) when it comes to clean energy, quantum computing, artificial intelligence, 5G, high-speed rail, or the race to end cancer as we know it.”
- That, “The United States, not China, should be leading…” with new trade deals.
- Admitting that “The United States does need to get tough with China…” or else China will “…keep robbing the United States and American companies of their technology and intellectual property,” with the best way to address the challenge being to “…build a united front of U.S. allies and partners to confront China’s abusive behaviors and human rights violations, even as we seek to cooperate with Beijing on issues where our interests converge, such as climate change, nonproliferation, and global health security.”
- Working with “…China, to advance our shared objective of a denuclearized North Korea…”
- Ensuring that “the rules of the digital age (aren’t) written by China and Russia.”
- And working with China on climate change.
Absent is any mention by Biden of China’s massive military build up of modern missiles, ships, aircraft, and space systems and its growing willingness to use that military power against virtually all neighboring nations. It’s as if, by closing one’s eyes to the threat, one can wish the dragon away.
So while the People’s Republic of China under the Chinese Communist Party is methodically preparing for a military conquest of the free island of Taiwan, to slice off more Himalayan territory from India, to take islands from Japan, Malaysia, Vietnam, and Indonesia (all while holding the U.S. military at bay with an increasing array of long range missiles), Biden stresses the importance of climate change and getting the Chinese to use less coal.
President Trump is paying attention to the true nature of the existential threat from communist China, while Joe Biden focuses on lesser irritants from an earlier era.