The conventional wisdom has it that this year’s presidential election is Joe Biden’s to lose. And it’s not only Americans who are watching the polls closely, hoping and praying for one outcome or another. European leaders who have been repeatedly flummoxed by Donald Trump are eager for a return to an America they feel they better understand. Certain Asian allies long for the days when Washington behaved predictably, and didn’t, for example, try to extort billions in exchange for a continued U.S. troop presence. Beijing and Moscow doubtless also have a preference, as do Israel and Iran. But will Biden be the president they’re hoping for?
The former vice president and chairman of the Senate Committee on Foreign Relations has been in Washington for a very long time. He was first elected in 1972. His foreign policy views, many believe, are an open book. And for most with an internationalist bent, it’s a good book. Pro-NATO, pro-U.S. global leadership, pro-human freedom, tough on bad guys. Indeed, for a select few, even his “yes” vote authorizing the Iraq war is a sign of a principled commitment to an expansive view of U.S. national security.
Certainly, Biden had his share of foolish moments, opposing the surge in Iraq that won the war being the most notable. But on balance, the senator was very much in the Scoop Jackson school of pro-Israel, pro-human rights, pro-intervention policy. Of course, that’s Senator Joe Biden. Then there’s Vice President Joe Biden, whose record is decidedly different.
As vice president, perhaps appropriately, Biden fashioned himself less as the eminence gris advising a novice in the White House, more as Obama amanuensis. Biden was reportedly eager for withdrawals from Iraq and Afghanistan, as was his boss. If he disagreed with Obama’s infamous uninterest in Russia (“the ‘80s called, they want their foreign policy back”), he kept it quiet. And on China, while it is true that the Obama administration executed a much-ballyhooed “pivot” to Asia (and away from the Middle East), it was clear even at the time that Asia would not be getting much more than rhetoric from Obama/Biden.