Foreign policy is Joe Biden’s forte. It is a lane he can travel relatively apart from the two dozen others vying for the Democratic nomination for President, and also is the starkest contrast to Trump. It is also gets to the heart of everyday Americans’ most horrific anxieties – living with the fear of nuclear war, climate catastrophe, trade wars that upend businesses and household budgets – and where a president has the most unconstrained power. The proverbial finger on the nuclear button.
Biden alluded to the fact US administrations have not been infallible regarding foreign policy. And though Bernie Sanders (and others) will use his vote as a Senator for the Iraq War as a cudgel as he and Obama did against Hillary Clinton, that vote only confirms one of Biden’s most crucial arguments to replace Trump: a President must be credible. Iraq was a product of Bush/Cheney administration lies – about Weapons of Mass Destruction, about Saddam Hussein’s culpability for 9/11, about what the Senate “authorization” actually authorized.
The speech Biden delivered at the NYU Graduate Center on Fifth Avenue in New York City on July 11 summed up in the clearest terms the former Vice President’s rationale to be President – as he summed it up, “In 2019, foreign policy is domestic policy, and domestic policy is foreign policy.”
He delivered the speech in moderated, controlled tones. It was workmanlike, but, as he would say, “deadly serious.” Here is a highlighted transcript – Karen Rubin, News& Photo Features
Ladies and Gentlemen, political wisdom holds that the American public doesn’t vote on foreign policy – but that’s an old way of thinking.
In 2019, foreign policy is domestic policy, and domestic policy is foreign policy.
They are a deeply connected set of choices we make about how to advance the American way of life and our vision for the future.
And, like everything about this election, the threat Donald Trump poses to our national security, and to who we are as a country, is so extreme, we cannot afford to ignore it. His erratic policies and failures to uphold basic democratic principles have muddied our reputation, our place in the world, and our ability to lead it.
So let me start today, by reminding everyone about what’s been lost amid the chest-thumping, the self-inflicted setbacks, and the manufactured crises of this administration.
American foreign policy must be purposeful and inspiring, based on clear goals and driven by sound strategies – not Twitter-tantrums.
And the overarching purpose of our foreign policy must be to defend and advance the security, prosperity, and democratic values of the United States.
Every President in modern history prior to Donald Trump, Democrat and Republican alike, has understood and carried out this basic directive – often imperfectly – but never before has it been so thoroughly abandoned.
I knew when I saw how Donald Trump responded to the events in Charlottesville – assigning a moral equivalence between those who promote hate, and those who oppose it – that the threat to our democracy was unlike any in my lifetime.
Less than a year later, Trump again stood before the press – this time on foreign soil, in Helsinki – and repeatedly deferred to Vladimir Putin – over American interests, the American intelligence community, and, I would argue, the American people. It was one of the weakest, most shameful performances by a U.S. president in modern history – perhaps ever.
And one we saw repeated just last month at the G-20 summit, where Trump smirked along with Putin – making a joke out of Russia’s very real, very dangerous assault on our institutions.
Trump debases our cherished democratic values every time he plays sycophant to strongmen. When he refuses to condemn Saudi Arabia for the gruesome murder of a journalist and American resident. Or when he “falls in love” with a murderous dictator in North Korea.
He undermines our democratic alliances, while embracing dictators who appeal to his vanity. And make no mistake, the world sees Trump clearly for what he is – Corrupt, insecure, ill-informed, impulsive. Dangerously incompetent and incapable of leadership.
It’s why we’ve seen such a precarious drop in how the rest of the world views the United States. One recent poll found America’s leadership is now less respected than China’s and on par with Russia.
If we give Donald Trump four more years – we may never recover America’s standing in the world or our capacity to bring nations together. And that would be catastrophic for our security and our future.
We can’t let that happen. As President, I will remind the world who we are. The United States of America does not coddle dictators. The United States of America gives hate no safe harbor.
There will be no more Charlottesvilles. No more Helsinkis.
The challenge of following this disastrous presidency, however, will not be to just restore our reputation and credibility.
We must enact a forward-looking foreign policy for the world as we find it today – and as we anticipate it will be tomorrow.
Much has shifted in the past few years. The international landscape is more crowded, competitive and complicated.
And when we look at what’s different today, two key points stand out, one is that the speed and intensity of our gravest challenges means that the fates of nations are more intertwined than ever before.
Climate change, nuclear proliferation, great power aggression, transnational terrorism, cyberwarfare, disruptive new technologies, mass migration – none of them can be resolved by the United States, or any nation, acting alone. America’s security, prosperity and way of life require the strongest possible network of partners and allies working alongside us.
Yet Donald Trump’s brand of America First has too often left America alone, making it that much harder to mobilize others to address threats to our common well-being.
The second is the rapid advance of authoritarianism, nationalism, and illiberal tendencies around the world – not just in Russia and China, but also among our allies, places like Turkey, the Philippines, Hungary.
In every part of the world, technology and instant information are driving change at an unprecedented pace and scope, causing many to feel confused and vulnerable.
Democratic governments – paralyzed by hyper-partisanship, hobbled by corruption – are having a harder time delivering for their people. Trust in our institutions is down. Fear of the “other” is up.
Together, these forces have driven a dangerous resurgence of extreme nationalism and illiberalism, of protectionism and xenophobia.
And Donald Trump and demagogues around the world are leaning into these forces for their own personal and political gain.
But this is not a moment for fear.
This is the time for us to tap the strength and the audacity that took us to victory in two world wars and brought down the Iron Curtain. That triumph of democracy and liberalism over fascism and autocracy is what created the Free World. And this contest won’t just define our past – It will define our future as well.
Today, democracy is under more pressure than at any time since the 1930s.
Freedom House has reported that, of the 41 countries consistently ranked “free” from 1985 to 2005, 22 have registered net declines in freedom in the last five years.
Yet, when the world’s democracies look to America to stand for the values that unite us – to truly lead the Free World – Donald Trump seems to be on the other team. When those living under oppression, yearning for freedom, look to the United States for hope – Trump has nothing to offer.
We cannot forget that democracy is the root of our society, the wellspring of our power, the source of our renewal. It strengthens and amplifies our leadership to keep us safe in the world. It’s the engine of our ingenuity that drives our economic prosperity. It’s the heart of who we are and how we see the world – and how the world sees us.
As president, I will ensure that democracy is once more the watchword of U.S. foreign policy – not to launch some moral crusade, but because it is in our enlightened self-interest.
We must restore our ability to rally the Free World – so we can once more make our stand upon new fields of action and together face new challenges.
We only have one opportunity to reset our democracy. After Trump, we have to be prepared to make the most of it.
So, what does that mean in practice?
First, it means repairing and reinvigorating our own democracy, even as we strengthen the coalition of democracies that stand with us on every continent.
I will start by putting our own house in order – remaking our education system so that a child’s opportunity in life isn’t determined by their zip code or race; reforming our criminal justice system to eliminate inequitable disparities; putting the teeth back in the Voting Rights Act.
I will seek greater transparency in our Campaign Finance System. We need to get big money out altogether, and ensure that foreign dark money doesn’t continue to pollute our politics.
We need to dedicate greater resources, including cyber resources, to defending our elections.
I served as a founding member of a Trans-Atlantic Commission on Election Integrity to fight back against Russia’s attacks on Western democracies. We asked candidates across Europe and North America to sign a pledge, committing to transparency in campaign finances and to reject the use of fabricated or hacked materials. Now that I am a candidate for office – I have signed that pledge, and I urge everyone running for president to do the same. It’s the right thing to do.
As individuals, and as a nation, we have to prove to the world that the United States is prepared to lead – not just with the example of our power, but the power of our example.
To that end, as president, I will take decisive steps to renew our core American values and return transparency to our government.
We believe in freedom of religion, which is why I will end the Muslim ban.
We believe in free speech, which is why I will end the Global Gag Rule that prevents money from going to international NGOs that even talk about family planning.
We believe in the power of a free press, which is why I will immediately return to daily press briefings at the White House, State Department, and Department of Defense.
We are a nation of immigrants. President Trump took those words out of the mission statement of our citizenship and immigration services. I will restore them.
Our Statue of Liberty invites in the tired, the poor, the huddled masses yearning to breathe free. I will reverse Trump’s detrimental asylum policies and raise our target for refugee admissions to a level commensurate with our responsibility and the unprecedented global need.
A Biden administration would immediately end the horrific practice of separating families at our border and holding children in for-profit detention centers.
And I would order a review of Temporary Protected Status to vulnerable populations who cannot find safety in their countries ripped apart by violence or disaster – including Venezuelans and Haitians.
We’ve always been a nation that chooses science over fiction – and from climate change to standards for harmful environmental toxins to global health policy. We’re going to return facts to our policy making.
Renew a government-wide focus on uplifting the rights of women and girls, at home and abroad. And revitalize our national commitment to advancing human rights and democracy around the world.
These changes – and many more, which I’ve released on our website – are just a start – a day-one down payment on our commitment to living our democratic values at home.
And then, I will invite my fellow democratic leaders to put strengthening democracy back on the global agenda.
We will organize and host in the United States, during the first year of my administration, a global Summit for Democracy to renew the spirit and shared purpose of the nations of the Free World.
Building off the successful model we instituted during the Obama-Biden administration with the Nuclear Security Summit – leaders who attend must come prepared with concrete commitments to take on corruption, counter authoritarianism, and advance human rights in their own nations.
We have to be honest about our friends that are falling short and forge a common agenda for action to address the greatest threats to our shared values. We’ll include civil society organizations from around the world that stand on the frontlines in defense of our democracies.
And we’ll challenge the private sector, including tech corporations and social media giants, to make their own commitments.
America’s openness fueled their success. Now I believe they have a duty to make sure their algorithms and platforms are not misused to sow division at home, or to empower the surveillance state, facilitate repression and censorship in China and elsewhere, spread hate, or spur people to violence.
Second, we will equip our people to succeed in the global economy with a foreign policy for the middle class. To win the competition for the future, we must double down on sharpening our innovative edge and uniting the economic might of our friends to counter abusive economic practices.
We know that economic security is national security. But there are a lot of communities across this country that are hurting because we’ve neglected the basics.
Our trade policy has to start at home, by strengthening our greatest asset – our middle class.
We have to take care of everything I’ve talked about on the campaign trail – giving every student the skills or training they need to obtain a good 21st century job; making sure every single American has access to quality, affordable healthcare; investing in rebuilding our bridges and roads, modernizing our airports and trains; making sure Americans have access to broadband networks; reforming our taxes to reward work, not just wealth; leading the clean-economy revolution to create 10 million new jobs right here in the United States.
I will make investment in research and development a cornerstone of my presidency so that the United States is leading the charge with innovation. There’s no reason we should be falling behind China or anyone else when it comes to clean energy, quantum computing, artificial intelligence, 5G, and high-speed rail. And there’s no reason that we cannot ensure that our people are ready – for the transition that will inevitably accompany this new technology.
Ladies and Gentlemen – we have the greatest research universities in the world. The most agile system of venture capital. We’re virtually energy independent. We have a strong tradition of the rule of law. And most important, we have an extraordinary population of workers and innovators who have never let our country down.
A foreign policy for the middle class will also work to make sure the rules of the international economy are not rigged against us. Because when American businesses compete on a fair playing field – we win.
President Trump may think he’s being tough on China, but all he has delivered is more pain for American farmers, manufacturers, and consumers. His economic decision making is as short-sighted as the rest of his foreign policy. China is playing the long-game – extending its global reach and investing in the technologies of the future – while Trump is designating our closest allies – from Canada to the European Union – as National Security Threats in order to impose damaging and pointless tariffs.
By cutting us off from the economic clout of our partners, he knee-caps our capacity to take on the real economic threat.
We do need to get tough with China. If China has its way, it will keep robbing the U.S. of our technology and intellectual property, or forcing American companies to give it away in order to do business in China.
And the most effective way to meet that challenge is to build a united front of friends and partners to challenge China’s abusive behavior – even as we seek to deepen cooperation on issues where our interests converge, like climate change and preventing nuclear proliferation.
There’s no going back to business as usual on trade. We need new rules, and a new process that has the voices of all stakeholders at the table – including leaders representing labor and the environment.
We must negotiate from the strongest possible position. On our own, we represent about one-quarter of global GDP. When we join together with fellow democracies, that number doubles. China can’t afford to ignore half the global economy. That gives us substantial leverage to shape the future rules of the road on everything from the environment to labor, trade, technology and transparency so they continue to reflect democratic interests and values – America’s interests and values.
Not China’s. Not Russia’s.
The world does not organize itself. If we do not shape the norms and institutions that govern relations among nations, rest assure – that some other nation will step into the vacuum, OR – no one will – and chaos will result.
Which brings me to my final point.
The Biden foreign policy agenda will place America back at the head of the table, working with our allies and partners – to mobilize global action on global threats, especially those unique to our Century.
American leadership is not infallible. We have made missteps and mistakes.
Too often we have relied solely on the might of our military instead of drawing on our full array of strengths.
Let me be clear – I will never hesitate to protect the American people Including, when necessary, by using force.
As Vice President, I worked with President Obama to craft the military and diplomatic campaign that ultimately defeated ISIS. In fact, it turned out Trump’s secret plan to destroy the so-called caliphate was to continue the plan we put in place.
We have the strongest military in the world – I would argue in the history of the world. As President, I will ensure it stays that way. I will make the investments necessary – to equip our troops for the challenges of the next century, not the last one.
But the use of force should be our last resort, not our first. Used only to defend our vital interests, when the objective is clear and achievable, and with the informed consent of the American people.
It’s past time to end the Forever Wars, which have cost us untold blood and treasure.
As I have long argued, we should bring the vast majority of our troops home – from the wars in Afghanistan and the Middle East, and narrowly focus our mission on Al-Qaeda and ISIS.
And we should end our support for the Saudi-led war in Yemen. [This prompted applause.]
Staying entrenched – in unwinnable conflicts – drains our capacity to lead on other issues that require our attention, and it prevents us from rebuilding the other instruments of American power.
So I will make it my mission – to restore American leadership – and elevate diplomacy as our principal tool of foreign policy.
I will reinvest in The Diplomatic Corps that this administration has hollowed out – and put our diplomacy back in the hands of genuine professionals.
Above all, diplomacy requires credibility.And Donald Trump has absolutely corroded our country’s credibility.
In the conduct of American foreign policy – and especially in times of crisis – a President’s word – is his or her most valuable asset.
But by pulling out of treaty after treaty, reneging on policy after policy – walking away from America’s responsibilities, and lying – about matters big and small – Trump has bankrupted America’s word in the world.
And he has alienated us from the very democratic allies we need most.
Trump has taken a battering ram to our NATO alliance – he treats it like an American-run protection racket.
He just doesn’t get it.
NATO is at the very heart of America’s national security. And more than that, it’s the bulwark of the liberal democratic ideal. It is an alliance – first and foremost – of values.
That makes it far more durable, reliable, and powerful than partnerships built by coercion or cash.
The same is true of our core alliances in Asia.
And let’s be clear: working cooperatively with other nations that share our values and goals doesn’t make America a sucker – it makes us more secure and more successful.
We amplify our own strength, extend our presence around the globe, and magnify our impact – while sharing the burden among willing partners.
No country, even one as powerful as ours, can go it alone against challenges that respect no borders and cannot be contained by walls.
As president, I will do more than just restore our historic partnerships I’ll lead the effort to reimagine them – to better meet the challenges we’re grappling with today.
To keep NATO’s military capabilities sharp, while also expanding our capacity – to take on non-traditional threats like weaponized corruption, cyber theft, and new challenges in space and on the high seas. And, by the way, the increase in NATO defense spending started under the Obama-Biden administration.
We need to look for opportunities to strengthen cooperation with democratic friends – beyond North America and beyond Europe – reaching out to our partners in Asia, including Japan, South Korea, Australia, and India to fortify our collective capabilities.
Sustaining our ironclad commitment to Israel’s security.
Integrating our friends in Latin America and Africa and seizing opportunities throughout the broader network of democracies.
And in order to regain the confidence of the world – we’re going to have to prove that America says what it means, and means what it says.
Especially when it comes to the challenges that will define our time: the renewed threat of nuclear war, mass migration, disruptive technology, and climate change.
We cannot be a credible voice on non-proliferation and nuclear security while we are abandoning the deals we negotiated.
From North Korea to Iran, Russia to Saudi Arabia, Trump has made the prospect of nuclear proliferation, a new nuclear arms race, and even the use of nuclear weapons more likely.
I’ve worked on these issues my entire adult life. I understand what’s at stake and I understand the consequences of failing to act. That is why, as President, I would renew our commitment to arms control for a new era.
The historic Iran nuclear deal we negotiated blocked Iran from getting a nuclear weapon. Yet Trump cast it aside, prompting Iran to restart its nuclear program and become more provocative – raising the risk of another disastrous war in the region.
If Tehran returns to compliance with the deal, I would re-join the agreement and work with our allies to strengthen and extend it, while more effectively pushing back against Iran’s other destabilizing activities.
In North Korea, I will empower our negotiators and jumpstart a sustained, coordinated campaign with our allies and others – including China – to advance our shared objective of a denuclearized North Korea.
I will pursue an extension of the New START Treaty, an anchor of strategic stability between the United States and Russia, and use that as a foundation for new arms control arrangements.
And I would take other steps to demonstrate our commitment to reducing the role of nuclear weapons.
As I said in 2017, I believe the sole purpose of the U.S. nuclear arsenal should be deterring – and if necessary, retaliating against a nuclear attack. As president, I will work to put that belief into practice, in consultation with our Allies and our military.
By the same measure, we cannot push nations to meet their humanitarian obligations to address the biggest refugee and migration crisis since World War II if we are not living our democratic values and firmly rejecting Trump’s nativist rhetoric.
It shames our nation when a father and his baby daughter drown seeking our shores, when children are locked away in overcrowded detention centers – denied even the most basic necessities – when families are ripped apart.
Abandoning our deepest-held values does nothing to increase security at our border – and everything to diminish our standing in the world.
We need sensible policies that improve screening procedures at our legal ports of entry and make smart investments in border technology.
We need to work again with Canada and Mexico as neighbors – not adversaries. And we need to focus on the root causes driving migrants to our border.
As Vice President, I secured commitments from the leaders of El Salvador, Guatemala, and Honduras to take on the corruption, violence, and endemic poverty in their countries that are driving people to leave their homes. Then I worked with a Republican Congress to approve a $750 million aid package to help support those reforms.
And guess what – it worked. Security improved and migration flows began to decrease in countries like El Salvador.
Trump announced an end to our aid – to Central America – via tweet, with no understanding of the consequences.
If elected President, I will relaunch that initiative, with a top-to-bottom review of our funding to the region to determine how we can continue to drive reforms that deliver results.
When it comes to the technologies of the future – like 5-G and Artificial Intelligence – other nations are devoting national resources to dominating their development and determining how they are used.
We have to ensure that 21st century technologies are used to promote greater democracy and shared prosperity– not to curb – freedom and opportunity at home and abroad.
As new technologies reshape our economy and society, we must ensure that these engines for progress are bound by laws and ethics as we’ve done at every technological turning point in history.
A Biden administration will join together with our democratic allies to develop secure, private-sector led 5-G networks, leaving no community – rural or low income – behind.
And the last example I’ll end on today is how the United States must lead the world to take on the existential threat we face – climate change. If we don’t get this right, nothing else matters.
I’ll put us on track to achieve a clean-energy economy with net-zero emissions by 2050.
And, equally important because the United States is only 15 percent of global emissions, I’ll leverage our economic and our moral authority to push the world to urgent action.
I will rejoin the Paris Climate Accord and convene a summit of the world’s largest carbon emitters, rallying nations to raise their ambitions and push our progress further – faster.
We’ll lock in enforceable commitments that will reduce emissions in global shipping and aviation – and we’ll pursue strong measures to make sure other nations can’t undercut us economically as we meet our own commitments.
That includes insisting that China, the world’s largest emitter of carbon, stops subsidizing coal exports and outsourcing pollution to other countries by financing billions of dollars of dirty fossil-fuel energy projects through their Belt and Road Initiative.
These are ambitious goals and we won’t accomplish any of them without the United States – flanked by our fellow democracies – leading the way.
We are facing enemies – both without and within – hoping to exploit the fissures in our society, undermine our democracy, break up our alliances, and return us to an international system where might determines right.
The answer to this threat is more openness – not less. More friendships, more cooperation, more alliances. More democracy.
Vladimir Putin wants to tell himself and anyone he can dupe into believing him that the liberal idea is “obsolete” – because he’s afraid of its power.
No army on earth can match – how the Electric Idea of Liberty – passes freely from person to person, jumps borders, transcends languages and cultures – how it can supercharge communities of ordinary citizens into activists and organizers and change agents.
We must once more harness that power and rally the Free World to meet the challenges facing our world today. And it falls to the United States of America to lead the way.
No other nation has the capacity. No other nation is built on that idea – that promise.
And it’s in our self-interest.
We have to champion liberty and democracy. We have to reclaim our credibility. We have to look with unrelenting optimism and determination toward the future.
Thank you, and God protect our troops.
See more detail on Biden’s foreign policy platform: