NPI's Cascadia Advocate

Offering commentary and analysis from Washington, Oregon, and Idaho, The Cascadia Advocate is the Northwest Progressive Institute's unconventional perspective on world, national, and local politics.

Friday, July 12th, 2019

Joe Biden tries to revitalize his presidential campaign with foreign policy speech

Joe Biden show­cased his for­eign pol­i­cy plans in a major speech on Thurs­day.

The for­mer vice pres­i­dent reject­ed the Trump regime’s attempts at deal­mak­ing and iso­la­tion­ism, argu­ing for a return to the Oba­ma administration’s empha­sis on broad inter­na­tion­al agree­ments and col­lab­o­ra­tion through glob­al insti­tu­tions.

If elect­ed, Biden said he would call a sum­mit of the world’s demo­c­ra­t­ic coun­tries and major com­pa­nies in his first year in office.

Joe Biden speaking at the 2016 DNC

Joe Biden speaks at the 2016 Demo­c­ra­t­ic Nation­al Con­ven­tion (Pho­to: Gar­rett Havens/NPI)

The aim of the sum­mit would be to “refo­cus our com­mon pur­pose” and to “chal­lenge the pri­vate sec­tor – includ­ing tech com­pa­nies, social media com­pa­nies – to make their own com­mit­ments to make democ­ra­cy more resilient.”

Biden’s pol­i­cy con­tains three major com­po­nents: First­ly, he would repair democ­ra­cy by remak­ing the edu­ca­tion sys­tem and “end­ing var­i­ous prac­tices that are under­min­ing our democ­ra­cy at home.” Sec­ond­ly, a Biden admin­is­tra­tion would work with allies to con­front Chi­na and oth­er “bad actors” in the glob­al econ­o­my. Last­ly, Biden plans to restore the hol­lowed-out State Depart­ment, so that the Unit­ed States can be “back at the head of the table in mobi­liz­ing glob­al action.”

The speech appeared to be an effort by Biden to revi­tal­ize his cam­paign after a poor per­for­mance in last month’s ini­tial pri­ma­ry debate in Mia­mi.

In the debate, Biden was chal­lenged by Sen­a­tor Kamala Har­ris regard­ing his record on racial jus­tice and was told by Rep­re­sen­ta­tive Eric Swal­well (who recent­ly dropped out of the race) to “pass on the torch” to a younger gen­er­a­tion.

Biden’s team is hop­ing that with this speech, they can change the con­ver­sa­tion sur­round­ing Biden’s record. Many Demo­c­ra­t­ic vot­ers find Biden’s record ques­tion­able (to say the least) when they look at his han­dling of issues like race and sex­ism. The Biden cam­paign would instead like to talk about Biden’s vast for­eign pol­i­cy expe­ri­ence and his record as Vice Pres­i­dent (as opposed to his record as a Unit­ed States Sen­a­tor from Delaware).

Joe Biden with Ukranian officials

Joe Biden hopes to cap­i­tal­ize on his good rela­tion­ships with for­eign lead­ers. Here he can be seen meets­ing Ukrain­ian law­mak­ers in 2014 (Pho­to: Unit­ed States Embassy in Ukraine)

Biden’s speech could open the gates for more con­ver­sa­tion about for­eign pol­i­cy, which has not received that much atten­tion in the Demo­c­ra­t­ic pres­i­den­tial con­test so far, to the frus­tra­tion of some com­men­ta­tors. How­ev­er, by empha­siz­ing his for­eign pol­i­cy plat­form, Biden is invit­ing crit­i­cism of a dif­fer­ent part of his record.

In 2002, Biden was an enthu­si­as­tic sup­port­er of the Iraq inva­sion and only slow­ly changed his tune on the dis­as­trous, desta­bi­liz­ing con­flict. Bernie Sanders has already crit­i­cized Biden for this, and Biden’s for­eign pol­i­cy speech could encour­age more of his rivals to talk about the mis­take of back­ing Bush’s inva­sion.

Fur­ther­more, Biden’s poli­cies sound great at a sound bite lev­el, but any such plan will like­ly run into a series of real-world brick walls.

Biden’s call for a sum­mit of demo­c­ra­t­ic nations rais­es an impor­tant ques­tion: Who decides which coun­tries are demo­c­ra­t­ic?

Many coun­tries in the world have the trap­pings of democ­ra­cy, but it seems high­ly unlike­ly that Rus­sia or Iran will be invit­ed to the sum­mit. The Unit­ed States – the backer of author­i­tar­i­an regimes Sau­di Ara­bia – can’t expect to be regard­ed by the world com­mu­ni­ty as a fair arbiter of a country’s demo­c­ra­t­ic sta­tus.

Any attempt to “refo­cus com­mon pur­pose” among demo­c­ra­t­ic nations will be a dif­fi­cult chal­lenge giv­en the diver­si­ty of ide­ol­o­gy and nation­al inter­ests.

It’s hard to imag­ine Cana­da and Ger­many get­ting on the same page as India, Israel or Poland on a wide range of issues; all three are strong democ­ra­cies, but they are cur­rent­ly gov­erned by fanat­i­cal, anti-demo­c­ra­t­ic, xeno­pho­bic lead­ers who are not enthu­si­as­tic about the inter­na­tion­al part­ner­ships Biden wants to fos­ter.

Invit­ing the world’s largest com­pa­nies to par­tic­i­pate in the pro­posed sum­mit is also a recipe for trou­ble. Mega­cor­po­ra­tions are not rep­re­sen­ta­tive of any pop­u­la­tion; they are inher­ent­ly unde­mo­c­ra­t­ic. (How many employ­ees get to vote for their chief exec­u­tive offi­cer and senior man­age­ment?)

Not only that, but the call to tech giants to help strength­en democ­ra­cy ignores that indus­try’s behav­ior. Google, for exam­ple, makes bil­lions of dol­lars by help­ing Chi­na sur­veil its pop­u­la­tion, while the cult-of-per­son­al­i­ty sur­round­ing Facebook’s founder, Mark Zucker­berg, is rem­i­nis­cent of Stalin’s Rus­sia. Includ­ing such actors in a meet­ing of demo­c­ra­t­ic nations would be an insult to democ­ra­cy itself.

How­ev­er, the flaws in Biden’s plan might not mat­ter. One plan for tack­ling one issue area gen­er­al­ly does­n’t make or break a can­di­da­cy. The Demo­c­ra­t­ic can­di­dates’ dif­fer­ences on domes­tic con­cerns (from health­care to hous­ing) are like­ly to be more pro­nounced than their dif­fer­ences on for­eign pol­i­cy.

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