In a piece at Foreign Policy Heather Hurlburt tries and, I think, ultimately fails to draw a sharp distinction between Joe Biden’s approach to foreign policy and Donald Trump’s:
Biden is famous, or infamous, for his personal connections to world leaders. “You can drop him into Kazakhstan or Bahrain, it doesn’t matter—he’s gonna find some Joe Blow that he met 30 years ago who’s now running the place,” Julianne Smith, a Biden advisor, told his biographer Evan Osnos. Former Senate Majority Leader George Mitchell described welcoming foreign leaders to the Senate. “I’d say, ‘Here’s Senator Smith, here’s Senator Jones.’ When I got to Joe, the leader would look out and say, ‘Hi, Joe.’”
Biden’s attention to personal relationships implies a valuing of the softest of soft powers: individual experience. It points to one of the achievements of U.S. foreign policy that experts have the hardest time compassing and measuring: the attractive power of the United States to others around the world. Lists of U.S. achievements seldom note how two generations of Cold War-era and post-Cold War leaders’ worldviews were shaped by programs that brought them to the United States, or Americans to them, and what a triumph that was for U.S. interests.
While relationship-before-task may be dogma in some management consulting circles, it doesn’t count as a foreign-policy strategy. Biden is not noted for either contributions or attachment to one of the major schools of U.S. foreign-policy thought. Indeed, when asked by Osnos to name Biden’s major foreign-policy contribution to his administration, Barack Obama credited his vice president’s ability to focus on concrete U.S. goals, and specific means for achieving them, “rather than get caught up in broader ideological debates that all too often end up leading to overreach or a lack of precision in our mission.”
In 2021, the voices vying to shape U.S. foreign policy include both the straightforward self-dealing that characterizes Trump’s approach and the Kissinger renaissance, which offers a more sophisticated self-interest in which ideals surrounding human rights and solidarity must be sacrificed in order to sustain the core of the U.S. democratic experiment.
Biden believes otherwise. But he combines the moral focus of a liberal internationalist with a realist’s skepticism of grand interventionist schemes—and a rhetoric about the needs of Americans at home that gets often reflexively classified as isolationist.
Okay. Not an intellectual. Check. Relationships over tasks. Check. Self-dealing. Check. She strives to distinguish between Joe Biden’s liberal interventionism and Barack Obama’s. Mr. Biden has supported every use of force by the United States over the period of the last 30 years. Was he “reluctant” to do so? I see no sign of that.
I think the greatest differences will be that he will join with European leaders to focus on environmental causes and human rights issues. Unlike European leaders he will actually mean it.