After spending two weeks sparring with his presidential primary opponents, Joe Biden sought once more to rise above the Democratic fray Thursday, delivering a sweeping foreign policy address that denounced President Donald Trump as incapable of global leadership and called for a new commitment to multilateral diplomacy.
In broad but unequivocal terms, Biden offered a scathing assessment of Trump’s leadership, saying the president’s judgment has tarnished the country’s reputation abroad and undermined its ability to achieve its foreign policy goals. As a counterpoint, Biden set forth his own foreign policy vision that he said was needed to restore America’s position as a global leader, including working with other countries toward collective aims.
“The threat that I believe President Trump poses to our national security and where we are as a country is extreme,” Biden said in a midday speech in New York City. He criticized the president’s “chest-thumping” and called him inept at global and domestic leadership.
Returning again and again to themes of democracy and American values, Biden delivered a message of unity over division and promised to reverse many of Trump’s decisions. He referred to President Barack Obama, for whom he served as vice president for eight years, with a tone that seemed intended to soothe and fortify voters disenchanted with Trump’s brash style of statecraft and “America First” philosophy. Biden spoke of American values — freedom of religion, freedom of speech and freedom of the press — and alluded to the Statue of Liberty.
Among his specific proposals was a plan to convene and host a summit of the world’s democracies in his first year as president “to put strengthening democracy back on the global stage.”
“Leaders who attend must come prepared to cooperate and make concrete commitments to take on corruption and advance human rights in their own nations,” Biden said. The summit, he said, would also challenge the private sector, including technology companies and social media giants, to commit to countering both censorship and the spread of hate.
Biden said he would also rejoin the Paris climate accord as a component of his global plan to confront climate change and he pledged to reverse Trump’s “detrimental asylum policies.”
“If we focus, this is not a moment to fear,” Biden said. “It’s a time for us to tap into the strength and audacity that took us to victory in two world wars and brought down the Iron Curtain.”
The former vice president’s initiatives would constitute a renewed embrace of multilateralism and a rebuke of Trump’s policy of spurning international agreements and denigrating institutions like NATO.
Biden’s speech Thursday also represented an effort to bring the campaign back to where he is most comfortable: above the crowded Democratic field, seeking to cast the contest as a head-to-head matchup against Trump.
In a seven-page fact sheet that accompanied Biden’s speech, he provided a three-pronged blueprint for accomplishing his foreign policy agenda, including specific early actions he would undertake as president, both domestically and abroad. He pledged, for instance, to reform the criminal justice system and to dedicate resources to protect the election system — a nod to the foreign meddling that bedeviled the 2016 presidential election. He also vowed to end family separation at the southern border and to discontinue Trump’s travel ban.
“Democracy is the root of our society, the wellspring of our power, and the source of our renewal,” he wrote. “It strengthens and amplifies our leadership to keep us safe in the world. It is the engine of our ingenuity that drives our economic prosperity. It is the heart of who we are and how we see the world — and how the world sees us.”
From the outset, Biden assailed Trump for his cozy relationships with authoritarian leaders like President Vladimir Putin of Russia and Kim Jong Un of North Korea. “He undermines our Democratic alliances while embracing dictators who appeal to his vanity,” Biden said of the president. “Make no mistake about it — the world sees Trump for what he is: insincere, ill-informed and impulsive.”
He also criticized Trump’s approach to China, saying the president’s plan was shortsighted while China was “playing the long game.”
“We need to get tough with China,” he said. “The most effective way that we need to change 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 are converged like climate change and preventing nuclear proliferation,” he said.
But in an appeal to the working-class voters he hopes to woo, he also pledged to overhaul the country’s trade policies.
“There’s not going to be a back to business as usual on trade with me,” he said. “We need new rules. We need new processes.”
The speech comes as Biden seeks to move past a difficult stretch of the campaign following a shaky debate performance that worried even many of his allies, as well as days spent defending his civil rights record.
On Saturday, in a rare move from a politician who often resists making apologies, Biden expressed regret for speaking warmly about working relationships with segregationists at a fundraiser last month. He sought to put the episode behind him after Sen. Kamala Harris of California chided him in the first presidential primary debate, lacing into him for his opposition to some busing initiatives dating to the 1970s.
Biden did not draw explicit distinctions between his candidacy and those of his Democratic rivals in his address Thursday, but the speech, and its broad international themes, offered an implicit contrast: His allies argue that Biden, a former chairman of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee and a former vice president, has more experience on the global stage than any of his opponents at a time when many Democrats believe Trump has shredded America’s credibility and standing in the world.
In a video released before the speech, Biden’s campaign attempted to paint Trump as a dangerous global steward, offering clips of him alongside authoritarian leaders including Kim and Putin.
Though there has already been some focus on Biden’s previous support for the Iraq War during the campaign — Sen. Bernie Sanders of Vermont has attacked him for that position, and his aides say he intends to continue to do so this summer — Biden’s speech was focused on the present and the future, rather than the past.
“American leadership is not infallible — we’ve made missteps and mistakes,” Biden said. “But let me be clear — I will never hesitate to protect the American people.”