Beware of President Biden’s Call for a Return to America’s Role in the World Stage

This week saw the inauguration of the 46th President of the United States, Joseph R. Biden, and the return of the Democrat party to the White House and full control of Congress. Inevitably, most of the coverage by the media has been positive about the new President and the change coming to the White House. Chris Wallace called Biden’s inauguration speech, “the best inaugural address, I ever heard” while throughout social media; many are fawning about the speech, that emphasize the need for unity in America.

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However, much of the focus has been with the domestic side of the speech, the speech directed to the world and especially to America’s allies called for a return to America’s role as a leader in the world stage. The new president declared:

“We will repair our alliances and engage with the world once again. Not to meet yesterday's challenges, but today's and tomorrow's challenges”

Given, President Biden history in foreign affairs, we need to be beware of calls for a return to the American leadership role in the world stage. As Obama-Biden Defense Secretary Robert Gates noted, Biden has “been wrong on nearly every major foreign policy and national security issue over the past four decades.” 

President Biden’s call for a return to American leadership in the international system is not surprising, before the election and subsequent inauguration, the President declared as much. In an article published in Foreign Affairs, the then-candidate Joe Biden stated:

“It falls to the United States to lead the way. No other nation has that capacity. No other nation is built on that idea. We have to champion liberty and democracy.”

Announcing his foreign and national security policy team, the President declared:

“…the fact that America is back, ready to lead the world, not retreat from it, once again sit at the head of the table, ready to confront our adversaries and not reject our allies, ready to stand up for our values.”  

The question that arises is what America is going back to? Or what does American leadership mean?

The history of Joe Biden in foreign affairs reveals his approach to be interventionism. After all, Biden voted for the Iraq war in 2003, and Iraq is still reeling from the consequences of the unnecessary intervention by the United States and its allies. Joe Biden played a leading role as vice-president when President Obama’s administration was destabilizing the Middle East during the Arab Spring. Libya, Syria, Yemen among other nations that saw American intervention, are a glimpse of what “American leadership” or “America is back” means under a Biden administration.

“America is back” under Joe Biden means the doctrine in foreign affairs called “liberal internationalism.” This doctrine states that democratic governments should intervene in military or humanitarian ways in other states to pursue objectives, such as democracy and liberal values like gender equality and tolerance for alternative sexualities, as exemplified by the societies of the United states and Western Europe.

This policy would mean a vain attempt to remake the world to a western, liberal worldview, under universalist values that are not necessarily shared across every community in the planet.

This is a recipe for endless conflict that would cost American lives and money which could be used for the domestic benefit of the American people.  Members of the foreign policy establishment from the left and right in the United States generally agree on this approach. As many liberals criticized Trump for his neglect in pursuing liberal values in the foreign affairs. Republicans, on the other hand criticized the Trump administration for pulling out of Syria and Afghanistan. The unity desired by Biden will surely be reflected in foreign affairs, as interventionists on the left and right will hold hands and support this new administration’s approach.

In his speech, the new president said that he wanted to make “America once again the leading force for good in the world.” However,  the history of Joe Biden on foreign policy and the team he’s selected to head foreign and national security policy raise concern that returning to America’s previous role will lead to interventions that are not in the interest of the United States.

Ojel L. Rodriguez AKC (@ojelrodriguez) is a Ph.D. candidate in International Relations at the University of St. Andrews.

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