Expertise, preparation, stark distinction to Trump
Joe Biden has more foreign policy experience than any other president in US history. When he entered the Senate and started looking at global issues, it was 1973 and Leonid Brezhnev was chairman of the Communist Party of the Soviet Union. The former most experienced of our presidents in foreign policy was George HW Bush. Count his time in Congress as the United Nations Ambassador, Head of the US Liaison Office in China, Head of the CIA and Vice President, Bush became President with 16 years of experience in foreign affairs. That’s a third of what Biden had.
It is probably unfair to compare Biden’s early performance to the first few months of Donald Trump, the only president in US history to have no public service experience prior to taking office. In fact, it is probably unfair to compare it to its predecessors since senior Bush. Former Arkansas Governor Bill Clinton, former Texas Governor George W. Bush, and freshman Senator Barack Obama all came into office with little or no experience in international affairs. And it showed.
Foreign policy in the first term fumbles
George W. Bush oversaw the start of the worst foreign policy disaster in US history – the unjustified and disastrous US invasion of Iraq. As difficult to imagine as it is, his decisions in the global arena were even worse than Trump’s.
Clinton’s first-term foreign policy fiddling ranged from the Black Hawk Down incident in Somalia, to failing to act quickly enough to contain the genocide in Rwanda, to insecure handling of the early challenges of the Balkan War, to a misguided, too optimistic view of post-soviet Russia. The US intervention in Haiti supported the wrong horse (Jean-Bertrand Aristide); his Iraq policy was mixed up; and the Oslo Accords between Israel and the Palestinians did not work in the end. And I say all of this as a former member of the Clinton administration.
Obama, who received the Nobel Peace Prize for no apparent reason other than not being George W. Bush, made some uplifting speeches in the early days of his administration – promising a different view of the Arab world and an end to nuclear weapons. But in the end the reality did not match his vision. He promised to leave Iraq and Afghanistan and failed in both. In Afghanistan, for example, he ignored the advice of then Vice-President Biden and bought a top-up strategy that didn’t work. His vaunted “reset” with Russia – proposed during an early visit to Moscow – failed.
Because of his many years of experience, Biden’s first few months in office were far more successful. He quickly assembled a respected team of foreign policy veterans. He quickly reversed the mistakes of Trump’s policy and reintroduced the US into international groups like the World Health Organization and international agreements like the Paris Agreement. When crises broke out in places like Ukraine and between Israelis and Palestinians, he certainly intervened and helped stave off an escalation.
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Biden’s recent trip to Europe is one of the most successful of all time for a new president. He worked with the United Kingdom to initiate a revision of the Atlantic Charter, renewed his commitment to the G-7 group of developed countries and played a leading role in an unprecedented commitment to vaccines for nations in need. He sought to reshape NATO’s priorities, agreed to cite both Chinese and Russian threats, and reaffirmed America’s full commitment to Article 5, the principle of the collective protection of NATO members in the event of attack.
A major trade problem was resolved and a long list of new initiatives launched at a summit meeting with the heads of state and government of the European Union. And in a meeting with Russian President Vladimir Putin, Biden outlined the U.S. concerns, underscored our determination to counter future abuses by Russia, helped initiate a new focus on cybersecurity threats, and looked for areas of possible cooperation such as restarting the nuclear deal with Iran.
Biden vs. Bush 41 is a fair comparison
Because of this, of all the presidents for the past 33 years, the only one Biden can be fairly compared to is George HW Bush. Eastern and Central Europe were in the midst of deep unrest when Bush took office. His In the first two years there was an unprecedented wave of revolution that finally came to an endthe fall of the Berlin Wall in November 1989 and shortly afterwards theEnd of the Soviet Union. The Tiananmen Revolt camein the same year, in June. Effective, well-managed diplomacy was required to institute what came to be known as the“the new worldorder.”
Bush’s seasoned team has shown that it is up to the task – not just in dealing with the end of the Cold War, but also in leading Operation Desert Shield. The government achieved its goal of driving Iraq out of Kuwait and did not prolong the war or destabilize the Middle East by persecuting Saddam Hussein.
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Biden left Geneva dismissing the idea that foreign policy is “a great, great skill that is kind of like a secret code”. He argued that it was a “logical extension of personal relationships”. This is how human nature works. ”He was certainly right, but downplayed another fact: in complex affairs of state, experience counts. If Biden’s record stands out, the relative success of himself and Bush – unlike the struggles of less experienced presidents – may end the notion that on-the-job training is appropriate for the toughest job in the world.
David Rothkopf (@djrothkopf) is a member of the USA TODAY Board of Contributors, moderator of “Deep State Radio” and CEO of the media and podcasting company Rothkopf Group. During Bill Clinton’s first term, he was Assistant Secretary of Commerce for International Trade Policy and later Assistant Secretary of Commerce for International Trade.