Biden signals sharp shift from Trump on diplomacy

Biden signals sharp shift from Trump on diplomacy
© Getty Images

President Biden in a Thursday address from the State Department committed to rebuilding U.S. alliances and signaled a complete about-face from the Trump administration's norm-busting foreign policy, which antagonized NATO and other U.S. allies. 

Biden emphasized the role diplomacy will play in achieving his aims, saying that democratic alliances had "atrophied" under former President TrumpDonald TrumpTrump takes shot at new GOP candidate in Ohio over Cleveland nickname GOP political operatives indicted over illegal campaign contribution from Russian national in 2016 On The Money — Dems dare GOP to vote for shutdown, default MORE

And he pledged to work with allies to promote democracy, battle climate change and work to counter Russia and China. 

ADVERTISEMENT

“America is back, diplomacy is back at the center of our foreign policy,” Biden said. “We will repair our alliances, engage with the world once again — not to meet yesterday’s challenges but today’s and tomorrow’s.”

The president’s remarks were his first address to a government agency other than the White House and underscored his effort to turn the page on Trump’s “America First” agenda, which Biden has often criticized as leaving “America alone.”

Biden also spoke of the need for foreign policy to advance U.S. interests domestically. 

“There's no longer a bright line between foreign and domestic policy. Every action we take, and our conduct abroad, we must take with American working families in mind,” Biden said. 

Biden said he would confront Russia and China while also working with them on areas of mutual concern. He expressed “deep concern” about Moscow’s jailing of opposition leader Alexei Navalny and called on Russia to release him immediately. Biden pledged to confront China’s economic and human rights abuses, without providing further detail on his plans to do so. 

He raised the military coup in Burma, and called for the military in that country to immediately relinquish power, release political prisoners and lift communication restrictions. 

ADVERTISEMENT

“As I said earlier this week, we will work with our partners to support restoration of democracy and the rule of law and impose consequences on those responsible,” he said. 

Biden has rejoined the World Health Organization and the Paris climate agreement and extended a key nuclear arms treaty with Russia since entering office. He characterized these steps as examples of his commitment to multilateralism and alliances while engaging diplomatically with adversaries to advance U.S. interests.

“We will compete from the position of strength, by building back better at home, working with our allies and partners, renewing our role in international institutions, and reclaiming our credibility and moral authority, much of which has been lost,” he said.

The president also used the speech to announce new policy directives, some of which were first announced during a White House briefing earlier on Thursday, including ending U.S. support for offensive operations in Yemen and appointing a special envoy for Yemen to engage on a diplomatic solution to end the more than six-year civil war in that country.

Biden also said that he is ordering a global posture review of U.S. forces to ensure that the American military footprint is “appropriately aligned” with national security priorities. 

Biden announced that he would sign an executive order to lay the groundwork for increasing refugee admissions to 125,000 persons, up from the 15,000 cap that was established during the Trump administration. 

And he announced he would further sign a presidential memorandum aimed at protecting LGBTQ individuals worldwide, as part of efforts promoting equity in the U.S. and abroad. 

The president last month signed an executive order reversing an order by Trump that instituted a ban on most transgender people openly serving in the military as well as an executive order on preventing discrimination of LGBTQ individuals.

Biden’s speech, which had been delayed due to a snowstorm earlier this week, also represented an effort to reach out to State Department personnel and bolster morale among officials following a tumultuous four years under Trump.

National security adviser Jake SullivanJake SullivanClinton lawyer's indictment reveals 'bag of tricks' Senators slow Biden with holds at Pentagon, State Overnight Defense & National Security: US-Australian sub deal causes rift with France MORE told reporters earlier Thursday that the visit would be one in a series to national security personnel across the government. 

Prior to his address, Biden delivered brief comments to State Department personnel during which he committed to empowering the Foreign and Civil Service that often came under attack by the Trump administration. 

“I will have your back,” the president said. “This administration is going to empower you to do your jobs, not target or politicize you. We want a rigorous debate, that brings in all perspectives, and makes room for dissent. That’s how we’ll get the best possible policy outcomes.”