Joe Biden says 'America is back' - but stresses it won't be an 'Obama third term'

Our Foreign Staff
·4-min read
U.S. President-elect Joe Biden announces announces national security team at his transition headquarters in Wilmington, Delaware - Reuters
U.S. President-elect Joe Biden announces announces national security team at his transition headquarters in Wilmington, Delaware - Reuters

President-elect Joe Biden said on Tuesday the United States would be "ready to lead" again on the global stage, turning the page on Republican President Donald Trump's "America First" policies as he pledged to work together with the nation's allies.

Introducing his foreign policy and national security team, the Democratic former vice president signalled he intended after taking office on January 20 to steer the United States away from the unilateralist nationalism pursued by Mr Trump.

The slate that Mr Biden unveiled included veterans of the Barack Obama administration and signalled a return to traditional US diplomacy and multilateralism.

Mr Biden said that "America's going to reassert its role in the world and be a coalition builder," but he denied it would be like a third term of Obama - whom he served as vice president.

"We face a totally different world," the president-elect told NBC in an interview. "President Trump has changed the landscape. It's become America First, which meant America alone."

Joe Biden's cabinet
Joe Biden's cabinet

Mr Biden also signalled that two former, more liberal, rivals for the Democratic presidential nomination, Senators Bernie Sanders and Elizabeth Warren, were not under consideration for Cabinet appointments, saying he needed their votes in the closely divided Senate.

Mr Trump over four years unsettled many U.S. allies, in Europe and elsewhere, with an antagonistic approach toward the Nato alliance and trade relations, abandonment of international agreements and warm relationships with authoritarian leaders.

Mr Biden said his team, which includes trusted aide Antony Blinken as his nominee for U.S. secretary of state, would shed what the president-elect described as "old thinking and unchanged habits" in its approach to foreign relations.

"It's a team that reflects 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," Mr Biden said at the event in his hometown of Wilmington, Delaware.

 Tony Blinken
Tony Blinken

The world is much changed since Democrats were last in the White House four years ago. China is on the rise and emboldened, Russia has sought to further assert its clout, US influence has waned as it has pulled out of various accords and American moral authority has been dented by turmoil at home.

US foreign policy under a Biden administration is likely to take more of a multilateral and diplomatic approach aimed at repairing Washington's relationships with key allies and pursuing new paths on issues such as climate change.

His promise to embrace alliances, including in the Asia-Pacific region, follows a deterioration in bilateral ties between the United States and China, the world's top two economies, that has triggered comparisons with the Cold War.

This final year of Mr Trump's administration was marked by frequent China-bashing as the two powers sparred over China's handling of the coronavirus pandemic, deteriorating freedoms in Hong Kong and territorial issues in the South China Sea.

Mr Biden has moved swiftly to assemble his team and make Cabinet choices after defeating Mr Trump. Mr Biden said his team had been able to begin coordinating with the Trump administration on national security, the coronavirus pandemic and vaccine distribution plans since it got the green light on Monday for formal transition efforts.

"We're going to not be so far behind the curve as we thought we might be in the past," Mr Biden told NBC News. "There's a lot of immediate discussion, and I must say, the outreach has been sincere."

Critics have said Mr Trump's refusal to accept the results undercut the incoming administration's ability to combat the intensifying coronavirus pandemic that has killed about 259,000 Americans and thrown millions out of work.

The White House on Tuesday gave the go-ahead for Mr Biden to start receiving the president's daily intelligence briefing. Mr Biden said he did not get one on Monday but expected it regularly.

Asked by NBC about possibly nominating Mr Sanders or Ms Warren to his Cabinet, Mr Biden said nothing was off the table but signalled they might be more needed in the Senate, where the party in power will govern by a razor-thin margin.

Two runoffs in Georgia on Jan. 5 will determine which party has a Senate majority. Democrats also saw their majority in the House of Representatives narrow in the Nov. 3 election.

"Taking someone out of the Senate, taking someone out of the House, particularly a person of consequence, is really a difficult decision," Mr Biden said. "I have a very ambitious, very progressive agenda, and it’s going to take really strong leaders in the House and Senate to get it done."