Biden DNC Speech Vows Action on Russia Bounties, China Decoupling

Democratic presidential nominee Joe Biden kept the foreign policy relatively light in his speech closing the Democratic National Convention on Thursday, vowing to restore American global leadership and stand up to the dictators he accused President Donald Trump of revering.

Biden—who has accused Trump of leaving America's image abroad "in tatters"—focused largely on domestic issues at the end of the convention, where he and vice presidential pick Sen. Kamala Harris accepted the nominations for the 2020 Democratic ticket.

The COVID-19 pandemic, economy, racial inequality and the safety of American democracy all dominated, leaving foreign affairs to play second fiddle as they usually do in presidential elections.

But Biden touched on two of America's greatest strategic foreign policy challenges—Russia and China—vowing to stand up to their authoritarianism and protect U.S. national security and independence from dictatorships.

Russia has loomed large over Trump's entire presidency, with allegations—supported by this week's Senate Intelligence Committee report—of improper contact between his campaign and Moscow, plus frequent accusations that many of Trump's foreign policy decisions directly benefit the Kremlin.

The president has repeatedly defended Russian President Vladimir Putin, even siding with him over his own intelligence agencies at a jaw-dropping bilateral summit in Helsinki in 2018.

The president has consistently dismissed Russian meddling in the 2016 election as "fake news" and a "witch hunt," despite the conclusions of U.S. intelligence officials and Congress that Moscow did indeed seek to swing the election in Trump's favor. Intelligence agencies have warned that Russia is still trying to meddle in U.S. elections.

Trump has regularly boasted about his relationship with autocrats and populist strongman leaders around the world. Putin in Russia, President Xi Jinping in China, Prime Minister Narendra Modi in India, President Recep Tayyip Erdogan in Turkey and dictator Kim Jong Un in North Korea are among them. This has caused consternation in the GOP and among Democrats, something Biden addressed directly in his speech.

"What we know about this president is that if he's given four more years, he'll be what he's been for the last four years: A president who takes no responsibility. Refuses to lead. Blames others," Biden said Thursday. "Cozies up to dictators and fans the flames of hate and division. He'll wake up every day believing that the job is all about him, never about you."

"I take very personally and the profound responsibility of serving as commander in chief," Biden said. "I'll be a president who will stand with our allies and friends and make it clear to our adversaries the days of cozying up to dictators is over."

Biden has also vowed to reconnect with America's traditional allies, whom Trump has made a habit of maligning in public. The president has largely eschewed multilateralism in favor of his "America first" approach, something Biden has promised to reverse.

One of Trump's more recent foreign policy scandals was the suggestion that Russia had been paying bounties to Taliban fighters in Afghanistan for dead U.S. troops. Trump claimed to have never seen the intelligence briefings detailing the alleged project, which is believed to be linked to several American deaths in Afghanistan.

"Under President Biden, America will not turn a blind eye to Russian bounties on the heads of American soldiers," the former vice president said. "Nor will I put up with foreign interference in our most sacred democratic exercise: voting."

Trump and the GOP see China as somewhat of a weak point for Biden, the latter having served in President Barack Obama's administrations—which are accused of turning a blind eye to Beijing's growing influence.

Trump has sought to make China central to the election, trying to blame Beijing entirely for the COVID-19 pandemic and claiming that a Biden White House would effectively sell the U.S. out to China. Biden has been trying to fortify his message on China, and on Thursday suggested he would pursue the kind of "decoupling" being pushed by leading Republicans.

"We'll make the medical supplies and protective equipment that our country needs," he said, while discussing the pandemic. "We'll make them here in America so we will never again be at the mercy of China or other foreign countries in order to protect our own people."

China will be the number one strategic foreign policy challenge for the next president, regardless of who wins in November. But decades of globalization and the dominance of Chinese manufacturing means decoupling will be a drawn-out and potentially costly affair.

Joe Biden, DNC, Russia, China, bounties, decoupling
Former vice president and Democratic presidential nominee Joe Biden is pictured on the last day of the Democratic National Convention, being held virtually amid the coronavirus pandemic, at the Chase Center in Wilmington, Delaware on August 20, 2020. OLIVIER DOULIERY/AFP via Getty Images/Getty