He has an unusually rich grasp of and experience in foreign policy, which, as traditionally understood, has not played a central role in the presidential race — though the pandemic, the climate crisis, a more assertive China and disinformation wars against the American public argue strongly that it should. The next president will face the task of repairing the enormous damage inflicted on America’s global reputation.
Mr. Biden has the necessary chops, having spent much of his career focused on global concerns. He not only took on thorny diplomatic missions as vice president, he also served more than three decades on the Senate Foreign Relations Committee. Aware that an “America First” approach in reality amounts to “America alone,” he would work to revive and refurbish damaged alliances. He has the respect and trust of America’s allies and would not be played for a fool by its adversaries.
Certainly, not all of Mr. Biden’s foreign policy decisions through the decades look sage in hindsight, but he has shown foresight in key moments. He fought a rear-guard action in the Obama White House to limit the futile surge in Afghanistan. He was against the 2011 intervention in Libya and skeptical of committing American troops to Syria. He opposed renewing the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act in 2007 and 2008 because it gave the government too much power to spy on Americans. He’s supported closing the prison at Guantánamo Bay. Little wonder that he has the backing of a who’s who of the foreign policy community and national security officials from both parties.
Mr. Biden is not an ideological purist or a bomb-thrower. Some will see this as a shortcoming or hopelessly naïve. Certainly, it’s unlikely that if Republicans retain control of the Senate, their leader, Mitch McConnell, will abandon his policy of fanatical obstructionism of any Democratic president.
That said, as the emissary often dispatched by President Barack Obama to deal with Republican lawmakers during tough legislative fights, Mr. Biden has intimate experience with the partisan gridlock crippling Congress. He knows how the levers of power work on both ends of Pennsylvania Avenue, and he has longstanding relationships with members from both parties. More than any of this cycle’s other presidential hopefuls, he offered weary voters a chance to see whether even a modicum of bipartisanship is possible.
He is also offering a glimpse of the Democratic Party’s future in his choice of running mate, Senator Kamala Harris of California. Ms. Harris would become a number of firsts — a woman, a Black person and an Asian-American — as vice president, adding history-making excitement to the ticket. A former prosecutor, she is tough, smart and can dismantle a faulty argument or political opponent. She is progressive, but not radical. In her own presidential campaign, she presented herself as a unifying leader with center-left policy proposals in a mold similar to Mr. Biden, albeit a generation younger. Mr. Biden is aware that he no longer qualifies as a fresh face and has said that he considers himself a bridge to the party’s next generation of leaders. Ms. Harris is a promising step in that direction.