Saturday, October 24, 2020


While Americans have much at stake in next week’s election, our major foreign adversaries and allies have at least as much. Russia, China, Iran, North Korea and the NATO nations anxiously await the result because it will determine how we deal with them in the next four years.

Each of them expects different results from President Trump and former Vice President Joe Biden because they know each will deal with the threats they pose differently. Mr. Trump has proven that he will act in America’s interests with or without support from our allies. From Mr. Biden’s record, we must conclude that he is a dedicated multilateralist who will not act without the support of our allies.

Iran has the most to gain from Mr. Biden’s election. Mr. Trump revoked the highly dangerous deal with Iran that President Obama signed and, by doing so, distanced us from the other signatories to the deal, Russia, China, France, Germany and the UK. Mr. Biden — eager to please France, Germany and the U.K. — promises to rejoin the deal despite the obvious danger it poses to our national security. 

Iran will benefit substantially from any relief from Mr. Trump’s “maximum pressure” sanctions campaign, which Mr. Biden will certainly grant despite the fact that Mr. Trump’s sanctions have rendered the Iranian economy a shambles. Russia and China have already blocked an extension of the now-expired U.N. arms embargo on Iran. They — and other nations — will sell Iran advanced weapon systems that will make it more dangerous than it is now.

How either candidate’s victory would benefit Russia and China are more complex questions. 

Mr. Trump has gone too far in his praise for Russian President Vladimir Putin, at one time saying he trusted Mr. Putin as much as he trusts our intelligence community. But he has taken strong actions against Russia. For example, he has provided the lethal aid to Ukraine which the Obama-Biden administration had refused and has exited the Intermediate-Range Nuclear Forces Treaty with Russia because of Russian deployment of precisely the weapons prohibited by that treaty. He also imposed two rounds of economic sanctions as a result of Russia’s attempted poisonings of former GRU Col. Sergei Skripal and his daughter.  

In February. Mr. Biden disagreed with Mr. Trump’s refocusing foreign policy on revanchist Russia and aggressive China, saying that there are other priorities such as climate change. In his last speech as vice president, Mr. Biden said that Russia was the greatest threat to the “international liberal order” and that Washington has to work with Europe to stand up to Russian President Putin. 

Ever-dependent on the approval of other nations, Mr. Biden won’t stand up to Russia without support from our European allies. That support won’t be forthcoming because many are thoroughly intimidated by Mr. Putin and, like Germany, are becoming dependent on Russian energy.

In his strongest statement on China, Mr. Biden said, “I’ll rally our allies to set the rules of the road and push back on Beijing’s aggressive and predatory behavior.” That means that Mr. Biden, ever the multilateralist, won’t take a stronger stance than our allies will allow. Our European allies will oppose any policy that will lessen their trade with China or attempt to restore the balance of power in the Pacific region which now is badly tilted in China’s favor. 

Mr. Trump is already trying to rally old and new Asian and Pacific allies through his Quadrilateral Security Dialogue (among the U.S., India, Australia and Japan) to form an alliance to contain Chinese aggression in the Pacific. Mr. Biden won’t put American teeth into that nascent alliance because doing so would require expansion of U.S. air and naval forces from their current strength. He will abandon what should become an Asian NATO.

North Korea, despite its slanders of Mr. Biden (the North Korean government has said he is an “idiot” and worse) would have a better chance of another one-sided agreement like the one signed by then-president Bill Clinton with Mr. Biden than Mr. Trump. Mr. Trump, for all his kind words about North Korean dictator Kim Jong-un, is firm in his policy of severe sanctions against Mr. Kim’s regime. It’s possible that Mr. Biden would be suckered into another Clinton-like deal. Mr. Trump won’t be.

Mr. Trump’s willingness to act independently of our allies — or in contravention of their wishes — is a great strength. Mr. Biden’s unwillingness to do so is an enormous weakness. A part of that weakness was often demonstrated during his Senate career and years as vice president in his consistent strong support of the United Nations. 

When many large countries such as China paid virtually nothing in U.N. dues, Mr. Biden, in 1999 sponsored legislation that compelled U.S. payment of $1 billion in dues “arrearages.” Despite his former chairmanship of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, Mr. Biden supported Mr. Obama’s pretense of obtaining “ratification” of his Iran nuclear deal from the U.N. instead of the Senate.

What Mr. Biden does not seem to understand is that while we need respect our allies, we also have to lead them. Those which decline to pursue essential mutual goals, such as preventing Iran from obtaining nuclear weapons, cannot be allowed to control our foreign policy. 

• Jed Babbin, a deputy undersecretary of Defense in the George H.W. Bush administration, is the author of “In the Words of Our Enemies.”

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