WASHINGTON - Presumptive Democratic presidential candidate Joe Biden's rebuke of President Donald Trump's handling of allegations that Russians paid bounties for the killing of American soldiers reflects his longstanding criticism of the president on national security and foreign policy.
However, on closer inspection the two presidential rivals are not that far apart on key issues, such as ending foreign wars, protecting American jobs, and countering China's aggression.
On Tuesday, Biden slammed Trump's passive response to intelligence reports that Russians paid Taliban fighters to kill American soldiers in Afghanistan, claiming he was not briefed, and the reports were not credible.
"The idea that somehow he didn't know or isn't being briefed, it is a dereliction of duty. If that's the case, and if he was briefed and nothing was done about this, that's a dereliction of duty," Biden said to reporters in Wilmington, Delaware on Tuesday.
The White House has disputed a New York Times report on Friday that a Russian military intelligence unit had offered bounties to Taliban fighters in Afghanistan for U.S. and allied soldiers, saying it has "not been verified, and there is no consensus among the intelligence community."
Brink of war
Biden, who served as President Barack Obama's vice president, has been highly critical of what he says is Trump's "deference" to Russian President Vladimir Putin and other authoritarian leaders, his "haphazard" handling of national security threats, and his "America First" foreign policy.
In January, Biden said Trump put the U.S. on the brink of war, after the president authorized a U.S. airstrike that killed top Iranian general Qasem Soleimani in Baghdad, after deadly Iranian backed attacks on Americans in Iraq.
"The failure to consult with our allies or Congress and the reckless disregard for the consequences that would surely follow was, in my view, dangerously incompetent," Biden said in New York Jan. 7.
Calls for "harsh revenge" during Soleimani's massive funeral in Tehran raised concerns that military conflict with the United States could escalate, but tensions have eased after Iran retaliated with a non-lethal missile attack against a U.S. military base in Iraq.
In contrast to Trump's reliance on personal diplomacy and unilateral action to confront U.S. security threats, the former vice president said he would organize a summit of democracies to strengthen alliances in the face of growing authoritarianism around the world, and would prioritize negotiation over confrontation.
Biden wants to restore military ties with NATO in Europe after Trump strained relations by demanding increased defense spending. Trump recently ordered the military to withdraw about 10,000 U.S. troops from Germany, unless Berlin increases its NATO contributions. The Trump administration has also demanded steep cost sharing increases for basing U.S. troops in Germany, South Korea and Japan.
However, the Democratic presidential candidate is closer to Trump's position on ending U.S. military involvement in Afghanistan and Syria, continuing negotiations with North Korea to end its nuclear program, and confronting China's suppression of human rights in Hong Kong and military buildup in the South China Sea.
On Thursday, Biden issued a statement denouncing China's crackdown on democracy protests in Hong Kong and as said as president he would prohibit U.S. companies from "abetting repression" in Hong Kong and impose sanctions on China for human rights abuses.
Critics question how effective Biden can be in leading any international response, with the progressive wing of the Democratic party opposed to military interventions and with the country facing pressing domestic challenges including the coronavirus pandemic, growing unemployment and racial injustice protests.
"He's got a huge and very expansive agenda that he's already signed up to. So, the likelihood of a sort of traditional revival of the American assertive leadership and critical intervention in crises, I'm a little bit skeptical of," said Giselle Donnelly, a defense and security analyst at the American Enterprise Institute.
Biden touts his extensive international experience in foreign affairs as Obama's vice president and as a longtime U.S. senator serving on the Foreign Relations Committee.
But Donnelly and many conservatives are critical of what they say are his changing and at times misguided national security positions over the years, in voting for the Iraq war, then opposing military surges in Iraq and Afghanistan, and in advising against the military raid that killed Osama Bin Laden.
"It strikes me that he doesn't really have a coherent philosophy of international politics or internal vision," said Donnelly.
Biden would likely rejoin the Iran nuclear deal, negotiated by the Obama administration, that Trump pulled out of because it did not limit ballistic missile development and support for Iranian backed militias.
He would recommit the U.S. to the Paris climate accord, signed by nearly 200 countries and designed to cut greenhouse gas emissions from cars and factories to counter global warming.
But Biden said he would not rejoin the Obama-era Trans-Pacific Partnership free trade pact, which Trump pulled out of in early 2017, until stronger protections for labor and American jobs are added.
"There is no going back to business as usual on trade," Biden said on his campaign website. But he also argues in favor multilateral trades agreements to improve fair trade practices and democratic values in the developing world.