NEW YORK — Joe Biden promised on Thursday his White House would end "forever wars" and reassert American leadership to combat authoritarianism and global instability, which he says are proliferating under President Donald Trump.
"The world's democracies look to America to stand for the values that unite us. ... Donald Trump seems to be on the other team," Biden said during a foreign policy speech in New York, hammering the president for "embracing dictators who appeal to his vanity" and emboldening a worldwide rise of nationalism, xenophobia and isolationism.
The remarks offered Biden a chance to ignore his Democratic rivals and instead return to the issues he's most comfortable talking about: foreign policy and the dangers posed by Trump. The decision to make the speech reflects Biden's belief that his experience as a longtime senator and former chairman of the Foreign Relations Committee combined with his eight years as vice president distinguish him in the crowded Democratic field.
But that long record also subjects the 76-year-old to criticism, particularly from progressives who cast Biden as someone who enabled a more hawkish foreign policy establishment.
Acknowledging those forces, Biden promised to "end the forever wars in Afghanistan and the Middle East" and terminate U.S. involvement in the Yemen civil war. He did not mention his support for the 2003 invasion of Iraq under President George W. Bush, a vote that hampered Biden's brief 2007 presidential campaign and continues to draw criticism from 2020 rivals, including Vermont Sen. Bernie Sanders and Washington Gov. Jay Inslee, who both voted against the action as House members.
Republicans, meanwhile, have gleefully noted that Biden opposed the 1991 U.S. military actions to drive Iraq out of Kuwait and that he was an outlier in the Obama administration in warning against the raid that ultimately killed Osama bin Laden, the mastermind behind the terrorist attacks of Sept. 11, 2001.
Biden said on Thursday that military force will always be an option, but must be a "last resort" with a "defined" and "achievable mission." He also pledged to "elevate diplomacy as the principle tool of our foreign policy" and said he'd rebuild expertise in the State Department after an exodus of diplomats under Trump.
His promise to stop "endless wars" also came with qualification; he called for removing most combat troops from Afghanistan in favor of "narrowly focusing our mission" in the region.
Biden envisioned not just a return to the traditional U.S. role in the post-World War II international order, but to use that power and influence to take on 21st century problems. He emphasized the urgency for U.S-led global alliances to combat the climate crisis, forge new trade agreements to create a more even international economy and to recommit to nuclear proliferation.
Biden said in the first year of his presidency, he would convene a global summit of democracy, bringing together political and civic leaders, along with those from the private sector. He singled out "tech companies and social media giants" as necessary partners.
"I believe they have a duty to make sure their algorithms and platforms are not used to sow division here at home," he said, referring to U.S. intelligence findings that Russian actors have used social media platforms like Facebook to influence American politics.