Analysis & Opinions - Foreign Policy

The Realist Case for the Non-Realist Biden

| Oct. 21, 2020

Trump's foreign-policy instincts might be more sound—but he has forfeited the chance to lead.

Last week, I got an email from a colleague who teaches at another university. He said he was surprised to see that I had signed a recent open letter that declared U.S. President Donald Trump's foreign policy a failure and concluded that "we need new leadership." He wanted to know how I could possibly support Trump's opponent Joe Biden in next month's election, given that a future Biden administration was likely to be staffed by many of the same people whose handling of foreign policy during previous administrations I had criticized roundly in my last book. He reminded me that some of Biden's closest advisors had been critical of that work, and not always in the fairest way. How, he wondered, could I possibly welcome the return to those familiar nostrums about the "indispensable" nation and the need for U.S. "leadership" in every region and on every issue, even if expressed in more measured terms?

The writer of that email is an accomplished scholar whose work I respect, and I took his inquiry seriously. Of course, if you've been reading this space for the past three-plus years, my opposition to Trump has been clear from day one, and I've explained why on several occasions. But my opposition might still seem surprising when you consider the following:

1. Trump openly opposed the forever wars, tried to curtail or end them, and hasn't started any new ones. I’m all for that.

2. Trump took the challenge of a rising China seriously and did more to confront Beijing than any of his predecessors. I agree with that broad objective, too.

3. He thinks—correctly—that America's NATO allies are not doing enough to provide for their own defense, and he's not convinced remaining in NATO is really necessary at this point. I seem to recall saying something similar myself....

For more information on this publication: Belfer Communications Office
For Academic Citation: Walt, Stephen M.“The Realist Case for the Non-Realist Biden.” Foreign Policy, October 21, 2020.

The Author

Stephen Walt