Joe Biden may be the most experienced incoming U.S. President ever, when it comes to foreign policy.
He has travelled The World as President Obama's point man. He also served for decades on the Senate Intelligence Committee.
Unlike President Trump, he has a more traditional view of promoting democracy and human rights. He know's Russia, and Turkey, and China and will be applauded by our allies in NATO.
In this Back Story one of President Obamas key advisors on foreign policy, and someone who has worked and travelled with Biden, Mike Mcfaul talks to Dana Lewis about challenges and how Biden will push America back into the role of International leadership.
Everything is going on here about Russia is wanting to make sure that I do not get elected the next president on his face because they know, I know them and they know me. I don't understand why this president is unwilling to take on Putin when he's actually paying bounties to kill American soldiers in Afghanistan. When he's engaged in activities that are trying to destabilize all of NATO. I don't know why he doesn't do it, but it's worth asking the question. Why isn't that being done? Any country interferes with us will in fact pay a price because they're affecting ourSpeaker 2:
Hi everyone. And welcome to this backstory on American foreign policy. I'm Dana Lewis, president elect Joe Biden has made it clear. He will be tougher on Russia. He will reassign the Paris Accords to reduce global warming. He is a steadfast supporter of the military Alliance NATO, but on so many different issues, there are big gaps in understanding his foreign policy on Afghanistan, Syria, Taiwan, Iran, and China and Turkey, Israel, and the Palestinian conflict. President Trump largely withdrew America from the world stage as a leader, failing to promote democracy and freedom. He retreated in the face of dictators, maybe because he wanted to become one himself. Now we see him undermining American democracy by not conceding the election. So in this backstory, there are a few people with better insight on international affairs than Mike McFaul. A professor at Stanford, a former diplomat, a former key advisor to president Obama and someone who will likely advise the new administration and maybe be part of it. Mike told me at the end of our interview, wow, we really covered a lot of the world. Have a listen. I think we did too.Speaker 3:
All right. Mike McFaul is a professor of political science and international relations at Stanford. He's a foreign policy expert. He was the former us ambassador to Moscow and he was also a key advisor to president Obama. Hi Mike, and thanks for doing the interview. Yeah, thanks for having me. Wow. What is going on in America? I want to talk to you about foreign policy, but I mean, the us sets the agenda for so many countries around the world and we're, we're watching the U S election. Um, and it is jaw dropping. I mean, Trump won't work with Biden on transition. They won't recognize the election results. You know, if I was reporting from another country and I've been doing this for 40 years, I'd be saying that this is an attempted coup what do you call it? Well, I don't think I would use the phrase attempted cool co yet. Uh, I'm deeply disturbed by what president Trump and his,Speaker 4:
Uh, various army of people are doing. Uh, and not because I think they're going to overturn the elections. I actually have a confidence in our democratic institutions. We're a federal system. We're not a unitary system. So his ability to overturn, to use the department of justice to use the courts. I think I don't see any scenario under which he maintains power, but the process of doing so I believe undermines the legitimacy of the election. Uh, and first and foremost, that's in the eyes of millions of Trump voters, who at the end of this process will think that this election was falsified and will have a different, will not appreciate and, and support the idea that we have one president that it's, you know, that we have a legitimately elected president. And second, it helps our autocratic, uh, enemies around the world. I mean, we looked like a joke. I, you know, I follow the Russian press pretty closely. I see all the ridicule there and it, it undermines the idea of the United States as a model of democracy. Now, we haven't been doing very well for many, many years. Don't get me wrong. We have not been inspiring many small D Democrats around the world for a while, but I think there was a hope and a sense of relief that this election would lead to democratic renewal in the United States, by the way, I believe it. Well, I worked with vice president Biden for many years, and I believe that is coming, but this long drawn out process of transition is undermining that. And I, I, I wish people would think about the national security implications of the silly games that they're playing right now. What are the national security implications? We're strict, anything Putin we're strengthening. She we're undermining, signing the idea that democracies are better than our talk proceeds. Uh, for me, you know, I believe there there's going to be a long terms, struggle between the ideas of democracy and autocracy, liberalism, and illiberalism, uh, for decades to come. Uh, and this just, uh, you know, I think hurts the ability of, of presidents elect Biden to get off to a fresh start. Now, I, you know, I, I'm still optimistic that he will be better for this, uh, international ideological struggle than president Trump, president Trump didn't care about democracy, uh, much at home and most certainly not abroad. Uh, he also didn't engage in the world that much. He was, you know, I call it the Trump withdrawal doctrine. He, he pulled back. He's the most isolationist president we've had since world war two, uh, Biden will change both those things. Biden does care about democracy and universal values and human rights. I've seen it up close and personal. When I used to travel with them, uh, in the early years of the Obama administration and number two Biden believes in engagement, and he believes that we're better served the United States by being at the table then from disengaging from the table. But they're getting off to a slower start with more damage because of this long-term prolonged transition.Speaker 3:
I know like, you know, Adam Schiff said today that imagine this happening in another country, we would condemn it, retired general McCaffrey, who, you know, from my years at NBC, I have a lot of respect for him referring to Mike Pompeo's statement yesterday said, there'll be a peaceful transition of power to a second term for, for, uh, president Trump. And McCaffrey said, that's a chilling and dangerous statement by a lawless regime. I mean, that's very strong statements to here in America about America.Speaker 4:
Yes. I mean, I was disappointed with secretary Pompeo's comment. Um, uh, not the first time I've been disappointed by his comments, by the way. I do not think he's been a very successful secretary of state has very few achievements after many years in the job. Uh, but I also want to underscore, I am not worried about a coup I am not worried about lawlessness because every time secretary Palm PEO says something, or Senator Cruz, or even attorney general BARR, you, you read the headline, which is yes, the president has the right to look into, uh, you know, possible, uh, false falsification. But then you read the second line and it's clear that they have no passion for this because, you know, attorney general Barr's letter, for instance says only, uh, um, um, uh, investigations that will matter will be ones that might overturn an election in an individual state that is simply not going to happen. There is no credible evidence whatsoever that we are anywhere near that happening in any one of these battleground States. And I just want to remind everybody, you know, in 2000, uh, Gore, uh, versus, uh, Bush that went into December, the difference in votes was 537 in Pennsylvania. It's over 45,000 right now, and still counting, uh, that's 90 times more than what happened 20 years ago. And I just don't see any possible Avenue that will be overturned. And the, the lack of vigor, the lack of passion, that people that say these things that to me says a lot. They, I think they know this is true, and they're just, they're just humoring the president. I think that's really unfortunate, but I don't think it's going to lead to a reversal of this electionSpeaker 3:
Set me straight. And, and that is because I go from sheer panic to some of the things I read to kind of humorous. I mean, I, I look at what Pompeo said yesterday, and even he said it with a grim, right. But then you have to take it seriously. And how do you kind of keep yourself sober in these days, leading up to this and through this, what's going to be a turbulent transition. I mean, you, you just keep telling yourself in reality, it's not there. The election was free and fair and we'll come out the other side.Speaker 4:
Well, you know, I've studied, uh, breakthroughs of democracy and breakdowns of democracy for most of my academic life. Uh, I, I know that the world of cases I've studied them, all, some, some of them I've lived through. Um, and, and when I compare democratic breakdowns and other places versus where we're at today in the United States, that makes me optimistic. I see resilience with our institutions. I do not see them faltering. I see a president with autocratic proclivities, but he's, he's in America. He's not in Belarus. There's a big difference. Um, and, and remember, we're a highly decentralized, uh, democracy. We're a federal system. The courts are decentralized, you know, attorney general bark and write his letter, but then, then prosecutors have to go out and, and, uh, you know, execute that, you know, the department of justice is not behind that. I have lots of friends who work there. I experienced this myself just so you know, back in 2018, uh, when president Trump thought it'd be a great idea to hand me over to Vladimir Putin, to be interrogated by him because Putin accused me falsely. I want to say a underscore of committing crimes against the Russian government.Speaker 3:
Didn't Trump actually entertain the idea at a news conference after his meeting with Putin of, well, maybe we should hand Mike McFaul offSpeaker 4:
That's right. It was in Helsinki. I was there, yeah. Watching it in real time. Um, and so, you know, initially I thought this was just a joke, you know, not unlike, uh, listening to secretary Pompeo, then the white house doubled down on the threat at a press conference from the white house a few days later. Uh, and that's when I, I got a lawyer. Um, and that's when I did the rounds to, in, to the department of justice, secretary of state, even the white house, I went and met with Fiona Hill, the top Russia advisor at the time. And that's when it was apparent to me that no matter what the president wanted to do, we have a constitution, I have constitutional rights. Uh, he can't do that. Um, and it was very clear to me talking to mid-level officials in all of those places, but there was no, there was no support within the U S government to do this outrageous thing. And I think that's an important thing to remember here. Yes, attorney general BARR wrote a very carefully worded statement that, you know, prosecutors should look into irregularities, but then he added a lot of clause saying only if there's really, really a major substantial evidence, which there's not. And then remember, you know, somebody's got to do those investigations, uh, Donald Trump and his, his kids can't do them all. Um, and when people go to do that, you know, it's just gonna, it's going to end with eventually the election, uh, being, uh, sustained. But having said all that, I do want to underscore that the perception that we are a broken democracy, the perception that we are breaking American traditions by the president, not conceding, that's bad for our image, uh, as a democracy bulkier domestically for Trump supporters and internationally,Speaker 3:
I mean, Belarus, I want to ask you about Russia as well, but you know, those scenes are so disturbing. I look at them every weekend, these large marches, people being hauled off Mike by the thousands, tens of thousands. Now every weekend, there's a thousand people arrested. We see the videos of people getting beaten in police custody. You know, there's all sorts of tales of torture. The scenes are really disturbing. How will a president Biden handle Luca Shenko in Belarus? And just building off the point that you just made. I mean, it's, it makes it harder right now, doesn't it for America to preach democracy, to Luca Shanko, who, who clearly did steal that election?Speaker 4:
Yes, it does make it harder. Um, and most certainly as we have declined as a democracy by the ratings of many different, uh, non-governmental organizations, including freedom house, by the way, an American one, it does make it harder for diplomats and government officials, uh, to talk about doing the right thing when we're not always doing the right thing. I even experienced that as the U S ambassador to Russia years ago. That w what about ism game that I had to play with Russian government officials? Um, I, I do think it'll be different under president Biden and his administration. Um, because number one, he cares about these issues. Trump has never cared. Trump has never made a statement to the best of my knowledge about Belarus, not one single word. Uh, that's already changed, uh, candidate. Biden's already said a lot about Bellaruse. Um, and, uh, you know, I predict, I know most of his, uh, advisors, well, these are people I worked with in the government. They also care. So you're going to see at, at a minimum, at least one more diplomatic engagement on issues like Bella on countries like Belarus. And I would add Armenia and Azerbaijan and Kyrgyzstan and Moldova and Ukraine. Uh, the team that's coming with president Biden knows all of these places, uh, by the way. So does president Biden, there's their problem? I don't think there's a, been a new president with the record of foreign policy experience that, that president, uh, elect Biden has remember, uh, not only was he vice president for eight years and had, uh, was the point person for many foreign policy issues in our administration, including by the way, and Georgia, I traveled to Ukraine and Georgia and Moldova with the vice-president because in the Obama administration, he was the point person for those countries. Obama was a point person for Russia, but he also, well before then he, you know, for decades, he was on the Senate foreign relations committee. So, so this is somebody who comes in with a deep, deep experience.Speaker 3:
How will that experience, uh, lend itself towards handling president food? And I mean, it's a very weird and suspicious relationship between Putin and Trump. I mean, Trump, you say he hasn't spoken out on Belarus, he didn't speak out on the boundaries poisoning. Uh, w you know, when all of Europe did, this was the main opposition leader who was poisoned by all indications are by somebody, you know, probably with the nod from the Kremlin, but probably somebody from the FSB or the GRU, but it looks like FSP.Speaker 4:
Yeah. Trump didn't say anything, a candidate Biden did, by the way, he put out a statement about the poisoning. Um, and I, I, I'm confident in predicting that the, the Biden administration will take these kinds of issues more seriously. Now, it doesn't mean they're going to be able to solve them. I think it's important to understand that when it comes to issues of democracy and human rights and rule of law in powerful, autocracies like Russia and China, uh, the United States does not have a lot of leverage, but at a minimum, uh, they just have to speak truth to power. They have to say the right things, they have to speak out on behalf of universal values. Um, uh, and I think that is right by the way, uh, mr.[inaudible], uh, has already congratulated vice president, uh, elect a president, elect Biden, uh, unlike, uh, president Trump. Uh, so I think you'll, you'll see much more engagement. We used to call it dual track diplomacy, uh, engage with the government on issues of national interest. And I predict that, you know, president Biden will do that with president Putin, uh, but he also engaged directly with, uh, Russian society. Uh, the last trip I took with vice president Biden to Moscow, uh, was in 2011. Uh, we met with then prime minister Putin. We had a pretty tough meeting, but it was an engaged meeting. Uh, and literally an hour later, we were over at[inaudible] house at the ambassador's residence, uh, meeting with, uh, the human rights and opposition figures. Um, you know, because that's, that's was the way that vice vice president Biden wanted to conduct diplomacy while traveling to Russia.Speaker 3:
Let me spend through a couple of things, because I know we don't have a lot of time, but start, this is the 3d for verification, a nuclear arms control, and a set to expire. Uh, what, what, what does president Biden, what will a president Biden do?Speaker 4:
Well, he'll extend it for sure. Uh, I, I hope I'm cautiously hopeful that as one of his last things, cause he hasn't done many cooperative things with Putin and Trump might extend it because there'll be a lot easier. Uh, then there'll be less criticism of it if a Republican does it. If, if president Biden has to do it, you'll hear all sorts of ranker from Republican senators, but this is a no brainer. I, you know, I worked on the start treaty as part of the negotiation team. Um, you know, this is not a gift to Russia. This is a gift to the United States of America. I used to always say, Ronald Reagan used to say trust, but verify when doing arms control, uh, with the Soviet union, when I was in the government, I would say don't trust only verify. Um, and what the new start treaty does first and foremost is provide an expections regime for us to have greater fidelity about knowing what the Russians are doing with their nuclear arsenal. So I think you'll do this in a heartbeat, provided that the Russians don't try to, to, to, to prolong it by trying to squeeze in some constraints on missile defense or something like that.Speaker 3:
Turkey, are you worried about Turkey is a NATO country. It's about S four hundreds from Russia. Um, it's, it's not really been seen to be a great natal player with Greece in the Mediterranean, uh, president air to want to just whipped up Muslims, uh, sentiments against France and, and, and, uh, I mean, against president Macron in France, are you worried that Turkey is a growing problem? Do you think the president Biden will have to deal with that and what would be his position? Because I know he was very much in favor of staying in Syria, I think, and working with the Kurds who were our American allies at the time.Speaker 4:
Dan, I actually think you've just raised the sleeper question that not much of Washington is talking about, but I actually think it will be one of the biggest challenges for the Biden administration and early on, uh, we've had a very complicated relationship with Turkey for decades in the NATO Alliance. Uh, there were periods of early optimism in the early years of the air Taiwan's election and the notion that you could have a, you know, democracy there and a Muslim majority country that has not turned out well. And now you see his independent foreign policy at odds with the United States, you know, on the list that you just mentioned, but I would also add Nagorno-Karabakh, uh, where, uh, you know, he is now been cooperating with Putin in ways that I don't think are in the interests of the United States. And most certainly are not in the interest of Armenia. Um, and we, you know, I don't have a silver bullet for how to deal with that problem, but it is a really complicated issue. Again, the good news is I know some of the people around, uh, the president elect Biden, who've worked on Turkey for many, many years. Uh, Tony Blinken is somebody that comes to mind that knows Turkey well, uh, but how to manage that and how, you know, this is a crisis waiting to blow up. Uh, I hope they get ahead of it right away. Right.Speaker 3:
I have your whole report card that I've read through and, you know, it was great to read it North Korea. You really feel that, uh, Trump's approach failed miserably. And where do we go from there? Syria, the Iranian nuclear deal, the Israeli Palestinian conflict, China, you take your pick. I mean, what do you think if you think Turkey is, is one of the headlines in foreign policy? What do you think the next big is?Speaker 4:
Well, uh, Turkey is the sleeper problem that I don't think gets enough attention that could be catastrophic, right. Um, in the category of, of must do very early. Um, I do think first and foremost, we have to restore, uh, the NATO Alliance and trust with our partners, uh, democratic partners. I think that'll be the, the, you know, there's going to be an easy sugar high right in the beginning, once Biden is there because everybody knows Biden. And, you know, if he walks into any meeting in Europe, you know, in a Brussels meeting, he'll get a standing ovation. Uh, they love him there. Uh, the harder part will be, you know, what are we going to do cooperatively to contain Russia and to deal with China. And then that will get a lot harder. But I think you have to start with reuniting with our allies democracies in Europe. First second, doing the same in Asia. You know, our allies in Asia have been really struggling to figure out how to deal with the Trump administration. They need to be shored up. They need to be reassured. Um, and then, yeah,Speaker 3:
Well, president Biden will president Biden be just as supportive of Taiwan as the Republicans. Where do you think?Speaker 4:
I hope so. I B I, you know, my own view on Taiwan is, uh, peace through strength. Uh, this is, this is Berlin 1948, right? This is where, uh, if we do not show a credible commitment, it could lead to even worse outcomes. Um, again, I'm not speaking for the Biden administration, that's just my personal view. Um, and I think that's good for China too, by the way, I do not think it's in China's, long-term interests to, to, to stumble into a, a war in Taiwan, you know, that could be there, Afghanistan for the Soviet union, the China, China today reminds me a lot of, of the Soviet union in the seventies. You know, feeling very bold and ambitious and aggressive foreign policy. Uh, and yet I believe there's a lot of drama ahead, uh, for China domestically. Um, and as we know from the Soviet experience, they all like to focus on the mistakes that Gorbachev made. I go to China very frequently these days. Uh, I think they need to focus on the mistakes that Brezhnev made when he stopped focusing on domestic structural issues at home and had this belligerent foreign policy abroad. That was a recipe for disaster for them. Uh, and I hope we can help them to prevent that, uh, with respect to Taiwan, but you raised what I was just gonna say, getting the China bilateral relationship, uh, in a firmer, more stable footing with w which will be elements of containment and engagement, I think is, you know, that's the paramount foreign policy issue for presidents, you know, for the rest of the century, but it's also needs to be at the top of the list, uh, for Biden in his inbox. And then there's one longer structural one that I think is not only important for the planet, but it's also important for his voters. And, you know, in my Washington post piece, giving grades, it was at the top of the list and that's climate change, um, you know,Speaker 3:
Press you on that right away, because we all know that he's going to go back and sign the Paris Accords. And he has a big spending plan on green energy in America and getting it down to, is it going to go down to zero emissions? What's the goal?Speaker 4:
Well, uh, I don't know. I mean, he'll join Paris, uh, right away. That'll be easy. Uh, but you know, there are many people in this country, including millions of voted for him, including me, uh, that think Paris is not enough. Uh, and it is, uh, you know, we are in a very desperate moment right now and whether or not he has the, uh, the political, uh, capacity to do the more bowl, uh, bolder things. I'm not sure to be honest, I think that that's a heavy lift, uh, but, but what, whatever is within his executive purview to do more, uh, he really needs to do that. Not only for the planet, but for his own constituents here in the United States. Mike,Speaker 3:
What's your role going to be in the new administration?Speaker 4:
Uh, probably, uh, you know, uh, giving advice to my friends from Stanford university, um, uh, in all seriousness, you know, I loved working in the government. Uh, I loved working with the Biden team, uh, lots of friends of mine. I'm sure we'll have a new jobs in the administration, uh, for myself, uh, just to be really blunt. There are very few jobs available at the top, uh, that would it be of interest to me and hundreds of really qualified people vying for this position. So I think it's, it's unlikely that I'll go into the government. Um, uh, but I look forward to helping that new government, any ways I can and if the opportunity arises, uh, I'll, I'll take itSpeaker 3:
Well. They need good people like you, Mike, thank you so much for your time. Uh, Mike McFaul from Stanford. It's an honor to talk to you.Speaker 4:
Thank you. Thanks for having me. That was great.Speaker 2:
That's our backstory on Biden's foreign policy. So much more to talk about Biden. Isn't new to international affairs like Trump was, he traveled the world as a vice-president European allies are already breathing a sigh of relief that a more liberal pro democracy reasoned and balanced leader will be in the white house. America is coming back as a world leader and a trusted ally with a doctrine of truth in fundamental democratic principles. Not always, but often by many accounts. Trump wasn't big on any of that. I'm Dana Lewis, please subscribe to backstory. Thanks for listening. And I'll talk to you against again,Speaker 5: