Former Vice President Joe Biden on Thursday scorned the notion that the United States should retrench and tell its allies to be more self-reliant.
Biden said America’s global leadership role, its relationship with allies and its support for other nations are vital.
“It’s in our naked self-interest to stay engaged” with allies and other nations, he said. “It would be complete folly to think that we could go it alone.”
Biden at times mentioned President Donald Trump and at other times merely alluded to his policies. When an audience member’s cellphone rang, Biden said, “That’s President Trump calling me. Tell him I’m busy, but I’m happy to help.”
The Democrat spoke to a crowd of about 475 made up primarily of students at the University of Nebraska at Omaha’s Strauss Performing Arts Center. Although Biden has yet to declare his candidacy for president, his family has given its approval, and he is expected soon to join the crowded pool of Democratic candidates.
He spoke at UNO’s inaugural Hagel Forum in Global Leadership on Thursday, an event sponsored by former Secretary of Defense Chuck Hagel, a UNO alum.
Trump has promoted a new nationalism emphasizing citizenship, American self-interest and patriotism. That nationalism includes stepping back from the role of world police force or chairman of the global board of democracies.
The former vice president under President Barack Obama said it’s not about policing the planet.
“We lead the world not just by the example of our power but by the power of our example,” said Biden, 76.
The world is more complex, he said, because of cyberspace, climate change, artificial intelligence, weapons of misinformation and weapons of mass destruction. The planet must deal with climate change, he said.
“How can that happen without U.S. leadership?” he asked.
He said that disease, such as Ebola, knows no boundaries, and that nations must work together to conquer it.
Trump has asked allies in NATO to pay more of the organization’s costs and to rely less on American payouts. But Biden asked: “What will it cost us if America is not leading?”
The roughly 100-minute event included Biden and Hagel sitting down to answer questions written beforehand by college students.
Biden’s answers tended to be long and detailed, and they included anecdotes from his years of diplomacy. He and moderator Lana Obradovic, a UNO faculty member, bonded over her experience as a native of Bosnia and Herzegovina. She was forced to leave her nation in 1993 because of ethnic cleansing.
“You deserve a lot of credit,” Biden told her. “God love you.”
Biden said the U.S. has been “unfocused” over the past couple of years. Referring in part to Russian President Vladimir Putin, Biden said Trump “chooses the word of dictators and thugs” over that of the U.S. intelligence community.
He said of Trump’s unsuccessful negotiations this week with North Korean leader Kim Jong Un that he hoped that Trump had learned a lesson.
“Diplomacy matters. Preparation matters,” Biden said. “The president treats everything like it’s a real estate deal.”
Biden received two standing ovations during the event. Anna Rodriguez, a UNO senior from Fremont, covered the event for MavRadio, the university’s student-run station.
“It was amazing,” Rodriguez said of Biden’s talk. “I’m actually looking forward to re-watching it.”
She said she wasn’t certain that she would vote for Biden, though, because she hasn’t assessed all of the Democrats in the field.
Sarah Hotovy, a medical student at the University of Nebraska Medical Center, called Biden insightful and inspiring.
Hotovy, who’s from York, said she would be willing to vote for Biden but she needs to know who else is in the running.
Biden sounded like a man who will run. “If the United States fails to lead, who will take our place and where does that leave us?” he asked.
The absence of American leadership on a global scale, he said, has caused doubt over the U.S.’s trustworthiness and staying power. It’s time, he said, for the U.S. to lead again.