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Podcast: A former US diplomat rates Biden’s first presidential trip abroad

Podcast: A former US diplomat rates Biden’s first presidential trip abroad

TRANSCRIPT: A former US diplomat rates Biden’s first presidential trip abroad

Ivo Daalder:

In almost every way Americans understand that being involved in the world is no longer just a luxury. It's something we have to do for our own national interest, and that's how you got to sell this.

Ian Bremmer:

Hello and welcome to the GZERO World Podcast. Here you'll find extended versions of interviews for my show on public television. I'm Ian Bremmer, and today Biden goes abroad. He travels. He does. He does that sort of thing. The US president just wrapped his first international trip. Stakes could not have been higher. I mean, they could have been honestly, but this is just the beginning of the podcast. Did his performance at the G-7 go far enough to repair relationships badly strained during the Trump administration? What happens next on major issues like vaccine distribution, everybody needs them, US-China relations, two most powerful countries in the world and climate change. I'm talking to Ivo Daalder, president of the Chicago Council on Global Affairs and author of The Empty Throne: America's Abdication of Global Leadership. Cheery. Let's get right to it.

Announcer:

The GZERO World Podcast is brought to you by our founding sponsor, First Republic. First Republic, a private bank and wealth management company, places clients' needs first by providing responsive, relevant, and customized solutions. Visit firstrepublic.com to learn more. This podcast is also brought to you by Walmart. With 150 million customers and members passing through our doors each week, Walmart and Sam's Club pharmacists can safely and easily reach customers who might not have access to a vaccine. That's why we're working hard to bring vaccines to the nearly 4,000 medically underserved communities we serve. Because we're not just in your community, we're part of it. Learn more at walmart.com/covidvaccine.

Ian Bremmer:

Today, Ambassador Ivo Daalder, he is president of Chicago Council on Global Affairs and author of The Empty Throne. Great to see you Ivo.

Ivo Daalder:

Hey, Ian. Great to be here.

Ian Bremmer:

I am kind of wondering, when we have come out of this period where all of America's allies have expressed so much uncertainty about the role the United States can, should play in the world, the sustainability of the alliances, all of these things. How is it possible that we have the French President Macron saying, "Yep, America's back." Yep, that's right. How's that possible?

Ivo Daalder:

Well, in part because they want America to be back and wishes their command. They want a United States that's engaged. They want a United States that cares, even loves Europe, that thinks that Europe is important. They want a United States that's there to be on the global stage to enhance themselves. They want a United States that figures out how to deal with some of the big challenges that they themselves are unwilling or unable to deal with. So in that sense, they're just happy in that America is back.

But America's also back. I mean, it's a reality. It's not just about what they want. In the very important sense that this president returns the United States to the kind of engagement that used to be the norm and was the norm for a very long period of time, no matter how many disagreements one might have had between George W. Bush and the Clinton or Obama administrations. By the way, there were a lot of disagreements. The fact that the United States had a indispensable role, a leading role in the world was never questioned until Donald Trump was president.

Biden comes from a generation, comes from a sense and an engagement sense that says, "No, that's the role we need to take." Now the real question is how long is that United States going to be back rather than a Trumpian United States? I think also the other question is is the kind of way the United States has engaged the world still the appropriate way for dealing with the challenge we have? But back? Yeah, for sure.

Ian Bremmer:

I mean, we'll get to both of those things. But I mean, if you want to ask how much of this is about Biden being president, someone that they know they're comfortable with, he's a multilateral in orientation. He likes diplomacy. I mean, his team is oriented in that way. How much of this is the Russians increasingly antagonizing under Putin a lot of American allies? How much of this is the Chinese increasingly antagonizing a lot of the allies' reaction? I mean, if you had to balance those things, how would you score it?

Ivo Daalder:

Well, it's not an either or. It's an and, right? It is from a geopolitical, a realism foreign policy perspective the national interest of the countries in Europe is being threatened directly by what Russia is doing directly in terms of military force and the capabilities they have acquired over the last decade, plus the willingness to use that force, threatened by cyber intrusions, threatened by disruptive behavior with regard to two electoral systems, on gas, on so many other ways, and of course threatened by the Chinese, threatened ideologically, threatened politically, threatened economically, and indeed increasingly threatened militarily.

The Chinese are in Europe. China may not be in Europe, but the Chinese are, through the Belt and Road Initiative, through a whole variety of ways in which they have economic and political linkages created to NATO members, including members like Italy and Greece.

Ian Bremmer:

They've been welcomed. The Chinese have been welcomed by those European members.

Ivo Daalder:

Exactly. So they're very much part of this. There is an interest to say, "Okay, we want to engage with them, but we also want to make sure that our own interests are protected." We need the United States for that purpose. We need a counterbalance. We need a balance of power that in fact favors us over those two challenges that they face and they can't do it by themselves. No matter how much they want to talk about European sovereignty or strategic autonomy, the reality is the United States, if it's willing to be part of it, should be part of that equation. They want the United States. At the same time, Biden is the most Atlanticist president since at least George H.W. Bush. Tony Blinken is the most Atlanticist secretary of state probably since Madeleine Albright.

Ian Bremmer:

Explain for our audience since that's a super wonky term. When you say Atlanticist, concretely, what does that mean for you?

Ivo Daalder:

So it means that in the core of your thinking about the way America engages, looking across the Atlantic and looking towards partnerships with Europeans is kind of your first natural instinct. A problem arises and who do you call? Are you going to call your friends in Latin America or in Africa or in the Middle East or even in Asia? Or are you going to call your friends in Europe? The Atlanticist instinct, this instinct to think about how do United States and Europe together, the we in some ways, is now in the Oval Office and back on the seventh floor in Foggy Bottom in a way that it hasn't been for quite a long time.

Ian Bremmer:

Certainly agree with you on Secretary of State Blinken. Let me push back at least a little bit. When we talk about Biden, I mean, first invitation to the White House, Japanese Prime Minister Suga, second invitation, South Korean President Moon. I mean, the Quad something, they're trying to stand up. China's seen as the top priority, not Russia. I mean, how much do you really want to lean into that?

Ivo Daalder:

So it's where I think Biden and Blinken, by the way, and Sullivan and everyone else, the team is understanding that it's no longer enough to be Atlanticist. You can't do your entire foreign policy engagement only with Europe. What you really need is you need a North American, Asian, European advanced democratic alignment. So you want to bring in your Asian allies, you want to bring in your European allies and of course the Canadians and the United States in order to solve these issues. You kind of want to enlarge the G-7, right?

Ian Bremmer:

To create potentially like a D10. They were talking about that. They didn't get it done, but they did invite the countries as special guests.

Ivo Daalder:

They did. There's this question whether India fits in there, right? It's the only country that's not an ally of the United States, and on security issues and of course on democracy issues is problematical in some ways. Biden did, rightly in my view, move to Asia first, bring the key Asian allies to the White House first. Blinken and Austin, the Secretary of Defense, made their first trip to Asia and this and making the Quad, as you mentioned, the four leaders who met by video for the first time.

It was the right thing to do for Biden is to reach out to our Asian partners, to bring Suga and Moon to the White House, as you said, for Austin, the Secretary of Defense and the Secretary of State Blinken, to make their first trip to Japan and Korea and to have this meeting of the Quad, India, Australia, Japan and the United States at the first level, at a leader level to have that kind of cooperation. But it's not an alternative to Europe. This president is not pivoting away from Europe. It's trying to align both of our European partnerships and our Asian partnerships to deal with the challenge that we face, China, cyber, climate, COVID, to take four Cs as the key thing.

Ian Bremmer:

You did that. You did that, four Cs, just lined them right up. So how do you think you avoid ending up in a Cold War with the Chinese, given this level of momentum that is being driven by Biden, but frankly in a bipartisan way in the United States, that the principle challenge is we've got to build architecture to compete with, to contain, to all of those other C words the second most powerful country in the world?

Ivo Daalder:

Yeah. I think it's a real challenge because United States doesn't do foreign policy subtly. We're not particularly good at that, even though I think Biden's understanding and Blinken's understanding of the challenge that China poses is not in Cold War terms. It's not an either or. In many ways, there is a severe need to compete, but you compete by doing more ourselves, by working together on the strengths that we have, which are partners and allies around the world. We've got 55 allies to the United States and China has one, North Korea. Good luck trying to compete effectively if we can bring those 55 allies along in the competition.

But it's not about confrontation. It's not about conflict. It's not a zero sum game. You don't see Biden talking about Xi and China only in terms of the Chinese communist party trying to make this as Mike Pompeo did an ideological competition between the democratic, the United States, and the communist, China, because they realize that all of these problems, whether it's cyber, whether it's climate, whether it's COVID, you can't solve in a confrontational way.

You need to find ways to cooperate with the Chinese, and importantly, what the partners are bringing is a skepticism of the Cold War. So you heard Prime Minister Boris Johnson who's made a strong stance against China say in Brussels this week, "No one around this table wants a Cold War." I think that's true for Joe Biden as well.

Ian Bremmer:

You also saw even Boris Johnson pushing back hard on the lab origin hypothesis on COVID. Without that information, they're I think also pushing back on the we don't want to be hitting the Chinese in such confrontational ways, kind of interesting. But when you were ambassador to NATO in the Obama administration and as ambassador of NATO, you orient diplomacy primarily towards allies. As you mentioned, China doesn't have allies, but China also doesn't articulate its power that way.

I mean, China is the largest trade partner of all of the countries in South America, of all of the countries in Asia, of most of the countries in Sub-Saharan Africa. They're not really building a nuclear capability to try to create parity with the United States the way the Russians did when they were the Soviets. So I mean, does the vocabulary of alliance necessarily constrain US diplomacy internationally?

Ivo Daalder:

That's an interesting question. I tend to talk about partnerships that is working together with others. Partnerships, both because it underscores that a partner, that it's a two-way relationship and it's not about one doing something for the other, but also to understand that you need to work together to address all of these problems in a more competitive way. To understand what the Chinese are doing is to out-compete the United States, Europe and our Asian friends on the issues of trade, on the issues of economic investment, and that in order to deal with that, you can't just browbeat them. You got to offer an alternative.

I was in Ethiopia two years ago, and it was just remarkable how the Chinese dominate the investment climate. They're building a metro system. They built the African Union headquarters. They're just all over the place. You ask the Ethiopian interlocutors, "So why are you relying on Chinese investment?" The answer was very simple, because-

Ian Bremmer:

Who else?

Ivo Daalder:

There is nobody else providing.

Ian Bremmer:

There's nobody else.

Ivo Daalder:

So if we in the United States were to think about this strategically, and we started this process in the G-7 with this idea of a B3W, a Build Back Better World.

Ian Bremmer:

Build Back Better World.

Ivo Daalder:

Right?

Ian Bremmer:

Yes.

Ivo Daalder:

To have an alternative, I think it's a little small and it's kind of cute to think about it, but the idea is right, that is you need to offer an alternative. You need to be a competitor. You need to think about not how you browbeat those countries in not accepting the Chinese but offering an alternative that's better. Think about vaccines. If the offer is bio BioNTech, Pfizer or Moderna versus Sinovac, what are you going to do? Who's going to take the Chinese vaccine when you know have a proven one? But you got to offer it to them in order to give them the alternative and to be a competitor. That's what we're starting to understand. It's what America first sort of completely missed, that it's not about America, it's about how we protect ourselves by being more competitive abroad.

Ian Bremmer:

Now, you mentioned the challenge of India. I mean, if I go back to my Sesame Street days, one of these things is not like the other. Not just that they're still a developing country, but also from a human rights perspective, from a consolidated representative democracy perspective, the US has problems, India's level of commitment is a wide open question. Plus historically, India has been completely unwilling to play the role of close partner with the United States. They want to be sort of neutral and work with everybody. Modi has shifted on that and many other things, but in the same way that people ask, "Well, couldn't Trump come back?" Whether or not Modi is there for five, 10, the next electoral cycle is also an open question. So to what degree do you think the India engagement is going to work?

Ivo Daalder:

So I think it's important that the India engagement be about India and helping India to continue to be, but also emerge as the democratic, economic and security player that it can and should. But it is not about doing this only so we can have a balance of power of vis-a-vis China. One way in which you sort of make the Cold War worse, this Cold War analogy with China worse is by saying, "We're going to surround China with alliances and look at India and not about India itself." India has very big differences with the Chinese. We saw, of course, the military confrontation in the Himalayas and the Indian attitudes towards China are changing very rapidly.

But India has no interest in a over confrontational policy to which China, one that it would stand to lose in any case, military, politically and certainly economically. So let's have a bilateral relationship or a multilateral relationship with India that brings the Indians more into a closer alignment with the West while recognizing that there's some real problems. There's the problem of democracies, there's a problem of Modi's direction, and of course there is the extraordinary poverty that continues to be part of India's presence and the likely future.

Ian Bremmer:

I want to push you on this. I mean, when you say India is about India, I mean, obviously it's not going to be about Venezuela. I get that, but the engagement of India in the Quad, I mean, clearly from the perspective of Beijing, that is a non-China bunch of democracies, get them to multilaterally coordinate and disagree on stuff with Beijing, right? I mean, there's a level of that. It's precisely the Southeast Asia, South China Sea. The Americans want rule of law multilateralism. China wants individual one-on-one engagement where they're much more influential, they can get what they want. How do you make India about India? What does that concretely mean to you?

Ivo Daalder:

Well, yes, it means to continue in the Quad, but for example, I don't bring them into an expanded G-7, in part because you want to avoid the expanded G-7 being only about China because it isn't. It has to be about coordination of common policies among advanced industrial democracies. When you talk about advanced industrial democracies, all of the countries that you would like to have in that G-7 fall in that category, but India, maybe not so much. Are you going to really have to-

Ian Bremmer:

Not at all.

Ivo Daalder:

Right. So are you going to have coordination of trade policy with India? Are you going to have coordination of your democratic outreach with India? Not so much. So yes, there are areas where you want to cooperate with the Indians. I think the Quad is a good place, which by the way, I'd like to expand with including Korea as well if the Japanese were to allow it. Yes, to have security cooperation in the region, which is very important because China is a big military power and needs to be balanced.

Ian Bremmer:

In Asia, yeah.

Ivo Daalder:

In Asia, particularly in Asia. There is no NATO. There's no security structure. There are bilateral alliances that the United States has. Bringing the Indians in, yes, that's part of China. But the overarching relationship with India shouldn't be through the Quad. It should be a much more multifaceted relationship of the kind of deep engagement. By the way that started in the Clinton administration and in the post-Cold War period. India of course was the leader of the non-aligned movement during the Cold War. It's that kind of deep engagement with India.

We have fundamental bilateral interest in seeing India succeed economically and politically that have nothing to do with China. Oh by the way, if they do succeed, that also enhances the relative power that Western democratic systems have vis-a-vis China. That's a good thing because we are, as Biden I think rightly says, in a competition between democracies and autocracies, seeing who can provide for their people in the best possible way.

Ian Bremmer:

Now, part of that competition is of course within the United States itself. You mentioned early on that there is a big unknown on the part of allies as to what extent the United States' commitment to these things is sustainable. I mean, it flagged under the Trump administration, but it also flags inside Congress, inside a very divided not only Democrats versus Republicans, but divided Democratic party, divided Republican party, where the momentum increasingly does not seem to be with the foreign policy establishment. So I mean, if we accept that as at least where the momentum broadly has been over past years, how much of a constraint is that? Where does it show up the most in your view?

Ivo Daalder:

So I mean, first of all, when it comes to NATO as an institution, both public and congressional support remains extremely high. Even during the Trump years, overwhelming majorities and unanimity in almost all cases, except I think one, voted to say that US membership of NATO was in the fundamental security interest of United States. So it's there. But it's flailing, right? It's changing and the nature is changing. This is the big bet. I think Biden has kind of understood this.

We have to demonstrate that a continuing global engagement by the United States and working together with other democracies can demonstrate to our own people that that delivers in a way that the alternatives don't, that delivers for them. That's why I think the kind of economic policies that the Biden administration are putting forward, not in their specific, but in its overarching sense that coordinating on the economic recovery, which they agreed in the G-7 to continue to do, including fiscal expansionism as part of that and monetary expansionism as part of that, that a new tax regime that lays a minimum level of corporate taxation globally is all necessary so you can start providing for the folks back home.

To understand that cooperation with our friends and allies around the world, our democratic friends and allies around the world, has real tangible benefit for the average American. That's what foreign policy in the middle class sort of felicitous phrase when you think about it is about. I think it's a big bet. I think it's worth trying to make it happen, because the alternative, I think, is exactly as you say. It's to say, "Wait a minute, this costs too much. Why are we doing this? Why don't we turn our backs to the world? We need to worry about what people at home are doing, not worry what abroad are doing." That that kind of change will continue.

But we need that kind of investment in this kind of idea of how cooperation among democracies delivers for the people who live in democracies much better than autocracies can. In the normal conversation with the average folks here in Chicago and in the Midwest, most of them get it. Most of them understand that you can't defend yourselves by building higher walls and closing all the gates and having more guns at your border because what's happening economically, what's happening in terms of health and climate, in terms of migration patterns that come with it means that if the problems over there aren't addressed, they're inevitably going to come over here.

In some ways the pandemic has helped in an unfortunate way. It's like oxygen. You don't know how much you miss it until it's no longer there, right? So the pandemic and the fact that we are related to the rest of the world brought home to people that we need to be engaged to deal with the problems that are abroad in order to defend ourselves at home. We've just seen this I think with vaccines. Yes, it was very important for Americans to get the vaccines that are being produced here as quickly as possible, but increasingly people are understanding that vaccinating the rest of the world is important so no new variants will emerge that can defeat the vaccines that we're relying on to go back to our normal life. So we need to vaccinate the rest of the world.

It's that kind of very practical, not ideological, not realism or liberalism or restraint and all that nonsense that people talk about up at these think tanks in the academy. It's that practical reality of understanding that their job depends on providing the goods that are necessary to manufacture car parts for cars that are being sold in other parts of the world. It's that kind of very practical reality of an integrated world that we can't walk away from, but in fact need to be engaged in.

Ian Bremmer:

I mean, it is interesting that for all of the politicization of things like US dues to the United Nations and support for NATO, there was no pushback from either side of the political spectrum in the US when Biden announced that 500 million vaccines were going to be donated to poor countries around the world. That clearly is a reason for optimism.

Ivo Daalder:

Yeah, no, I think so. The Chicago Council of Global Affairs, we've been done doing a ping and polling for only almost 50 years to ask Americans what they think about America's role in the world. That polling has consistently demonstrated that on the question of whether United States should play an active role in world affairs or stay out of world affairs, two-thirds of Americans think we should play an active role. Now you can then define what that active role means, and we've tried to do that, but in almost every way, Americans understand that being involved in the world is no longer just a luxury. It's something we have to do for our own national interest.

That's how you got to sell this. That's why you have foreign policy for the middle class is actually a pretty good slogan when you think about it, because it's trying to sell engagement, being part of the world, solving problems together with your friends and partners around the world as a means to helping you achieve what you want every day, which is to have a good job that pays enough to take care of your family, that gives you a house and a roof over your head.

Ian Bremmer:

I mean, if I want it to be cynical, I would say a foreign policy for a middle class, if we still had a middle class.

Ivo Daalder:

Well, there is that. I think you have to address, I think, internally the big problem that we see in equality, and that's kind of at the core of the capitalist model that we have been engaged in for the last 40 plus years, and the democratic problem that we saw exposed on the Capitol on January 6th. Those are real threats, by the way, not just to the future of the United States. They're threats to American leadership and indeed American engagement in the world.

Ian Bremmer:

I mean, of course the upside of having a foreign policy for the middle class is you don't have as many people you have to convince.

Ivo Daalder:

That's true since most Americans still think they're part in the middle glass, you've got that problem to deal with, right?

Ian Bremmer:

Touche. Yes, I was hoping you were going to say that. So before we close, I have not asked you much about Russia, mostly because the G-7 and NATO are much more important, and China, than what we're talking about with Russia and it gets way too much airtime. But briefly, because I mean it clearly is something that the Americans are focusing on. How surprised have you been that the Biden administration has been focusing so much on predictability and finding areas where the Americans and Russians might be able to work together? Because it does seem that there's an effort to coordinate there.

Ivo Daalder:

In some ways, of course, it is very surprising that you've seen this outreach because Biden in some ways was the most skeptical president about both Russia and Vladimir Putin of any post-Cold War president, from Bill Clinton onwards to come to office. But on the other side, it's not that. It's understandable. Part of being back is understanding that you need to deal with security threats, not just through bigger budgets on the military side and more deterrents, but also dialogue, and where possible arms control and cooperation on the kinds of issues that could really, really change the world very, very quickly.

The arms control framework that was built up from President Johnson and Nixon onwards is unraveling. It's been starting to unravel for quite a while, but Trump really pulled all the threads in one go with treaty after treaty walking away. So the first thing he does, and I think rightly so, is says, "Let's take the new start agreement and extend that for five years."

Ian Bremmer:

Five more years.

Ivo Daalder:

Now let's spend some time seeing is there a way to build predictability and stability in this relationship? Nuclear weapons still exist and no one, no one wants to have a war in which those weapons would ever be used. It is still fundamentally in our interest to make sure that the United States and Russia have the kind of predictable relationship that makes that less likely.

Ian Bremmer:

Yeah, I remember when I was in high school the day after, absolutely scared the crap out of me. We don't talk about it much anymore, but that balance has not changed one iota.

Ivo Daalder:

It hasn't. Joe Biden, been around for 50 years, and as chairman of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, he was the chairman when the INF Treaty, the treaty, the banned the first class of nuclear missiles between the Soviet Union and United States was signed and he was the chair of the committee that ratified it. So he has a deep personal interest in this area. I know this from my own interaction with him on nuclear weapons issues, so I'm not surprised in that sense. It's trying to hive off, are there places where we can work together? Can we put some guardrails on the relationship so that one, the threat is reduced, and second, we can start focusing on what's the real long-term challenge in the United States, which is further East in China.

Ian Bremmer:

Ivo Daalder, no nuclear war is good nuclear war. He runs the Chicago Council. He's a friend and I'm delighted to have him on the show. Thanks so much.

Ivo Daalder:

Great to talk to you as ever. Thanks.

Ian Bremmer:

That's it for today's edition of the GZERO World Podcast. Like what you've heard? Come check us out at gzeromedia.com and sign up for our newsletter, Signal.

Announcer:

The GZERO World Podcast is brought to you by our founding sponsor, First Republic. First Republic, a private bank and wealth management company, places clients' needs First by providing responsive, relevant and customized solutions. Visit firstrepublic.com to learn more. This podcast is also brought to you by Walmart. With 150 million customers and members passing through our doors each week, Walmart and Sam's Club pharmacists can safely and easily reach customers who might not have access to a vaccine. That's why we're working hard to bring vaccines to the nearly 4,000 medically underserved communities we serve. Because we're not just in your community, we're part of it. Learn more at walmart.com/covidvaccine.

Subscribe to the GZERO World Podcast on Apple Podcasts, Spotify, Stitcher, or your preferred podcast platform to receive new episodes as soon as they're published.

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