Three Views On Joe Biden & Mike Pence Munich Security Speeches

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Both Vice President Mike Pence and former Vice President Joe Biden spoke with America’s European allies at this year’s annual Munich Security Conference. According to the Munich Security Conference report, officials said the Trump administration is “irritating enthusiasm for strongmen across the globe" as well as "disdain for international institutions and agreements." Both Biden and Pence laid out their arguments in support or disagreement with this sentiment. Below you will hear from three Modern Treatise political writers with various political backgrounds and their takes on each speech.

Daniel Jensen: Biden’s speech is the ultimate defense of the world order that the United States forged with the allied powers in the aftermath of the Second World War. The former Vice President lamentation that the US is abdicating our responsibilities on the world stage is not without reason. As a conservative, I found myself agreeing more with Biden than with Pence. He rightly called out that the President’s demands of NATO allies paying their fair share is tarnishing our image. The United States now comes across as a mob enforcer who has come to collect the monthly protection ransom. This is an unacceptable image and must be resolved by having a administration that is not governed by the forces of chaos. I also agree with Biden’s view that the United States should not retreat from world affairs. If we do, then the powers in Moscow and Beijing will become more powerful which will cripple our security in the decades to come.

If this was not a stump speech for 2020, I do not know what is. Biden came out swinging against the direction President Trump has taken for the United States, specifically on the world stage. Statements like “I can not speak for America today” or the repetition of “the America I see” are clear indicators that he wants to reverse the course the United States is going. He sees the imprisonment of migrant children on the southern border as a moral outrage that goes against what America stands for. Biden’s campaign message could be summed up as “a return to normalcy.” Compared to the Trump administration, Obama’s White House sought to gain the support of the international community before charging head first into conflicts. Ultimately, Biden wants to restore the confidence Europe and the rest of the world once had in the United States. If Biden were to run in the 2020 election, he would be a force to be reckoned with. He brings with him decades-worth of foreign policy experience that he clearly demonstrates in this speech. He also possess the political and donor networks from his previous runs for president and with campaigning alongside Barack Obama. For those who miss the days of Obama’s administration, a Biden Presidency could be the perfect remedy and would threaten Trump’s 2020 prospects.

John Wilk: Other than his obvious statements to suggest a presidential run, Biden continued to push for greater government action and for the general void of classical liberal thought in modern politics. He initially commended NATO and the European Union for being “more than collective security”. In other words, for being more than the non-coercive basis of anti-war and free-trade zones. The actions beyond these standards include increased power to central governments over decentralized local authority, top-down policy on regulation and taxation, inflationary central banking, etc. A proclamation by Biden stated that the US should not be the world’s policeman, but be active in “world affairs”. Although this is a terribly mainstream notion, this is just a euphemism for more government action, more control, more standards, and more spending. Everything about these international conferences is more, more, and more. These are just “world affairs” to politicians. In regards to NATO and the EU, Biden simply calls for more “investing” (spending) as usual. Politicians of the permanent-deficit ideology will find themselves in quite a mess if it turns out to be true at the European Central Bank and Federal Reserve System have inflated a financial bubble during these past 10 years of artificially low interest rates and credit expansion.

Biden clearly made an effort to touch on all of the key talking points for Democrats to suggest a presidential run for 2020. As he describes, the US and the globe will need “radical action to address climate change”. It seems unlikely Biden would categorize himself with the socialists and back the Green New Deal, but if he uses “radical” to describe his climate policy in seems to lead in that direction. To keep our minds on the presidency further, Biden mentioned both the Trump administration’s immigration and trade policies. In terms of addressing immigration, the border wall, and ICE, this is a smart move to gain the popularity of moderate, independent voters for a 2020 run. To focus on the unpopular points of the Trump administration’s border policy and avoid the swarm of democratic socialism and identity politics would prove a threat to Trump’s second term. Although he called out the trade-war, it is hard to believe international trade would be freer and taxed less under Biden than under Trump. Regardless, calling the trade war out exploits another unpopular Trump policy. Also noted that Biden forgot to mention the bravery of Juan Guaido and his followers, as apparently globalist fantasies are much more important than freedom of the common man.

Nicolas Mak-Wasek: In his address to the delegates of the Munich Security Conference, Joe Biden’s message is one of gravity. Attesting that the international order of peace and prosperity has reached a so-called “inflection point,” the former vice-president warns that the stabilizing force of “democratic governance” is under threat and without the essential American leadership that has underpinned the system since the end of the Second World War. Additionally, and more significant than the military threats from rising autocrats, the “ideological struggle” on the world stage and the resulting competition of systems and values risks undermining the public’s confidence in democracy itself. In order to address these new and unique challenges in the Twenty-First Century, Biden’s vision of the role the United States has to play in world affairs is clear. He highlights the importance of continued cooperation between democratic regimes, especially between member states of the North Atlantic Treaty Organization (NATO), a military alliance he dubs “the most significant” in the history of the world. Biden’s image of America on the world stage is one of primes inter pares or of cooperative preeminence in which the U.S. utilizes its comparative military might to lead by example rather than dictate strategy. Echoing the thought of John Rawls in The Law of Peoples, American leadership must strive to unite all democratic peoples of the world - from East Asia to Latin America and Africa - in a common front against autocracy and cannot be seen as the world policeman at the head of what he calls a “security racket.” By doing so, Biden envisions an international order that opposes global “bullies” and is able to tackle other non-military international crises such as the spread of disease and mass-migration. Aside from cooperation, Biden makes clear that American leadership should be directed in opposition to Russia, an actor that he lambasts for its tactics of disseminating misinformation and strategy of cyber sabotage. Almost dismissing China as an afterthought, American opposition to an “increasingly aggressive Russia” forms the focal point of Biden’s international strategy and, if done in conjunction with NATO and other allies, would lead to a resurgence of “democratic governance to improve our future.”

In addition to advocating for his vision of international prosperity, Biden’s speech in Munich set the stage for his presidential gambit. Tactically refusing to align himself with the progressive Democrats’ radical socialist agenda, Biden is nonetheless attempting to gain favor among the Democratic electorate by presenting himself as antithetical to Trump. Throughout his speech he seems to oppose every policy position that the incumbent has espoused. On the international level his affinity for Merkel (a world leader Trump particularly loathes), his criticism of the incumbent’s lack of commitment to collective security and his support for the indivisibility of the EU (in stark contrast to Trump’s indifference to Brexit) diverge from Trump’s past rhetoric. On the domestic front his calls for bipartisanship and his vehement opposition to the current Administration’s approach to immigration seek to paint him as a Democratic champion. Furthermore, Biden’s attempts to align himself with average Americans by appealing to their common values cherishing “a free press, democracy and the rule of law [and] basic human decency [that precludes] snatching away children from their parents” can be seen as explicit jabs to the incumbent’s track record. His address to the delegates and to the American people can thus be seen as a promise to revert both the country and the world to a status quo antes Trump. Finally, by stacking out clear positions on issues dear to Democrats such as climate change and immigration, Biden is outlining his platform and signaling that “we [the democrats] will be back” to restore a morally oriented pax-Americana.

Daniel Jensen: On the other hand, there was Vice President Pence’s speech. As a conservative, Pence did a disservice to both the Republican Party and the United States in regards to our alliances. The former Governor of Indiana’s speech made the US more of a lord who expected his subjects to follow at our beck and call. While it is important for our NATO partners to be able to provide more to their own defense, the US should not come across as ungrateful. There has been some significant victories that the US has achieved in the last few years. The coalition to defeat ISIS has been successful in driving the militant group back to its last areas of refuge, but the fight is not over. The US must continue to engage the remnants of Islamic State where ever it manifests, whether its in the Islamic Maghreb of North Africa or the mountains of Afghanistan. Pence’s call out of the rising anti-Semitic sentiments was another strong point of his speech. It is simply intolerable that after 74 years since the Holocaust, that we must once again deal with people who are calling for the mass extermination of the world’s Jewish population. The most agreeable part of the speech was towards the end when Pence issued a call to rally behind Venezuela’s acting President, Juan Guaido. The Venezuelan people deserve to have a government that truly supports them and does not deny them access to essential services. While the Untied States should be supportive of the opposition, it must avoid launching an invasion to oust the Maduro regime. We must learn from past failures in the MENA region and Latin America that it must be the people who lead the revolution, not some outside power. The only instance the US and the outside world should get itself involve militarily is if the United Nations invokes the “Responsibility to Protect” Doctrine (R2P) if Venezuela’s embattled President and his administration threatens the opposition on the same level Qaddafi threatened the people of Benghazi with death during Libya’s Arab Spring Uprising.

The rebuke Pence gave towards our European allies suggest that the President is obviously frustrated that our allies across the pond are not stepping in line with our foreign policy objectives. US foreign policy seeks to distance Europe (particularly Germany) from Russia by preventing the construction of the Nord Stream 2 Gas Pipeline in order to isolate Putin for his proxy war in Ukraine. The President is also trying to get the EU to halt the growing influence of Chinese-owned telecom companies, and to get them to kill the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action  (JCPOA -- Iran Nuke Deal). On all of these matters, Europe has been dismissive of the US’s demands. Without Europe’s support in countering Russian and Chinese influence, the United States will undeniably have a much harder time defending Western interests. Unfortunately, it is difficult to imagine relations between Europe and the Trump administration improving anytime soon.

John Wilk: Mike Pence commended US involvement in world affairs on the basis of military involvement to show that the West “has the will to survive”. He describes in a positive light the United States having the largest military and growing, suggesting further expansion in the future. As an absolute good, in Pence’s terms, are nations spending more of their GDP on military. This sounds like a great shift if it meant the US could then decrease its military spending so that the rest of the West can defend itself, but obviously, that’s not the case here. Similar to Biden, Pence’s overall speech continues the “more than collective security” geopolitical ideology and the abandonment of classical liberal values. We already know that Trump’s anti-interventionist campaign rhetoric will not be put to practice and this speech only reinforces that notion. The administration loves to get it under the radar, as Pence does here, that regardless of peace talks in the middle-east, the US troops will stay. However, a continuation of US military dominance in the region will not end blowback and will not end the terror wars. The West’s will to survive will not be by drone strikes abroad but by maximum liberty of the individual at home.

The talking points on the state of the United States under this administration give a beginning of the front for Trump’s 2020 reelection attempt. Pence mentioned the state of the economy and pinned it on the tax cuts and economic nationalism which will be one of the strongest presidential points to gain popularity. However, a closer look would suggest this economy is relying on artificially low interest rates to keep an enormous stock market bubble full of air. If this collapses before November of 2020 the public will blame the free market and Trump will not be reelected. In this sense, it is unwise to make the boom property of Donald Trump because it will remain his property after a bust. Pence also touched on trade talks with China and boasted that international trade will remain both free and “fair”. Although it’s irritating, it could be beneficial to keep the public in the dark whether they are really protectionist or not, to try to keep the voting bases of both farmers and manufacturing workers. For a conference with European nations, it was satisfying to hear Pence condemn anti-semitism, which is clearly an infection in the Left, especially in Europe. Also justified was the nod to the Venezuelans that oppose the socialist government and Maduro, which will be one of the most significant global events of 2019.

Nicolas Mak-Wasek: As acting vice-president, Mike Pence took the stage in Munich with a clear agenda. Commencing his address by highlighting the “largest ever American delegation,” it was obvious that he was going to approach the speech under the aegis of MAGA. Indeed, despite the raucous applause received at the mention of political rival Nancy Pelosi, the incumbent vice-president was confident and passionate in outlining the success of the Trump administration and its commitment to an international system in which America dictates the terms of engagement. Reminding the world of the diplomatic successes of Donald Trump in countering rivals and pressuring allies, Pence made sure to convey the message that the policy of America First extends to the international diplomatic arena. Unlike Biden, Pence’s view of America’s role on the world stage is focused on its military might and martial capacity. Rather than cooperation, the incumbent administration’s focus was on preponderance and signaled to traditional allies that America was eager to work with them but not simply alongside them. By emphasizing the “largest military investment since Reagan” and U.S. military and diplomatic success against ISIS and North Korea respectively, Pence signaled that American leadership was very much alive. Furthermore, the incumbent vice-president presented future U.S. foreign policy as much more active than that of previous administrations, citing arms sales to Ukraine (a measure Obama refused to ratify) and support for Venezuelan opposition leader Juan Guaido as examples of American initiative. Indeed, Pence’s remarks suggest that American power will no longer only be used defensively by outlining plans for “20 percent of NATO defense spending” be assigned to procurement (i.e., acquisition of new material rather than maintenance of existing stock) and calls to take the fight “to their soil” in reference to the war against ISIS specifically and global terror in general. The only similarity with Biden’s view is Pence’s admission that the current climate amounts to an ideological struggle between competing values, however, the values of “western civilization” trumpeted by Pence differ greatly from those advocated for by Biden and highlight a similar ideological gulf between Democrats and Republicans here at home.

Alongside Pence’s idea of American leadership in the international arena, his speech contained a stinging rebuke of the policies of America’s allies, blaming them for facilitating the growth of the “East’s” military capabilities. Citing a lack of commitment and initiative, Pence’s criticism of America’s European allies and praise for the achievements of the “Arab Islamic American Summit” illustrate the Administration’s foreign policy shift away from traditional democratic partners and towards pragmatic yet questionable regional affiliates. The vice-president alleged that Europe was undermining the otherwise effective American policies of “administrative and diplomatic” sanctions imposed on rogue actors such as Russia, China and Iran. Specifically, it is claimed that Europe’s acceptance of hamstringing infrastructure projects such as Nord Stream 2, nefarious and ostensibly state-aligned corporations like Huawei and devastating diplomatic accords such as the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action enable these heinous actors to dually benefit from increased capabilities and supplemental intelligence. Worse for Pence is the fact that despite the “leadership of Donald Trump,” members of NATO itself have not yet fully committed to spending the treaty mandated 2 percent of GDP on defense which make their calls for renewed cooperation hypocritical at best and disingenuous at worst. Despite these open rebukes, Pence does seem committed to the idea of collective security especially in regards to America’s unwavering commitment to defending the nation of Israel and preventing another Holocaust.