When Joe Biden attended the annual Munich Security Conference last month, the wonky foreign policy confab promised an escape from the nonstop speculation back home about the former vice president’s political plans.
Instead, Biden’s 2020 intentions were the talk of the conference.
When Armenian President Armen Sarkissian ran into him in a hallway, a TV camera captured him asking Biden: “Are you going to run?” (Biden whispered an inaudible answer.)
And in several conversations with European leaders in Munich, Biden heard a repeated refrain, according to a conference attendee familiar with the conversations: The world needs you.
Citing Biden’s long foreign policy track record and longtime commitment to the trans-Atlantic alliance, some of the leaders — echoing views from across the continent — told Biden that his return to the White House would be a sure way to restore western alliances that President Donald Trump has dramatically fractured.
While Biden was already likely to enter the race even without the encouragement of foreign leaders, one Democratic Party official close to Biden’s circle said that their support had fueled his appetite to run. He is now widely viewed as likely to announce a 2020 bid in the coming weeks.
These nudges from abroad are a reminder of the heavyweight foreign policy credentials Biden would bring to a Democratic field in which they are currently in short supply. None of Biden’s prospective rivals have the global experience or relationships with foreign leaders that Biden enjoys. But neither do they carry the baggage that comes with decades of involvement in controversial U.S. foreign policy decisions.
A former Senate Foreign Relations Committee chairman, Biden has specialized in foreign policy for decades — a key reason why Barack Obama, who had modest credentials of his own in that realm as a freshman senator, tapped Biden to be his 2008 running mate. As vice president, Biden was Obama’s ever-present adviser on world affairs and played a leading role in their adminstration's Iraq and Ukraine policies.
Even some prominent conservatives concede that Biden would bring to the campaign a formidable depth of knowledge of global events, especially compared to his would-be Democratic rivals.
“If you look at this field, Biden is a giant in terms of his actual foreign policy experience. They have nowhere near the hands-on experience that he’s had,” said Ken Weinstein, president of the conservative Hudson Institute. “He spent decades talking to world leaders and in that sense, he’s got far deeper contacts.”
But despite more than two years of near-panic among foreign policy elites over Trump’s approach to the world, it’s not clear how much voters will care about expertise in world affairs. In a February Gallup poll, only 5 percent of Americans ranked foreign policy or national security-related issues as the country’s top problem.
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