Joe Biden, my favorite current vice-president, spoke1 this weekend at a security conference in Munich. Coverage of the event has mostly focused on Biden's assertion that the U.S. will continue to seek a strategic missile defense initiative, but will also work with Russia. That summary makes the speech seem a bit like a yawner -- certainly, an important thing to say, and possibly the most newsworth part of the speech, but the focus on Russia seems to belie what was the heart of Mr. Biden's speech: a whole-sale reversal of Bush-era foreign policy concepts. For instance:
In meeting these challenges, the United States will be guided by this principle –- and the principle is: There is no conflict between our security and our ideals. We believe they are mutually reinforcing.
The force of arms won our independence, and throughout our history the force of arms has protected our freedom. That will not change. But the very moment we declared our war of independence, at that moment we laid out to the world the values behind our revolution and the conviction that our policies must be informed, as we said at the time, by a "decent respect for the opinions of mankind."
So we’ll engage. We’ll listen. We’ll consult. America needs the world, just as I believe the world needs America. But we say to our friends that the alliances, treaties and international organizations we build must be credible and they must be effective. That requires a common commitment not only to listen and live by the rules, but to enforce the rules when they are, in fact, clearly violated.
I think Joe Biden just opened the door for International prosecution of the Bush Administration.
Reading the whole speech is certainly worth your time, if you're interested in American foreign policy. One final highlight, just to remind everyone how far we've come in the last month:
To meet the challenges of this new century, defense and diplomacy are necessary. But quite frankly, ladies and gentlemen, they are not sufficient. We also need to wield development and democracy, two of the most powerful weapons in our collective arsenals. Poor societies and dysfunctional states, as you know as well as I do, can become breeding grounds for extremism, conflict and disease. Non-democratic nations frustrate the rightful aspirations of their citizens and fuel resentment.
Our administration has set an ambitious goal to increase foreign assistance, to cut extreme poverty in half by 2015, to help eliminate the global educational deficit, and to cancel the debt of the world's poorest countries; to launch a new Green Revolution that produces sustainable supplies of food, and to advance democracy not through the imposition of force from the outside, but by working with moderates in government and civil society to build those institutions that will protect that freedom -– quite frankly, the only thing that will guarantee that freedom.
We also are determined to build a sustainable future for our planet. We are prepared to once again begin to lead by example. America will act aggressively against climate change and in pursuit of energy security with like-minded nations.
Our administration's economic stimulus package, for example, includes long-term investments in renewable energy. And we believe that’s merely a down payment. The President has directed our Environmental Protection Agency to review how we regulate emissions, start a process to raise fuel efficiency, appoint a climate envoy -- and all in his first week in office, to demonstrate his commitment.
As America renews our emphasis on diplomacy, development and democracy, and preserving our planet, we will ask our allies to rethink some of their own approaches -- including their willingness to use force when all else fails.
When it comes to radical groups that use terror as a tool, radical states who harbor extremists, undermine peace and seek or spread weapons of mass destruction, and regimes that systematically kill or ethnically cleanse their own people, we must stand united and use every means at our disposal to end the threat that they pose.
None of us can deny or escape the new threats of the 21st century. Nor can we escape the responsibility to meet them.
And we are not unmindful in the United States how difficult it is to communicate these notions to our public who don’t want to hear much of what needs to be said.
1 The title is quoting Biden, who quoted William Butler Yeats's "Easter, 1916" in his speech: "All changed, changed utterly: A terrible beauty is born." Please now take a moment and try to imagine Dick Cheney quoting Yeats.