Don’t look now but Kamala Harris reached out and spoke with another foreign leader this week. The vice-president spoke with Australian Prime Minister Scott Morrison on Tuesday. Harris does not have any foreign policy experience and Joe Biden has taken it upon himself to mentor her. This should scare anyone who has paid the least bit of attention to foreign affairs during Biden’s time in government.
If you remember, Joe Biden was brought on Barack Obama’s ticket in 2008 to give gravitas to the inexperienced Obama as he ran to be the leader of the free world. Biden had been in the Senate for decades and was a longtime member of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, including serving as the chair. During those decades, Biden proved to be historically wrong on just about all of the votes he took on foreign affairs. Now it appears he is grooming Kamala Harris to take his place. Prime Minister Morrison was the third world leader with whom she has placed a call that we know of, anyway. She did the same with Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau and French President Emmanuel Macron. These are not leaders of random or insignificant countries, these are some of our major allies.
Is this a way of Joe Biden signaling that he is simply not up to the task of managing all aspects of his job? Is he delegating relationships with foreign leaders to Kamala? Or is he taking her under his wing now so that when she runs for president in 2024, she’ll be more ready than she was in 2020?
A pleasure to chat with @VP Kamala Harris. We’ll strengthen our very strong alliance even further, including in security, trade, climate change, & energy tech. We discussed responding to #COVID19, promoting a free & open Indo-Pacific & working with our ASEAN and Pacific partners. pic.twitter.com/lKNQFRv8Nh
— Scott Morrison (@ScottMorrisonMP) March 3, 2021
I wonder how many of these world leaders are feeling a bit insulted to be pawned off on the vice-president on phone calls as a training exercise instead of directly communicating with the president. Harris was a first-term Senator when Biden chose her as his running mate. Let’s face it, she was chosen because she checked off important boxes in identity politics. She’s a woman and bi-racial yet identifies as a black woman. She was a sentimental favorite with Biden because of her friendship with his now-deceased son, Beau. During her brief time in the Senate, she served on the Judiciary Committee, Homeland Security and Government Affairs, Environment and Public Works, Intelligence Committee, and the Budget Committee. From Jan 2017 to Jan 2021, Harris missed 398 of 1,320 roll call votes, which is 30.2%. Harris sponsored bills primarily in these issue areas: Public Lands and Natural Resources (18%) Health (17%) Crime and Law Enforcement (15%) Immigration (12%) Environmental Protection (11%) Taxation (11%) Labor and Employment (10%) Housing and Community Development (7%). Harris was the primary sponsor of 4 bills that were enacted: S. 129 (116th): Saint Francis Dam Disaster National Memorial Act, S. 129 (116th), S. 3055 (115th): Disaster Victims Passport and ID Relief Act of 2018, S. 3033 (115th): COUNT Victims Act, and S. 729 (115th): John Muir National Historic Site Expansion Act. Her record in the Senate was on the same kind of non-descript path as Joe Biden’s was for decades.
Perhaps Sleepy Joe will put Kamala in charge of Middle East relations. That would be interesting, to say the least. Obama frequently handed off foreign relations to Biden and we know what the results were in the Iran deal, participation in which Joe frequently bragged about on the campaign trail. Israeli Prime Minister Netanyahu said today on Fox and Friends that he has a longtime friendly relationship with Biden and knows he is a friend of Israel. Let’s hope that holds and he teaches Kamala the value of supporting the only democracy in that region. I’m skeptical, though, given his failure to do so with Obama.
Biden voted against the Gulf War in 1990, though President George H.W. Bush secured a multi-country coalition and American troops were victorious in a matter of months, setting Kuwait free from Iraq’s invasion and annexation. That is one example of Biden’s less than stellar inclinations when it came to votes on foreign policy.
Joe Biden traveled to more than 50 countries while he was vice-president in the Obama administration. Perhaps Kamala will do the same to meet and greet foreign leaders, as Biden enjoyed doing. Some kind of rapport with leaders in other countries would be a plus in her next run for president. Politico reports that the push for Kamala to develop some foreign policy chops started immediately.
“The interest in her from outside is really about: Is she the future of the Democratic Party?” said one Asian ambassador, who spoke on condition of anonymity to preserve their relationship with the new administration. “Biden in a way represents the traditional white male politician. And Vice President Harris is in many ways the future: female, blended family … But her policy views, they are still waiting to be shaped out.”
The push started early: the day after the inauguration, Harris called the director-general of the World Health Organization to discuss the U.S. role in the global Covid-19 response. Since then, she has held solo calls with Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau and French President Emmanuel Macron, given a speech at the State Department and on Tuesday participated in the first bilateral meeting of the new administration between the U.S. and Canada—an opportunity Biden himself was not afforded when he was vice president.
Harris has also had weekly lunches with Secretary of State Antony Blinken, a veteran foreign policy and national security official whose experience rivals Biden’s. And her national security advisers, Nancy McEldowney and Philip Gordon, are themselves long-serving diplomats.
But others say that even without extensive experience, Harris has the right tools to learn on the job. Halie Soifer, who served as Harris’ national security adviser while she was a senator, said it was “fitting that [Harris] would lead on foreign policy” as vice president.
“I see it as a continuum of her leadership in the Senate, which was focused mostly on domestic policy issues but included national security and was driven by values and principled policy that carry over into the international arena,” Soifer said.
To say that experience doesn’t really matter is one way to justify a person’s lack of experience, I suppose. What most of us remember of Kamala’s time in the Senate is her performance during the Kavanaugh hearing. That was atrocious. I have little confidence that Joe Biden will have much success in providing guidance on foreign policy matters to her.