Vice President Joseph Biden seems to have the special role in foreign policy of the Obama administration. President Barack Obama has launched new diplomatic campaigns to improve relations with adversaries and challengers to America, such as Russia, China, Iran, Venezuela, and so forth. Some US allies claim serious concerns with such appeasement. Vice President Biden tries to soothe such worries when he visited Ukraine and Georgia in July, and Poland and Czech in October. Is Joseph Biden playing a supplementary role to Barack Obama?
As I mentioned in a previous post, Russia Today commented that the United States would not sacrifice the reset relation with Russia for the sake of Ukraine and Georgia while Biden was on a trip to both countries. They used a word, pecking order, to emphasize that President Obama’s visit to Russia was more important than Vice President Biden’s visit to Ukraine and Georgia.
As if suggesting that Russia saw America weak, Russian President Dmitry Medvedev denounced pro-Western Yushchenko administration to impose pressure on Ukraine. Obama may be popular among doves across the world, but his soft line stances and apologism to the American hegemony make loyal allies that face the threat of gigantic adversaries like Russia and China critically worried. For allies such as Poland and Czech, Barack Obama looks too naïve and inexperienced to deal with consummate challengers. Therefore, Joseph Biden is expected to placate their concerns.
Prior to Biden’s visit to Eastern Europe in October, Ewa Blaszynscaya, Research Analyst at the Center European Policy Analysis, insisted that the Polish government use this opportunity to reemphasize Polish contribution to NATO forces in Afghanistan, and urge Biden to reconsider the Missile Defense issue, on her blog affiliated with the Warsaw Business Journal (“Vice President Biden’s Poland visit more than just damage control”; CEE Policy Watch; 20 October 2009).
Though the missile shield was scaled down, the Obama administration showed their willingness for continual commitment to New Europe. Vice President Joseph Biden talked with Polish President Lech Kaczyński and Prime Minister Donald Tusk longer than scheduled to soothe their concerns. It was a damage control to President Obama’s clumsy announcement that the United States would withdraw the Missile Defense System from Poland and Czech. However, the opposition criticizes the agreement a hoax as no timetable to implement the alternative plan was shown (“Biden does damage control”; Warsaw Business Journal; 26 October 2009).
Biden did the same damage control diplomacy to talk with Czech Prime Minister Jan Fischer. While Czech contribution to the Afghan War was praised, both sides did not agree how to implement the new plan: whether NATO based or bilateral (“Biden reassures ČR of defense role”; Prague Post; October 28 2009). Furthermore, former Czech President Vaclav Havel criticized Obama for rejecting to meet Dalai Lama, even though Biden explained it “logically” (“Havel: US foreign policy aware of threats”; Prague Daily Monitor; 26 October 2009).
Artemy Kalinovsky, Fellow at the London School of Economics, says Joseph Biden is the best choice to soothe Central European allies. Biden has a brilliant career to endorse NATO expansion to Eastern Europe during the 1990s, and he has extensive personal contacts in this region. However, both Poland and Czech will be discouraged, if Biden fails to meet their expectation. As Kalinovsky says, “In the end, the Obama administration might learn that, as with domestic politics, it is impossible to be friends with everybody.” (“The Man for the Job in 'New Europe'?”; National Journal; October 20, 2009)
Obama was premature to express his hope of reconciliation with challengers and adversaries at one of the most sensitive time, which has raised serious concerns among loyal allies. As both the Warsaw Business Journal and the Prague Post pointed out, President Obama did not give sufficient consideration to the provocative remark by Russian Prime Minister Vladimir Putin at the 70th anniversary of the Soviet-German invasion to Poland. Putin’s pro-Stalin speech chilled the spine of people across Central and Eastern Europe. Also, Biden did not tell detailed information about the alternative missile interceptor SM3. Joseph Biden needs to do more to complete his damage control mission and restore trust among allies of New Europe.
Obama cannot heal all stakeholders. The Prague and the Cairo Speeches were hailed, but he needs to face savage reality of global power games. The Vice President will play a vital role to take care of concerns from US allies, just as a manager of the customer service center does. In any case, the role of Joseph Biden in the Obama foreign policy is beyond New Europe and Former Soviet nations. Vice President Biden has substantial jobs to do in the Obama administration for America to fulfill the role of the global superpower.