Biden aims to paint Trump as a man whose foreign policy makes him too dangerous to be in the Oval Office

By MJ Lee and Kevin Liptak, CNN

Washington CNN  — 

President Joe Biden and former President Donald Trump’s foreign policy positions have sometimes seemed like an afterthought in an election with domestic concerns at its heart.

Yet with two hot wars, growing global instability and a right-wing tilt toward isolationism – in the US and abroad – it will be difficult for Biden and Trump to avoid the subject at Thursday night’s debate in Atlanta.

The Biden campaign is hoping to make domestic issues like the economy and reproductive rights the centerpieces of the president’s reelection argument. But it is foreign policy that has consumed much of his time during his first term, including in the direct lead-up to Thursday’s debate, when Biden embarked upon back-to-back trips to Europe.

His close advisers have candidly acknowledged, particularly since October 7, that events abroad have more than once – and more than his team would like – diverted the president’s attention away from important domestic issues.

Unlike previous presidential election cycles, there is not a scheduled debate dedicated only to foreign policy, which in the past provided an opportunity for in-depth contrasts on world affairs between Republican and Democratic candidates.

Instead, Biden advisers expect those issues could arise as part of the broader discussion that unfolds on the debate stage in Atlanta on Thursday. To that end, Jake Sullivan, the president’s national security adviser, has been one of the more than dozen top advisers who has joined Biden at Camp David this week to lead the group’s discussions on foreign policy, according to a source with knowledge of the preparations.

As much as the Biden team would prefer to stay focused on issues close to home, it has also long viewed foreign policy as one of the clearest ways to demonstrate a contrast with Trump on presidential leadership.

One campaign official told CNN that if and when foreign policy issues come up Thursday night, the contrast that Biden will try to paint could not be starker.

“President Biden stands up to dictators and defends freedom – Trump is a loser who is too dangerous and reckless to ever be anywhere close to the Oval Office again,” the official said.

Trump has repeatedly accused Biden of presiding over a chaotic world that, in his telling, was a lot calmer during the four years he was in office.

One potential difficulty for Biden and his advisers might be identifying Trump’s positions on several foreign policy areas. He has said little of substance about the war in Gaza, though did offer light criticism of Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu at the start of the conflict and has encouraged him to end the war.

On Ukraine, Trump has claimed Russian President Vladimir Putin’s invasion would never have happened while he was in office and promised he would resolve the conflict in a day — without saying how.

And while he has taken a tough tone on China, pledging to enact harsh tariffs on all Chinese imports, his record as president was more conciliatory, striking a trade deal that Beijing later reneged on.

The ambiguous positions Trump has taken on foreign policy reflect his approach in office, when he often cited personal sentiments and gut feelings to explain tactics like meeting with North Korean dictator Kim Jong Un.

But that also could make it more difficult for Biden to pin down a clear line of attack. Instead, the president is likely to play up ways in which he strengthened American leadership on the world stage, bolstered American alliances and defended democracy abroad, according to the campaign official.

And on Trump, Biden is expected to deploy a broad accusation: That Trump abandoned US allies, cozied up to dictators and generally made the world less safe.

“Donald Trump consistently praises authoritarian leaders and dictators, pledges to sell out our allies, and undermines our democracy,” the official added.

Like in other areas, Biden’s team has relied on Trump’s own words to frame their attacks. For example, Trump’s comment that he would “encourage” Russia to “do whatever the hell they want” to NATO allies should they not spend enough on defense is a moment Biden has seized upon repeatedly in arguing against his predecessor’s leadership.

And Trump’s vow to act as a “dictator” on the first day of his presidency has provided Biden an opening to warn of the global consequences should Trump return to office.

Still, political risks abound for Biden in foreign affairs. The war in Gaza has caused anger among progressives, many of whom accuse Biden of fueling the humanitarian crisis by providing Israel weapons.

But he’s gotten little credit from Republicans, either, who have accused the president of abandoning Israel after he paused shipments of certain heavy bombs.

Netanyahu has not made Biden’s situation any easier by accusing the administration of delaying arms shipments and by taking ambiguous positions on a US-backed ceasefire proposal that Biden hopes can bring the fighting to an end.

On Ukraine, the president has successfully rallied the west in support of Kyiv, but Trump has taken an isolationist position and opposes any additional aid.

While Biden says that could leave the country vulnerable to Russian advances, Trump’s position has resonated within the Republican Party — which accuses the president of ignoring problems at home while sending billions of dollars abroad.

Ultimately, perhaps the greatest risk for Biden is the appearance of being overly focused on foreign issues to the detriment of the matters facing Americans every day.

Speaking alongside Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky at the Group of 7 summit in Italy earlier this month, Biden acknowledged the war in Ukraine had been a “test for the world,” with questions of Western resolve tested amid inflation and a rise in nationalism.

“Would we stand with Ukraine? Would we stand for sovereignty, freedom, and against tyranny?” he said. “The United States, the G7 and countries around the world have consistently answered the question by saying, ‘Yes, we will.’ And we will say it again. Yes, again and again and again.”

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