Foreign-policy experience and electability, two of the reasons Obama picked Biden as his vice president, were the top factors cited by nearly every diplomat who has left office under Trump and is backing the former vice president. The Biden campaign has attempted to emphasize his extensive foreign-policy background since news of the whistle-blower report on Ukraine first broke. Last week, Biden released a TV ad underscoring his record as the candidate who is “tested, and trusted around the world.”
Biden and Buttigieg are in lockstep on most foreign-policy proposals, but diplomats interested in the mayor’s campaign have cited his military experience, his role in the LGBTQ community, and his “hope and change” idealism as distinguishing factors.
“There’s a perception that he’s tempered and measured in what he says, and that attracts the former diplomats to him,” a former Foreign Service officer who became a practicing attorney and who has informally advised the Warren and Buttigieg campaigns, told me. “I think he’s probably more of an heir to the Obama legacy and State Department than anybody.”
The idea of a return to a more conventional foreign policy appears to have discouraged other former diplomats.
“If we have a Biden presidency, we will go precisely back to the way things were, which meant saying the right things but making very late decisions, being really hesitant to call out our friends, being really hesitant to make the hard calls and move quickly on things that we could change early but chose not to,” another diplomat, who left the State Department in 2017, told me, referring to the previous administration’s decisions regarding intervention in the Middle East and North Africa. “That was a really standard thing with the Obama administration—especially with Libya and Syria and South Sudan, where I served—this hesitancy to do something concrete up front or even to say the right thing and then this very delayed action later on.” This person has informally advised the Warren campaign but has remained open to counseling other candidates as well.
The Buttigieg campaign has touted the support and interest it has received from foreign-policy experts, but officials in both Biden’s and Warren’s campaigns disputed the idea that the former naval-intelligence officer is cornering the market on young or seasoned diplomats.
Biden, for example, draws on the support of his foreign-policy think tank, the Penn Biden Center for Diplomacy and Global Engagement at the University of Pennsylvania, which is home to former State Department, Defense Department, and National Security Council officials who landed there after leaving the administration. Earlier this month, the campaign held an event for former Obama-Biden folks who support the vice president, co-hosted by Former Deputy Secretary of State and National Security Adviser Tony Blinken and former Ambassador Nicholas Burns. Last week, Burns, Blinken, and 131 other national-security and foreign-policy officials publicly endorsed the vice president.