President Donald Trump made a full-frontal assault on the foreign policy chops of his Democratic rival, Joe Biden, lacing facts with misleading and untrue claims as he accepted his party’s nomination on the final night of the Republican National Convention.
During Thursday’s 70-minute address, Trump attacked Biden’s record as presidential nominee, senator and former vice president — a time when he wielded influence as President Barack Obama’s foreign policy point person.
While Trump’s comments spanned the globe, he made no mention of his administration’s Israeli-Palestinian peace plan, which was rejected outright by Palestinian leaders. Nor his much heralded talks with North Korea, now stalled without having yielded a nuclear deal.
He did not mention Russia or its president, Vladimir Putin, at all.
But as with much of the campaign, Trump’s focus was China. He cast himself as the first president to get tough with Beijing on trade and the coronavirus, while portraying Biden as too soft.
“China would own our country if Joe Biden got elected,” Trump said. “Joe Biden’s agenda is ‘Made in China.’ My agenda is ‘Made in the U.S.A.”
He credited himself with coaxing back lost jobs following a tariff war and a subsequent trade deal signed in January: “The toughest, boldest, strongest and hardest-hitting action against China in American history by far.”
Many experts say these actions had the opposite effect, and “significantly hurt the American economy without solving the underlying economic concerns that the trade war was meant to resolve,” the Brookings Institution think tank in Washington said this month.
By contrast, Trump highlighted Biden’s record as a supporter of global free trade, something that’s also drawn criticism from the more protectionist left of the former vice president’s own party and elsewhere.
Trump accused him of shipping “our jobs to China and many other distant lands” by supporting deals like the North American Free Trade Agreement or NAFTA, and China’s entry into the World Trade Organization in 2001.
That claim is partially true, according to an NBC News fact check, although these losses have also been aided by manufacturing and automation.
Biden was also far from alone in embracing China into the world, with three out of four congressional Republicans voting to normalize trade relations with China during a House of Representatives vote in 2000.
Turning to Europe, Trump took credit for whipping into shape his NATO allies, who he said agreed to up their military spending “at my strong urging” after being “very far behind in their defense payments.”
Even many critics of Trump’s brash style agree Europe needs to be more self reliant. Total defense spending has increased under Trump. But it also increased in 2015 and 2016 — during the Obama administration.
This uptick wasn’t down to Trump’s hectoring, but a reaction to Russia invading and then annexing Crimea in 2014, the same year NATO allies agreed to spend 2 percent of their gross domestic product on defense by 2024.
In the Middle East, Trump called the normalization of relations between Israel and the United Arab Emirates, which he brokered, “the first Middle East peace deal in 25 years.” Experts say this is the president’s first genuine foreign policy success.
Trump championed his 2018 withdrawal “from the terrible one-sided Iran nuclear deal” — something that has dismayed the other world powers who signed it and coincided with Iran breaching its terms.
He recounted how U.S. forces killed the Islamic State militant group’s leader Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi and “obliterated 100 percent” of its caliphate. He contrasted this with Biden, who he said “oversaw the rise of ISIS” and “opposed” the killing of the powerful Iranian Gen. Qassem Soleimani in a U.S. airstrike in January. Biden told NBC News’ Lester Holt that he feared the strike “takes us a heck of a lot closer to war.”
The president also claimed that Biden “opposed the mission to take out Osama Bin Laden” — which NBC News’ fact check deemed misleading. Biden has offered multiple versions of the advice he provided to President Barack Obama on the raid in 2011, including that he supported it.
He cast Biden as part of a foreign policy establishment that has mired the U.S. in several “forever wars,” and said under his watch “our troops are coming home.”
The president has reduced American troop presence in Afghanistan, Iraq and Syria. Thousands still remain. The timetable for their return is uncertain and, in the case of Afghanistan, dependent on the Taliban meeting certain conditions.
Trump did not mention that in the past he himself supported the 2003 Iraq War.