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What Are Biden's Plans For Foreign Policy?

ARI SHAPIRO, HOST:

Before President-elect Joe Biden seeks to shore up America's role in the world, he'll first need to unite Americans around that idea. The election showed just how divided Americans are, and some experts think he will need to build more popular support at home for his agenda abroad. NPR's Michele Kelemen reports.

MICHELE KELEMEN, BYLINE: President-elect Biden has already promised to rejoin the Paris climate accord and restore funding to the World Health Organization, and he says he wants a foreign policy that supports America's middle class.

(SOUNDBITE OF ARCHIVED RECORDING)

JOE BIDEN: I sought this office to restore the soul of America, to rebuild the backbone of this nation - the middle class - and to make America respected around the world again.

KELEMEN: Americans are divided, including on foreign policy. Naval Academy professor Roz Engle was part of a bipartisan Carnegie Endowment task force that visited Nebraska, Ohio and Colorado last year to talk to residents and local officials about President Trump's policies, like his trade war with China.

ROZ ENGEL: What you would hear in a place like Colorado or Ohio was support for the Trump administration's call to be tougher. There's actually a significant amount of support for that but not for a long-term pullback from global markets.

KELEMEN: The idea behind the Carnegie Endowment project was to look at how American foreign policy can support middle-class Americans.

ENGEL: The highest priority for Americans is things like protecting American jobs, countering Russian and Chinese influence without engaging in all-out, you know, new Cold War - right? - keeping the cost of that competition manageable and in preventing major shocks like contagion of all sorts, whether it's infectious disease or it's, you know, financial contagion or it's ideological or terrorist ideologies.

KELEMEN: Restraint is also a big theme, says Matt Duss, a foreign policy adviser to Senator Bernie Sanders. He was glad to see foreign policy experts get outside the Beltway to hear about that.

MATTHEW DUSS: I think we've seen over the past years the American public has more and more questions about, you know, the extent of America's military interventions. We're still fighting America's longest war in our history in Afghanistan. It'll be almost 20 years old.

KELEMEN: Like Trump, Biden's campaign promised to, quote, "end endless wars." The party platform has also called for an end to U.S. support for Saudi Arabia's military operations in Yemen and a revival of nuclear diplomacy with Iran. Duss, the Sanders adviser, makes clear that restraint does not mean isolationism.

DUSS: A restraint-oriented foreign policy is one that actually believes in a much more robust engagement in multilateral institutions through the U.N., through different international agencies and especially focusing on diplomacy as the primary tool of American foreign policy.

KELEMEN: And that means rebuilding the State Department. Expectations are high, especially in Europe, says Rosa Balfour, who's with the Carnegie Endowment for International Peace.

ROSA BALFOUR: Possibly too high of working together again on climate, on fighting the coronavirus pandemic, JCPOA. There's a long list of things that European governments would like the U.S. to get involved in.

KELEMEN: The JCPOA is the Iran nuclear deal, the one the Trump administration left, prompting Iran to ramp up its nuclear program. That's just one of the many foreign policy challenges facing a Biden administration as it tries to forge an approach to the world with more buy-in from voters weary of war.

Michele Kelemen, NPR News, Washington.

(SOUNDBITE OF CLOUDKICKER'S "EXPLORE, BE CURIOUS") Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.