Who is the head of state?
As president, Joe Biden has the sole and unlimited authority to determine US foreign policy. He’s flexed this power in pulling troops from Afghanistan and negotiating behind-the-scenes for a ceasefire between Israel and Hamas. Interestingly, though, Vice President Kamala Harris has taken an outsized role in handling much of the administration’s diplomacy.
Take Friday morning, for example. Harris was the first administration official to greet South Korean president Moon Jae-in on his official working visit to the White House. The pair sat down for a bilateral meeting. The South Korean entourage included the foreign minister and director of national security — but the US side featured no similarly ranked diplomats. It wasn’t until hours later, after attending a Medal of Honor ceremony, that President Moon would finally get the opportunity to meet with President Biden and his secretary of state Tony Blinken.
The White House did not respond when asked how the decision was made to send Harris instead of Biden to greet President Moon.
A similar scene occurred last month when Japanese prime minister Yoshihide Suga visited the White House. Suga was received only by the White House chief of protocol and then ushered into a meeting with Harris. Again, he would not meet with the US commander-in-chief until later in the day.
On Thursday, it was Harris who picked up the phone on a call with King Abdullah II of Jordan as war waged in the Middle East.
‘Vice President Harris briefed the King on intensive US diplomatic efforts to support the path to a ceasefire in Gaza and both leaders pledged to further their work to de-escalate tensions,’ according to a White House readout of the call.
The decision to trot out Harris suggests that other country’s leaders are considered to be of a lower rank than the US president, which would make them feel disrespected. Worse, though, it could mean that Joe Biden is not really in charge. It’s not difficult to imagine the national security ramifications of foreign countries believing that, while they are ‘negotiating’ with Biden, someone else is actually calling the shots.
That’s a hell of a risk to take for the sake of grooming Harris, who has little foreign policy experience. Is Biden in worse shape than we thought?