Former Vice President Joe Biden called Thursday for a return to U.S. engagement and leadership in the world during an appearance at the University of Nebraska at Omaha.
"It's time for us to lead again," Biden said in launching the inaugural Chuck Hagel Forum in Global Leadership before an overflow crowd of students and guests who attended the event at the Strauss Performing Arts Center.
Biden's appearance came two days after he appeared to inch close to a decision to seek the 2020 Democratic presidential nomination, telling a University of Delaware audience that his family has given the green light for him to enter the race if he chooses.
Biden said Thursday that American leadership is "in doubt now" because of President Donald Trump's go-it-alone policies and abandonment of traditional allies, treaties and alliances.
The president has backed away from European allies and weakened the U.S. commitment to NATO, Biden said, while "taking the word of Vladimir Putin over the entire U.S. intelligence community."
"We still need to restrain Putin, who quite frankly is a thug," he said.
"Our national reputation is being tarnished," Biden said, weakened by the performance and policies of a president who is "stiff-arming the rest of the world."
"Our naked self-interest is to stay engaged," he said. "We can't afford to go it alone."
Former Senate colleagues Bob Kerrey and Ben Nelson were in the audience, along with former Rep. Brad Ashford.
Hagel, a UNO alumnus, former Republican senator and former U.S. secretary of defense in the Obama administration, launched the campus forum and was saluted by University of Nebraska President Hank Bounds as "a Maverick himself," identifying Hagel with UNO and its sports teams' mascot.
"Joe is a Democrat and I am a Republican, but that never mattered," Hagel said in introducing Biden.
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The pair served together for 12 years on the Senate Foreign Relations Committee and traveled the world together, venturing into northern Iraq to address the Kurdish parliament two months before the U.S. invasion of Iraq and were forced down once by the weather onto a snowy mountaintop during a precarious helicopter ride in Afghanistan.
"U.S. global leadership is the whole point of this lecture series," Hagel said. "The question is: Are we going to continue to play that role?"
"Perhaps more than ever," Biden said, "American leadership and engagement in the world is essential. If the U.S. fails to lead, who will take our place?"
And, "it may sound corny," Biden said, "but it matters how we behave at home and how we project abroad."
Answering written questions posed to him from the student audience, Biden said he "hope(s) the president has learned a very important lesson" with this week's swift and sudden collapse of negotiations in Vietnam with North Korean leader Kim Jong Un over nuclear disarmament issues.
"The president did the right thing by walking away," Biden said.
"But diplomacy matters; preparation matters. The president treats everything like it's a real estate deal."
Successful negotiation on difficult issues "requires hard, hard, hard and consistent diplomacy," Biden said.
Hagel said "communication with allies is very, very important (and) you can't just tweet a policy."
"Kim was given a great gift the first time," Biden said. "He was legitimized. This guy is a thug."