Joe Biden’s commitment to defend the Good Friday Agreement is embedded in his political history and identity. But it is also a pillar of American foreign policy, a rare question of two-party consensus in an otherwise hyperpolarized political scene, one of the few positions that Biden can take on the world stage without drawing fire from Republicans.
Biden’s emotional attachment to Ireland has been constant throughout his adult life and has also become part of his political identity. He routinely refers to his mother̵
After winning the election in November, the BBC’s Nick Bryant asked if he had “a quick word” for the British television station. “BBC?” replied the President. “I’m Irish.”
At his first full press conference as president in March, he recalled that his great-grandfather had been forced to leave Ireland “because of what the British had done”.
Biden sees his contributions to peace in Ireland as an important part of his legacy. He was in a group of senators in the 1980s who began pushing for greater U.S. diplomatic involvement to end the conflict. From his seat on the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, he helped push the Clinton administration to commit resources and political capital to mediate the 1998 agreement.
By insisting that an international treaty be upheld, Biden seeks to restore the rule of law at the heart of US foreign policy, something that was undoubtedly considered optional by his predecessor.
Unlike Iran’s nuclear deal, the Good Friday Agreement is not seen as a purely democratic feat. George W Bush also pursued the implementation during his presidency. Even during the Trump administration, US envoy Mick Mulvaney was sent to warn Brexiters about the risk of creating a hard border “by accident” on the island of Ireland.
When Democrat Bob Menendez and Republican Susan Collins sponsored a Senate resolution in March confirming there was two-party support for the deal, it won unanimous support.
“The inclusive system of power-sharing established by the Good Friday Agreement was a milestone that created a framework for peace and reconciliation in Northern Ireland,” Collins said at the time. “Our resolution calls on all parties to continue working towards the implementation of the Good Friday Agreement as well as subsequent agreements promoting peace and stability on the island of Ireland.”
Democrats and Republicans from the Friends of Ireland group in Congress have repeatedly signaled that Britain has no hope of getting a free trade agreement with the US if Brexit and manipulation of the Brexit agreement jeopardize Irish peace.
Brendan Boyle, a Democratic congressman from Pennsylvania and a leading member of the Friends of Ireland group, told the Guardian: “This is a very biased time in American politics, and there are very few issues, few precious ones, that are truly bipartisan. Defending the Good Friday Agreement and maintaining peace on the island of Ireland is one of the few.
“And it is not only among elected officials. If you were to examine foreign policy experts and national security experts, whether they are in left-wing or right-wing slant thinking, you would find the same consensus. Honestly, this is just not a divisive issue in the United States. It’s definitely. What the Boris Johnson government is doing to handle the Brexit negotiations really isolates Britain from all its traditional allies. ”