After a campaign critical of Trump’s foreign policy,
significant changes were expected that have not happened.
Nicolas J S Davies and Medea Benjamin / The Progressive Magazine
(January 26, 2022) — President Joe Biden and the Democrats were highly critical of former President Donald Trump’s foreign policy, so it was reasonable to expect that Biden would quickly remedy its worst impacts.
As a senior member of the Obama Administration, Biden played a role in diplomatic agreements with Cuba and Iran, both of which began to resolve long-standing foreign policy problems. But as President, Biden has failed to restore Barack Obama’s progressive initiatives and has instead doubled down on many of Trump’s most dangerous and destabilizing policies.
Here is our assessment of Biden’s handling of ten critical foreign policy issues:
- Prolonging the agony of the people of Afghanistan.It is perhaps symptomatic of Biden’s foreign policy problems that the biggest achievement of his first year in office was an initiative launched by Trump — withdrawing the United States from its twenty-year war in Afghanistan. But Biden’s implementation of this policy was tainted by hisfailure to understand Afghanistan. The United States’ twenty-year hostile military occupation gave way to the speedy restoration of the Taliban government and the televised chaos of the U.S. withdrawal.
Now, instead of helping the Afghan people recover from two decades of U.S.-inflicted destruction, Biden has seized $9.4 billion in Afghan foreign currency reserves, while the people of Afghanistan suffer through a desperate humanitarian crisis. It is hard to imagine how even Trump could be more cruel or vindictive.
- Provoking a crisis with Russia over Ukraine.Biden’s first year in office is also ending with a dangerous escalation of tensions at the Russia/Ukraine border. The United States bears much responsibility for this crisis by supporting the violent overthrow of the elected government of Ukraine in 2014, backing NATO expansion right up to Russia’s border, and arming and training Ukrainian forces.
- Escalating Cold War tensions and a dangerous arms race with China.President Trump launched a tariff war with China that economically damaged both countries, and reignited a dangerous Cold War and arms race with China and Russia to justify an ever-increasing U.S. military budget.
After a decade of unprecedented U.S. military spending and aggressive military expansion under George W. Bush and Obama, the U.S. “pivot to Asia” militarily encircled China, forcing it to invest in more robust defense forces and advanced weapons. Trump, in turn, used China’s strengthened defenses as a pretext for further increases in U.S. military spending, launching a new arms race that has raised the existential risk of nuclear war to a new level.
Biden has only exacerbated these dangerous international tensions. Alongside the risk of war, his aggressive policies toward China have led to an ominous rise in hate crimes against Asian Americans and created obstacles to much-needed cooperation with China to address global issues like climate change and the coronavirus pandemic.
- Abandoning Obama’s nuclear agreement with Iran.After Obama’s sanctions against Iran utterly failed to force it to halt its civilian nuclear program, he finally took a progressive, diplomatic approach, which led tothe JCPOA nuclear agreement in 2015. Iran scrupulously met all its obligations under the treaty, but Trump withdrew the United States from the JCPOA in 2018. Trump’s withdrawal was vigorously condemned by Democrats, including candidate Biden, while Senator Sanders promised to rejoin the JCPOA on his first day in office if he became President.
Instead of immediately rejoining an agreement that worked for all parties, the Biden Administration thought it could pressure Iran to negotiate a “better deal.” Exasperated Iranians instead elected a more conservative government and Iran moved forward on enhancing its nuclear program.
A year later, and after eight rounds of shuttle diplomacy in Vienna, Biden has still not rejoined the agreement. Ending his first year in the White House with the threat of another Middle East war is enough to give Biden an “F” in diplomacy.
- Backing Big Pharma over a People’s Vaccine.Biden took office as the first COVID-19 vaccines were being approved and rolled out across the United States and the world. Severe inequitiesin global vaccine distribution between rich and poor countries were immediately apparent and became known as “vaccine apartheid.”
Instead of manufacturing and distributing vaccines on a nonprofit basis to tackle the pandemic as the global public health crisis that it is, the United States and other Western countries chose to maintain the neoliberal regime of patents and corporate monopolies on vaccine manufacture and distribution.
Biden belatedly agreed to support a patent waiver for COVID-19 vaccines under World Trade Organization (WTO) rules, but with no real plan for a “People’s Vaccine,” Biden’s concession has made no impact on millions of preventable deaths.
- Ensuring catastrophic global warming at COP26 in Glasgow.After Trump stubbornly ignored the climate crisis for four years, environmentalists were encouraged when Biden used his first days in office to rejoin the Paris Climate Accords and cancel the Keystone XL Pipeline. But by the time Biden got to Glasgow, he had let the centerpiece of his own climate plan, the Clean Energy Performance Program, be stripped out of the Build Back Better bill in Congress at the behest of fossil-fuel industry sock-puppet Joe Manchin.
Even as COP26 was taking place, the Biden Administration infuriated activists by puttingoil and gas leases up for auction for 730,000 acres of the Western United States and eighty million acres in the Gulf of Mexico.
- Political prosecutions of Julian Assange, Daniel Hale, and Guantanamo torture victims. Under Biden, the United States remains a country where the systematic killing of civilians and other war crimes go unpunished, while whistleblowers who muster the courage to expose these horrific crimes to the public are prosecuted and jailed as political prisoners.
In July 2021, former drone pilot Daniel Hale was sentenced to forty-five months in prison for exposing the killing of civilians in U.S. drone wars. WikiLeaks publisher Julian Assange still languishes in Belmarsh Prison in England, after eleven years of fighting extradition to the United States for exposing U.S. war crimes.
Twenty years after it set up an illegal concentration camp at Guantanamo Bay, Cuba,thirty-nine people remain there in illegal, extrajudicial detention. Despite promises to close this sordid chapter of U.S. history, Biden is allowing the Pentagon to actually build a new, closed courtroom at Guantanamo to more easily keep the workings of this gulag hidden from public scrutiny.
- Economic siege warfare against the people of Cuba, Venezuela, and other countries.When Trump was in office, he unilaterally rolled back Obama’s reforms on Cuba and recognized unelected Juan Guaidó as the “president” of Venezuela, as the United States tightened the screws on its economy with “maximum pressure” sanctions. Biden has continued Trump’s failed economic siege warfare against countries that resist U.S. imperial dictates, inflicting endless pain on their people. Brutal U.S. sanctions and efforts at regime change have universally failed for decades, serving mainly to undermine the United States’ own democratic and human rights credentials.
- Still supporting Saudi Arabia’s war in Yemen and its repressive ruler. Under Trump, Democrats and a minority of Republicans in Congress gradually built a bipartisan majority that voted towithdraw fromthe Saudi-led coalition attacking Yemen and to stop sending arms to Saudi Arabia. Trump vetoed their efforts, but the Democratic election victory in 2020 should have led to an end to the war and humanitarian crisis in Yemen.
Instead, Biden only issued an order to stop selling “offensive” weapons to Saudi Arabia, without clearly defining that term, and went on to approve a $650 million weapons sale. The United States still supports the Saudi war, even as the resulting humanitarian crisis kills thousands of Yemeni children.
- Still complicit in illegal Israeli occupation, settlements, and war crimes.The United States is Israel’s largest arms supplier, and Israel is the world’s largest recipient of U.S. military aid (approximately $4 billion annually), despite its illegal occupation of Palestine, widely condemnedwar crimes in Gaza, and illegal settlement building. U.S. military aid and arms sales to Israel clearly violate the U.S. Leahy Laws and Arms Export Control Act.
Trump was flagrant in his disdain for Palestinian rights, including tranferring the U.S. Embassy from Tel Aviv to a property in Jerusalem that is only partly within Israel’s internationally recognized border, a move that infuriated Palestinians and drew international condemnation. But nothing has changed under Biden. The U.S. position on Israel and Palestine is as illegitimate and contradictory as ever, and the U.S. Embassy in Israel remains on illegally occupied land. In May, Biden supported the latest Israeli assault on Gaza, which killed 256 Palestinians, half of whom were civilians, including sixty-six children.
Each part of Biden’s continuance of Trump’s foreign policy fiasco costs human lives and creates regional — even global — instability. In every case, progressive alternative policies are readily available. The only thing lacking is political will and independence from corrupt vested interests.
When he was running for office, Biden promised to restore the United States’ position of global leadership, but he has instead doubled down on the policies through which the United States lost that position under a succession of Republican and Democratic administrations.
Biden has wasted a vital year doubling down on Trump’s failed policies. In the coming year, we hope that the public will remind Biden of its deep-seated aversion to war, and that he will respond — albeit reluctantly — by adopting more dovish and rational ways.
Nicolas J S Davies is the author of “Blood On Our Hands: the American Invasion and Destruction of Iraq.” He is a researcher for CODEPINK: Women for Peace, and a freelance writer. Medea Benjamin is co-director of the peace group CODEPINK. Her latest book is Inside Iran: The Real History and Politics of the Islamic Republic.
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