The former Vice President’s view of foreign policy is deeply out of touch with a multipolar world, and America’s place in it.
In a Foreign Affairs article in March titled “Why America Must Lead Again,” Joe Biden claimed that “the world does not organize itself,” and promised to “place the United States back at the head of the table” among the nations of the world.
But Biden’s premise that the world can only be organized under the direction of the United States, and that the country should aspire to such a dominant position at this moment in history, are out of touch with global reality. It is a view Americans should challenge if we want to avoid endless wars and a debilitating new arms race.
Highlighting these dangers, Biden’s Foreign Affairs article appeared with a huge photo of U.S. troops firing heavy artillery into a town in Afghanistan at the height of Obama’s escalation of that war in June 2011.
An in-depth report in Defense One on June 30, based on interviews with dozens of Biden insiders, explained how his foreign policy views have reassured military-industrial interests that were worried by the impact of the growing progressive movement on the Democratic Party.
“Biden may not radically change the nation’s military,” Defense One concluded, “or even slash the bottom line of the Pentagon’s $700 billion budget.”
These conclusions are consistent with Biden’s record as a Senator and Vice President. Biden only once voted against a U.S.-led war, the first Gulf War in 1991. And that was largely a party line vote, in which 45 out of 55 Democratic Senators voted against the use of military force to overturn Iraq’s invasion of Kuwait, at the behest of its royal family.
But Biden seems to have learned a perverse lesson from that war, since he later expressed regret for his vote and never voted against a war again. The next time Congress voted on a bill to authorize the use of military force, over Kosovo in 1999, Biden wrote the bill himself.
As the bombing campaign escalated, killing thousands of civilians and destroying civilian infrastructure from Kosovo to Belgrade, United Nations Secretary General Kofi Annan warned that the United States and NATO’s decision to go to war without U.N. Security Council approval had set the world “on a dangerous path to anarchy.”
Biden responded, “Nobody in the Senate agrees with that. There is nothing to debate. He is dead, flat, unequivocally wrong.”
Biden then played a key role in the propaganda blitz for the 2003 invasion of Iraq. As John Feffer and Stephen Zunes wrote later, “In his powerful position as chair of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, he orchestrated a propaganda show designed to sell the war to skeptical colleagues and the American public by ensuring that dissenting voices would not get a fair hearing.”
During his final twelve years in the Senate, Biden never once voted against a military spending bill. As Vice President, despite the illusion of Obama as a “peace President,” which even fooled the Nobel Peace Prize Committee, Biden was a senior member of an administration that set a post-World War II record for military spending and dropped more bombs and missiles on more countries than Bush and Cheney did.
To Biden’s credit, he did oppose the 2011 regime change operation that plunged Libya into endless chaos. Biden also argued against sending more U.S. troops to Afghanistan, but then supported a policy shift from large-scale U.S. occupations to a greater reliance on bombing, shelling, and covert and proxy war, which Obama adopted and Trump has continued.
The continuing chaos caused by the United States’ wars in the Middle East, the guerrilla wars now raging across much of Africa, and the rubble and unmarked graves of Ramadi, Kobane, Mosul, Raqqa and other cities in Iraq and Syria are a damning testimony to the Obama and Trump Administrations’ war policies.
They have succeeded in reducing U.S. casualties and shifting America’s wars off our TV and computer screens, at the cost of hundreds of thousands of largely uncounted civilian deaths.
In fact, Biden’s claim that the world needs America to lead it now seems like the punchline to a bad joke, considering that the United States can’t deal with a pandemic that China, New Zealand, Vietnam, Germany, Cuba, and other better-organized societies have already contained—simply by prioritizing the health of their people over business interests for a relatively short period of time.
In the United States, the pandemic was instantly politicized and exploited as a new opportunity for corporate bailouts. U.S. leaders cavalierly treated the health of the public as secondary to the “economy,” a euphemism for corporate profits and stock prices, and their own political interests.
In June, months into the pandemic, the United States still had only 37,000 contact tracers, barely a third of the 100,000 minimum that public health experts advised. By April, the former director of the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, Tom Frieden, pointed out that the United States would need 300,000 contact tracers if it was to match the scale of China’s response in Wuhan.
Now a surge in new cases, across the Western and Southern United States, has inevitably led to a tragic ever-rising death toll, with no end in sight.
In reality, the United States has been the main obstacle to the world organizing in recent years.
There are forty-seven multilateral treaties that the United States has either not signed, signed but not ratified, or withdrawn from. They range from the Convention on the Rights of the Child to the Convention on Cluster Munitions to the Paris Agreement on Climate Change.
U.S. leaders blame their abysmal record of international obstruction on partisan politics, but other countries with contentious domestic politics somehow manage to ratify treaties, cooperate with the United Nations and play a part in international affairs.
Only the United States acts like a spoiled child, demanding a seat at the head of the table before it will cooperate on anything—and then still refuses to cooperate.
The U.S. undermined the second phase of the Kyoto Protocol on climate change, insisting instead on voluntary, non-binding targets in the Paris Agreement. Then, as the U.S. boosted its oil and gas production to their highest levels ever, it withdrew from the agreement anyway.
In economic terms, no single country dominates today’s world economy or international trade. The United States, China, and the European Union are roughly equal in the size of their economies and their international trade, but even the combined GDP and external trade figures for all three only account for about 45 percent of the world’s trade and economic activity.
The world we live in today is a diverse, multipolar world of 196 countries, where billions of people live, work, and interact with each other, and all deserve a voice in our common future.
Far from earning the U.S. a position of privilege and authority among nations, the U.S.’s non-cooperation and illegal military and economic warfare are serious problems that the American people and the world must address and peacefully resolve before it does even greater harm.
Amid all of the rancor of U.S. politics, many of the older Americans who are Biden’s base in the Democratic Party wistfully remember President Kennedy and the much mythologized “brief shining moment” when a young, glamorous President turned the White House into a vision of Camelot, and everything seemed possible.
The most powerful symbol of the original Camelot was King Arthur’s Round Table, at which he and all his knights and guests sat as equals. This identification of Kennedy with King Arthur was a symbol of his popular image as a man of the people—despite his privileged background.
So, here’s an idea for Biden and his foreign policy advisors: Stop pretending that all of America’s problems began with Trump, and that our failed bid for global military dominance has somehow earned our next President a “seat at the head of the table” when he sits down with his counterparts from the rest of the world.
Unfortunately, Biden’s past loyalty to the military-industrial complex does not bode well for the kind of leadership we need. So if Biden is elected, it will be up to peace-loving Americans to demand an end to the United States’ illegal military and economic warfare, before it does even greater harm.
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.
Originally published by ICH
Republished by The 21st Century
The views expressed in this article are solely those of the author and do not necessarily reflect the opinions of 21cir.
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