Sunday, April 11, 2021

10 Problems With Biden's Foreign Policy—and One Solution


President Joe Biden in the Oval Office, Feb. 16, 2021, in Washington. (Photo: White House/Lawrence Jackson)

By Medea Benjamin and Nicolas J.S. Davies

Biden is following in the footsteps of Obama and Trump, who both promised fresh approaches to foreign policy but for the most part delivered more endless war.

The Biden presidency is still in its early days, but it’s not too early to point to areas in the foreign policy realm where we, as progressives, have been disappointed--or even infuriated.

There are one or two positive developments, such as the renewal of Obama's New START Treaty with Russia and Secretary of State Blinken’s initiative for a UN-led peace process in Afghanistan, where the United States is finally turning to peace as a last resort, after 20 years lost in the graveyard of empires.

By and large though, Biden’s foreign policy already seems stuck in the militarist quagmire of the past twenty years, a far cry from his campaign promise to reinvigorate diplomacy as the primary tool of U.S. foreign policy.

In this respect, Biden is following in the footsteps of Obama and Trump, who both promised fresh approaches to foreign policy but for the most part delivered more endless war.

By the end of his second term, Obama did have two significant diplomatic achievements with the signing of the Iran nuclear deal and normalization of relations with Cuba. So progressive Americans who voted for Biden had some grounds to hope that his experience as Obama’s vice-president would lead him to quickly restore and build on Obama’s achievements with Iran and Cuba as a foundation for the broader diplomacy he promised.

Instead, the Biden administration seems firmly entrenched behind the walls of hostility Trump built between America and our neighbors, from his renewed Cold War against China and Russia to his brutal sanctions against Cuba, Iran, Venezuela, Syria and dozens of countries around the world, and there is still no word on cuts to a military budget that has grown by 15% since FY2015 (inflation-adjusted).   

Despite endless Democratic condemnations of Trump, Biden’s foreign policy so far shows no substantive change from the policies of the past four years. Here are ten of the lowlights:

1. Failing to quickly rejoin the Iran nuclear agreement. The Biden administration’s failure to immediately rejoin the JCPOA, as Bernie Sanders promised to do on his first day as president, has turned an easy win for Biden’s promised commitment to diplomacy into an entirely avoidable diplomatic crisis.

Trump’s withdrawal from the JCPOA and imposition of brutal “maximum pressure” sanctions on Iran were broadly condemned by Democrats and U.S. allies alike. But now Biden is making new demands on Iran to appease hawks who opposed the agreement all along, risking an outcome in which he will fail to reinstate the JCPOA and Trump’s policy will effectively become his policy. The Biden administration should re-enter the deal immediately, without preconditions. 

2. U.S. Bombing Wars Rage On - Now In Secret. Also following in Trump’s footsteps, Biden has escalated tensions with Iran and Iraq by attacking and killing Iranian-backed Iraqi forces who play a critical role in the war against ISIS in Iraq and Syria. Biden’s February 25 U.S. airstrike predictably failed to end rocket attacks on deeply unpopular U.S. bases in Iraq, which the Iraqi National Assembly passed a resolution to close over a year ago. 

The U.S. attack in Syria has been condemned as illegal by members of Biden’s own party, reinvigorating efforts to repeal the 2001 and 2002 Authorizations for the Use of Military Force that presidents have misused for 20 years. Other airstrikes the Biden administration is conducting in Afghanistan, Iraq and Syria are shrouded in secrecy, since it has not resumed publishing the monthly Airpower Summaries that every other administration has published since 2004, but which Trump discontinued a year ago.    

3. Refusing to hold MBS accountable for the murder of Saudi journalist Jamal Khashoggi. Human rights activists were grateful that President Biden released the intelligence report on the gruesome murder of Washington Post columnist Jamal Khashoggi that confirmed what we already knew: that Saudi Crown Prince Mohammad Bin Salman (MBS) approved the murder. Yet, when it came to holding MBS accountable, Biden choked.

At the very least, the administration should have imposed the same sanctions on MBS, including asset freezes and travel bans, that the U.S. imposed on lower-level figures involved in the murder. Instead, like Trump, Biden is wedded to the Saudi dictatorship and its diabolical Crown Prince.

4. Clinging to Trump’s absurdist policy of recognizing Juan Guaidó as President of Venezuela. The Biden administration missed an opportunity to establish a new approach towards Venezuela when it decided to continue to recognize Juan Guaidó as “interim president”, ruled out talks with the Maduro government and appears to be freezing out the moderate opposition that participates in elections.

The administration also said it was in “no rush” to lift the Trump sanctions despite a recent study from the Government Accountability Office detailing their negative impact on the economy, and a scathing preliminary report by a UN Special Rapporteur, who noted their “devastating effect on the whole population of Venezuela.” The lack of dialogue with all political actors in Venezuela risks entrenching a policy of regime change and economic warfare for years to come, similar to the failed U.S. policy towards Cuba that has lasted for 60 years. (Continued)

Wednesday, March 24, 2021

Asians and Asian Americans Living in Pittsburgh Fear Harassment and Violence


Nancy Riley-James, 42, reacts at the makeshift memorial outside Gold Spa on March 18, 2021.

By Bill Schackner

Pittsburgh Post-Gazette

MAR 19, 2021 - Christina Ong, a doctoral student at the University of Pittsburgh, has never been harassed on the street herself, but reading about the rise of anti-Asian incidents nationally made her nervous in recent months to leave her Bloomfield apartment alone.

“I left my house maybe once every two weeks, and that really impacted my physical and mental health,” she said Thursday. 

“I generally think I am a really optimistic person and enjoy being around people, but I have these underlying worries that people are perceiving me in a certain way. I am wearing a mask, but they still can tell I’m Asian. So, is there going to be retribution?”

Even before a deadly mass shooting Tuesday in Atlanta drew public outrage, fear had been quietly building for months in cities, including Pittsburgh, where thousands of Asians and Asian Americans live, work and study on its campuses. 

Asian women say shootings point to relentless, racist tropes

Irrational rhetoric blaming them for the COVID-19 pandemic, some spread on social media, has added to what some see as a more deeply rooted bias against Asians.

The suspect in the Atlanta attacks told investigators he wanted to eliminate a source of his sexual addiction, police said. But after months of escalating incidents, some violent, it was not lost on many in the general public that six of the eight people killed in multiple massage parlor attacks were Asian women.

Agencies — from the FBI and Pennsylvania Human Relations Commission, to lawmakers and advocacy groups around the country — say they are monitoring the string of incidents.

“The lethal wave of xenophobia and racism towards the [Asian Americans/Pacific Islanders] community calls the ‘Beloved Community’ to lock arms in unity to denounce these acts,” commission Executive Director Chad Dion Lassiter said.

Moved by mounting incidents, Penn State University officials this month reiterated earlier assurances from school President Eric Barron to international students and others, including those of Asian descent.

“You are welcome here,” he wrote. “Your presence enriches our university and the educational experience of all of our students.”

Hundreds in Atlanta rally against hate after spa shootings

Ms. Ong, 28, whose grandparents are from China, is from Sacramento, Calif. She is studying sociology and also works as a researcher for the Asian American Pacific Islander COVID-19 project. As such, she has heard firsthand stories of Asian Americans who have been the victims of harassment. She said women are more likely than men to be harassed in the street, and blue-collar and older individuals are more visible and thus vulnerable.  

The problem is affecting behaviors as routine as grocery shopping.

“In conducting interviews with people across the country for this project, I’ve heard stories of people saying, like, ‘Yeah, well, when I’m in the grocery store, I … have to run to an aisle that’s empty because I don’t want to cough or sneeze around other people,’” Ms. Ong said. (continued)

Thursday, March 11, 2021

New Report to Expose War Industry Lobby Behind $264 Billion US Nuclear Missile 'Boondoggle'


An unarmed Trident II D5 missile launches from the Ohio-class ballistic missile submarine USS Nebraska off the coast of California. (Photo: Mass Communication Specialist 1st Class Ronald Gutridge/U.S. Navy)

Progressive lawmakers are urging Biden to halt the missile program, arguing it would 'divert limited resources from higher priority needs.'

By Jake Johnson

Common Dreams

March 10, 2021 - A new report by the Federation of American Scientists set for publication next week will reportedly argue that U.S. plans to spend up to $264 billion on construction and maintenance of a new nuclear missile are mostly being fueled by intense lobbying from the powerful weapons industry, not rational or humane strategic objectives.

"It is becoming increasingly clear that there has not been a serious consideration of what role these Cold War-era weapons are supposed to play in a post-Cold War security environment," the FAS assessment of the ground-based strategic deterrent (GBSD) project will say, according to new reporting from The Guardian.

Last year, The Guardian noted, the U.S. Air Force awarded Northrop Grumman a $13.3 billion contract to help develop the new intercontinental ballistic missile (ICBM) after the company and its subcontractors "spent over $119 million on lobbying in 2019 and 2020 alone and employed a total of 410 lobbyists including many former officials."

In a February memo (pdf) on the nuclear missile project, FAS noted that "despite the growing number of concerns with the program, GBSD... accelerated under the Trump administration, in an effort to make it more difficult to reverse under a Biden administration."

"Despite substantial reductions in the ICBM force over the past two decades, there has not been a serious consideration of what role these 20th century weapons are supposed to play in a 21st century deterrence environment," the group said last month. "It is still early enough in the program to change course."

The new FAS report will come as President Joe Biden faces pressure from progressive lawmakers to pause the new ICBM program. As The Guardian noted, the "Biden administration is preparing its first defense budget which may reveal its intentions towards the GBSD, which is in its early stages."

In a letter to the president last week, Rep. Ro Khanna (D-Calif.) and Sen. Ed Markey (D-Mass.) argued that "at an acquisition cost of over $100 billion and an estimated total life-cycle cost of $260 billion, a new ICBM system would divert limited resources from higher priority needs." Last July, Khanna tried to pass an amendment that would have moved $1 billion in funding from the GBSD to a pandemic preparedness fund, but his effort was quashed in a bipartisan vote by the House Armed Services Committee.

"The United States does not need to be modernizing the ICBMs," Khanna said at the time. "If there is an accidental launch of an ICBM, you can't take it back. On the other hand, you can call a submarine back, you can call an aerial bomber back."

In their letter last Wednesday, Khanna and Markey argued that "as the only country to have ever used nuclear weapons in a conflict, the United States must play a leading role in ensuring that the most destructive weapon ever created is never used again."

Kevin Martin, president of advocacy group Peace Action, wrote in an op-ed for Common Dreams last month that "there are myriad reasons" to oppose the GBSD, including "the exorbitant price tag, opportunity cost of investing our tax dollars in missiles and warheads instead of human and environmental well-being, and its contribution to a new arms race that threatens global peace and security."

"Let's choose humanity, other species who have no say over nuclear policy, and the Earth, over omnicide," Martin added.

Thursday, February 18, 2021

The U.S. War Machine: Now Under New Management


Electing Joe Biden is not enough to ensure a saner and less belligerent foreign policy.

by Medea Benjamin, Nicolas J S Davies

The Progressive

Feb 12, 2021 - The failure of the United States to respond effectively to a global pandemic is a predictable result of a political and economic system in which the health and other unmet needs of poor, working Americans always take a back seat to militaristic priorities. As Martin Luther King Jr. lamented in 1967, “I knew that America would never invest the necessary funds or energies in rehabilitation of its poor so long as Vietnam continued to draw men and skills and money like some demonic, destructive suction tube.”

On the first day of 2021, the Senate joined the House in voting to override President Donald Trump’s veto of a $740 billion military spending bill to pay for “counterterrorism” wars that rage on despite Trump’s promises to end them. The veto override, the first in Trump’s presidency, allows for continued expansion of a war machine that the Trump Administration quietly but explicitly repurposed for a “new” Cold War and arms race against Russia and China.

We must confront the urgent need for a truly fresh look at the whole range of destructive policies the United States has pursued around the world for decades.

Like Trump in 2016, nearly all of the 2020 Democratic candidates for President made vague promises to end the nation’s “endless” wars. President Biden was not the most hawkish member of Obama’s Cabinet—that distinction belongs to Hillary Clinton. But the militarized “counterterrorism” policy that Biden explicitly supported is precisely what keeps these conflicts raging.

U.S. “counterterrorism strategy” relies on airstrikes, special operations forces, and the use of proxy forces to wage bloody wars with a minimum of politically sensitive U.S. casualties. What U.S. military strategists have called a “disguised, quiet, media-free approach” to war keeps these conflicts out-of-sight and out-of-mind of the American public.

Biden opposed Obama’s 2009 troop surge in Afghanistan, but after the surge failed, Obama reverted to the policy that Biden favored to begin with, which became the hallmark of their broader global war policy. In insider circles, this was referred to as “counterterrorism,” as opposed to “counterinsurgency.”

In Afghanistan, that meant abandoning large-scale deployments of U.S. forces and relying on air strikes, drone strikes, and “kill or capture” raids, while recruiting and training Afghan forces to do nearly all the ground fighting.

In the 2011 Libya intervention, the NATO-Arab monarchist coalition used a combination of proxy forces and airstrikes. They quietly embedded hundreds of Qatari special operations forces and Western mercenaries with the Libyan rebels to call in NATO airstrikes and train local militias, including Islamist groups with links to Al Qaeda. Ten years later, the forces NATO unleashed are still fighting over the spoils. ...Read More

Monday, January 25, 2021

Yemen Crisis Linked to Weapons Maker Raytheon’s Influence on US Foreign Policy


Smoke billows following a reported airstrike by the Saudi-led coalition in the Yemeni capital of Sanaa on November 27, 2020. MOHAMMED HUWAIS / AFP VIA GETTY IMAGES

By Chrisana M. Panzica 


Jan 22, 2021 - Since 2015, the U.S.-backed Saudi-led bombing and blockade of Yemen has killed tens of thousands of people and devastated the country, creating what the United Nations calls the worst humanitarian crisis in the world. Half the country’s people are on the brink of famine, the country has the world’s worst cholera outbreak in recorded history, and now Yemen has one of the very worst COVID death rates in the world: It kills 1 in 4 people who test positive.

People and organizations across the world are uniting to call for an end to this genocidal war on January 25 in an international day of action. President Joe Biden, who was part of the Obama administration which started U.S. support for the war, has vaguely promised to end U.S. support for the war. However, Biden’s promise should be viewed with extreme skepticism. Weapons manufacturers like Raytheon have a vested interest in continuing the war and wield an immense amount of power in Washington. It is unlikely the U.S. government will end the war without a fight — it’s on us to push it to do so.

Starting under Obama and continuing under Trump, the U.S. has been heavily involved in the war on Yemen, primarily through weapons sales to Saudi Arabia and its coalition partners. These weapons are by and large used to intentionally target and kill Yemenis. This bloodthirsty logic has been a driving force behind the war for almost six years.

Raytheon Technologies, the second-largest arms manufacturer in the world, is one major provider of these weapons. It stands out from the rest of its competitors because of its close ties with Saudi Arabia, having been the first weapons manufacturer to build a permanent operation there in the 1960s, hiring members of the Saudi royal family as consultants, and opening a branch of the company in Riyadh in 2017. After the war began in March 2015, Raytheon’s stock price went from about $108 to more than $180 in 2019, reflecting billions of dollars in weapons sales to Saudi Arabia.

Despite the countless threads connecting Raytheon to Saudi Arabia and its financial interest in continuing the war in Yemen, the company portrays itself as a neutral force which simply carries out the foreign policy of the U.S. government and therefore is not responsible for the destruction wrought by its weapons. When Vice President of Business Development and CEO of Raytheon Company International John D. Harris II was asked by CNBC in a February 2019 interview about the use of Raytheon bombs in Yemen, his response was: “We are an element of U.S. policy — our role is not to make policy, our role is to comply with it.” By characterizing itself as an obedient, law-abiding company, Raytheon not only attempts to weasel out of its culpability, but also obfuscates the horrific tragedy playing out in Yemen and other countries where its bombs fall.

The reality is the harrowing situation in Yemen can be directly traced back to Raytheon and other weapons manufacturers’ influence on U.S. foreign policy. This is not due to a lack of government “checks and balances” or oversight; rather, it is the result of a calculated policy of the U.S. government to ensure its dominant geopolitical position in the world, which includes maximizing the profit interests of these companies at the expense of Yemeni lives. The U.S. is also involved in Yemen to limit Iranian influence in the region and protect its access to seaborne oil trade that passes through the Strait of Bab el-Mandeb.

The harrowing situation in Yemen can be directly traced back to Raytheon and other weapons manufacturers’ influence on U.S. foreign policy.

Raytheon’s claims of neutrality fall flat when one takes a closer look at its influence on U.S. policy, including both explicit lobbying of government officials and its unified interests with members of the U.S. political elite. The revolving door between private companies and government positions has supported Raytheon’s goals — in fact, Raytheon has managed to insert itself as a permanent fixture at the highest levels of government. Obama and Trump both had former Raytheon lobbyists serve in senior roles in the Defense Department (William Lynn and Mark Esper, respectively), and Biden is continuing the tradition, choosing Gen. Lloyd Austin, who sits on the Raytheon board, for defense secretary and breezed through his confirmation hearing without issue on January 19.

Exporting Death

While the situation in Yemen continued to dramatically deteriorate during the Trump administration, Trump shares the blame with his predecessor. Obama played a key role in starting the war, giving Saudi Arabia a green light for its initial attack. He also worked to expand U.S. arms sales abroad, including to Saudi Arabia and the United Arab Emirates. In 2013, Obama oversaw a big increase in U.S. arms sales to foreign governments that has enabled Saudi Arabia’s current assault on Yemen. As a result, U.S. arms exports went from $6.9 billion in 2009 to $8.7 billion in 2012, according to the Stockholm International Peace Research Institute’s database, a 25 percent increase. Of that, U.S. arms exports to Saudi Arabia increased by 4,489 percent between 2008-12 and 2013-17. (Continued)

Tuesday, January 12, 2021

Hybrid Wars: What Is New And What Is Not?

By Harry Targ

Diary of a Heartland Radical

On The Law of Hybrid Wars

Andrew Korybko, a Russian scholar/journalist, has written about a new concept, “hybrid wars,” with a long history in practice. The author refers to the Law of Hybrid War as “The grand objective behind every Hybrid War is to disrupt multipolar transnational connective projects through externally provoked identity conflicts (ethnic, religious, regional, political etc.) within a targeted transit state” (Andrew Korybko, “Hybrid Wars 1. The Law of Hybrid Warfare,” Oriental, 4/3.2016). His  concern was United States targeted efforts to undermine efforts by Russia to integrate with Eurasian states and the US desire to disrupt China’s “silk road” projects. It is clear that the concept refers also to efforts by imperial states, particularly the United States, to undermine any efforts by other countries to develop political and economic solidarity that might threaten regional or global hegemony. And Korybko added that ”Hybrid Wars are externally provoked asymmetrical conflicts predicated on sabotaging concrete geoeconomic interests.”

The tactics of Hybrid War prioritize identifying strategic weaknesses in target states. These do not necessarily prioritize targeting roads, bridges, or power plants for destruction but rather economic, political, ethnic, or other vulnerabilities. Vulnerabilities may include ethnicity, religion, history, administrative boundaries, and socioeconomic disparities. Using “soft power” the imperial state supports the introduction of seemingly neutral technologies or processes, such as the internet in the target country. New intrusions are supported by some NonGovernmental Organizations (NGOs) such as the Soros Foundation or the National Endowment for Democracy. NGOs claim to be motivated to facilitate political and economic development. As David Harvey has suggested NGO projects come with a frame of reference, a goal, and/or a conception of desirable economic or political paths the host country should take. From the Hybrid War perspective these intrusions are used to exacerbate the class, ethnic, and/or geopolitical tensions in the target state.

Most important for our analysis is the argument raised by Korybko that a critical precondition for imposing hybrid war (and a critical tool of it) is the pressure brought by “globally recognized” sanctions. Early in the process of imperial intrusion, victimized states experience increased costs for importing critical commodities, food, energy etc., constraints imposed on exports, and denial of loan requests from international financial institutions. As political instability increases, targeted states are forced to spend more on security, thus sucking resources away from domestic needs. Thus, the Law of Hybrid War involves an imperial state deciding that transnational projects constitute a threat to its rule and assessing historic vulnerabilities of targeted states. Then the imperialists institute policies of intrusion on target states through technology, expansion of an NGO presence, and organizing a global sanctions regime against the targeted state. From a Hybrid War perspective, the imperial power hopes for such an exacerbation of tensions so that regime change will occur without the introduction of foreign troops.

Hybrid Wars in Latin America

A team of researchers affiliated with Tricontinental: Institute for Social Research, published an essay online called “Venezuela and Hybrid Wars in Latin America,” June, 2019. The summary conclusion they drew indicates that “The elements of the hybrid war include: economic and financial suffocation economic destabilization, media and diplomatic blockades, the promotion of violence inside the country—including assassinations—the generation of chaos with the attack on essential services (including the electricity grid), the pressure for an institutional fracture or a coup d’etat and, finally, the threat of an external military intervention” (44).

 What we learn from the concept of Hybrid War (which is not new) is that instead of launching gun boat diplomacy as a first tactic (as in the case of over 30 US military interventions in Latin America from 1898 until the 1930s), the United States, in order to overcome developing regional solidarity against hegemony, identifies vulnerabilities in the most significant states (Venezuela, Cuba, Nicaragua) and launches a multidimensional campaign of destabilization, with traditional military intervention as just a last resort. High on the list are economic sanctions, commercial blockades, networking with dissidents from the wealthy, promoting a dissident local media, generating a whole media narrative for consumption in the United States and Europe that challenges the legitimacy of the existing governments, and generates a discourse among intellectuals, “experts,” that justify Hybrid War strategies. The latter particularly are inserted into left and progressive conversations about US policy. A significant facilitator of these destabilizing strategies iinclude socalled NonGovernment Organizations (NGOs) which often provide aid, promote education, advocate for specific economic development models, and promote religious agendas. At the level of culture the imagery of high mass consumption and how it is intimately connected to a neoliberal economic model undergirds the Hybrid War project. And again, if all else fails, militarism remains an option (and throughout the period of Hybrid War, war remains a threat).

Meanings of the Hybrid War Concept for the Peace Movement

We can deduce a variety of conclusions from the Law of Hybrid Wars.

First, twenty-first century imperialism is not solely or primarily about fighting wars.

Second, hegemonic powers, such as the United States, see coalitions of states as a threat to global dominance. This is true in Eurasia, the countries along the Silk Road, and in Latin America where a crippled Bolivarian Revolution survives.

Third, strategists do not primarily act impulsively. They see a threat, which includes transnational cooperation and resistance. Strategists then identify weak links in threatened coalitions. They formulate multidimensional, stagebystage responses. And these responses involve economics, culture, sowing seeds of division, promoting demonic narratives about target states, and at the same time they leave “all options on the table,” which means traditional military action.

Fourth, the Law of Hybrid War suggests that the peace movement must treat economic blockades, efforts to isolate target states in the international system, blatant lies about target nations as acts of war.

Fifth, the peace movement needs to be wary of false narratives and NGOs that are presented as philanthropic.

Finally, it behooves the peace movement to be cognizant of twentyfirst century methods of imperialism; fashioning strategies that clearly and compellingly identify and combat economic sanctions, false narratives, and institutions that seem to be philanthropic as acts of war.

This analysis resonates currently with daily news accounts involving Venezuela, Cuba, Nicaragua, and Iran and, while more complicated, Russia and China.