by Brian Garvey
In an election that was a referendum on Donald Trump, over 81 million Americans voted for change. The Democratic Party’s platform showed promise, pledging to end ‘forever wars,’ put diplomacy before the use of force, abandon the policy of regime change, and cut Pentagon spending. Unfortunately through the first three months of the new administration, President Biden’s foreign policy has been more of a continuation of the Trump agenda than a departure from it.
Biden rightly criticized Trump for cozying up to dictators but he has refused to hold Saudi Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman accountable for the 2018 murder of Jamal Khashoggi, a Washington Post columnist. Though he promised to end support for the Saudi war in Yemen, the airstrikes and blockade have continued every day of his presidency. The suffering of the Yemeni people has not ended under Biden’s watch, it has intensified.
President Biden said he’d salvage his old boss’s greatest foreign policy achievement by restoring the Iran Nuclear Deal, but he hasn’t shown enough urgency. With elections approaching in Iran, Biden’s diplomatic team is now in a race to save the JCPOA, a race against the clock complicated by Israeli efforts to scotch the deal.
Economic sanctions, employed by Trump and his Secretary of State as part of a “maximum pressure” campaign against dozens of US adversaries, have yet to be revoked by Biden. Modern siege warfare, these sanctions deprive poor and working people of basic human needs in Iran, Syria, North Korea, Cuba, Venezuela, and more. New sanctions on China are increasing tensions between the US and the second largest economy, and military, in the world. A continuation of Trump’s anti-China policy threatens to start a new Cold War, and fosters anti-Asian hatred. Applying different standards to allies and adversaries of the US calls into question the purported desire for a rules-based international order.
Perhaps most concerning of all is the president’s proposal for a new military budget. Far from undoing the vast increases to Pentagon spending under Trump, Biden is calling for an increase in military spending. This isn’t only a betrayal of the promise in the party’s platform, it’s a misallocation of resources that robs education, healthcare, infrastructure, housing, and the fight against climate change.
To be fair, Biden hasn’t been all bad. He did renew the Obama era New Start treaty, the last standing nuclear weapons treaty between Russia and the US. He’s just promised to withdraw all US troops from Afghanistan by September 11th 2001, a withdrawal that won’t be based on conditions on the ground. Biden’s spokesman says conditioned withdrawal would be “a recipe for staying in Afghanistan forever.” He’s right. There’s no doubt that the defeat of Donald Trump was a major achievement for the progressive and peace movements. Joe Biden is an upgrade at the Commander in Chief position, but that’s an awfully low bar.
Historically, presidents are frustrated with an inability to get their way on domestic issues. They learn, while in office, that they have far greater authority in the realm of foreign affairs. Because of his experience as VP and as a Senator, Joe Biden has the benefit of starting out with this knowledge. He should be judged accordingly. If he wants to continue to have the support of the progressive movement, a movement that was crucial to his election, President Biden needs to deliver. Peace and prosperity go together. If Joe Biden is to achieve either he should cut loose the foreign policy of Donald Trump, and soon.