The Biden Doctrine


Image: The White House, Public domain, via Wikimedia Commons

by Hoffmann the Organizer

In a recent lead editorial in the New York Times, Thomas Friedman boldly labels the governing philosophy of the era we’re living in: “The Biden Doctrine.”  In that piece he limits the scope of this doctrine to the Middle East, hailing a grand alliance among the US, Saudi Arabia and Israel against Iran and its proxies. In another prominently placed op-ed that same week, he declares we are in the midst of “a titanic geopolitical struggle,” one in which the Middle East is but one part of a global theater over which the Biden Doctrine must prevail. 

In a Manichean and frankly apocalyptic vision, Friedman has divided the world into good guys – who are part of the “Inclusive Network” that he describes as “open,” “connected,” and “future-oriented” – and bad guys – who comprise the “Resistance Network” that he labels “autocratic,” “closed”, and “backward-looking.” Thus, does he recreate the worst kind of Cold War narrative, one that ignores the world’s complexity and multipolarity.  

Friedman and the New York Times are invoking the return of the Truman Doctrine, the 1947 speech that characterized US foreign policy as centered around anti-communism, repudiating FDR’s hopes for US-Soviet cooperation and launching the Cold War for the next forty years.  It too was a Manichean and apocalyptic vision that upended the hopes for a peaceful post-World-War-Two world.  Unfortunately, the analogy between Truman and Biden may be all too apt.

The Biden presidency has undergone a startling metamorphosis over the course of its first term.  

For years I’ve been doing a little chalk talk (now a PowerPoint!) on “the Three M’s – All You Need to Know about the Federal Budget” for union members and other activists.  The point of it is to measure any federal administration by how it handles the “3 M’s” of the federal budget: Millionaires, Medicaid, and the Military.  How much it proportionately taxes millionaires gives one side of the dynamic, and is a good yardstick of the basic economic/class progressivism (or lack thereof) of the Administration. (Compare FDR’s tax brackets to Reagan’s!)  Then how that tax revenue is divided between “Medicaid” in a broader sense (that is, health care, childcare, social welfare) vs. the “Military” (that is, policing the world) reveals how much the Administration leans to a humane vs. Hobbesian philosophy of government.  

Truman, Biden, and Lyndon Johnson were all elected on — and started out trying to implement — the New Deal “Medicaid” values and goals, but all eventually switched dramatically to the “Military” goals, always with disastrous, and potentially doomsday, results.  

Biden’s shift is particularly egregious, because unlike Truman and Johnson, who actually accomplished major gains in “Medicaid” (Johnson even started the program explicitly so named), Biden started his presidency calling for a historic $650 Billion in funding for home care and childcare, only to have it succumb – and subsequently disappear from the agenda – in the face of blockage by Joe Manchin and the Republicans.  He has worked harder to get billions in military aid to Ukraine, Taiwan, and Israel than he did for human care.  

And all that military aid would have been unnecessary with just a modicum of diplomacy.  No NATO expansion in Ukraine back in the winter of 2021-2022, no attempt to upstage China around the world, and no new wars. In contrast, after China brokered talks between Saudi Arabia and Iran to end the war in Yemen, Biden responded by promoting an alliance between the Saudis and Netanyahu, provoking Hamas into an extreme action to keep the Palestinian cause alive in the Arab world. Instead of exercising diplomacy, Biden seems headed toward rivaling his role models’ debacles in Korea and Vietnam by directly or indirectly promoting deadly conflicts in Ukraine (hundreds of thousands killed or wounded), Gaza and Israel (tens of thousands brutally massacred), and the potential slaughter that a war between the US and China in the South China Sea would bring. 

The Biden Doctrine, like the Truman Doctrine that ultimately encompassed both the Korea and Vietnam wars, is attended by the same evils of McCarthyism toward domestic nay-sayers, and the whitewashing of “free world”/”inclusion network” allies while demonizing other countries as enemies run by dictatorships/autocracies. Worst of all, it grossly neglects the struggles and travails of working people at home and abroad.

Today, the true “Titanic Geopolitical Struggle” we are facing is the one to save our eco-system.  Only worldwide cooperation can win that urgent fight. Waiting until every major nation meets our criteria of “openness” (or at least proper subservience) is a luxury we cannot afford to indulge in.  

Yet boosters of the Biden Doctrine like Friedman want the Inclusion Network “to win,” implying political, economic, or military defeat of the Resistance Network of Russia and Iran (and potentially China and the Global South). This long-term conflict will close the window for our survival one way or another – by triggering a nuclear war or by hastening environmental collapse.

At least we’re likely to be spared another decades-long “cold” war.

Hoffmann earned his pen name and sobriquet “the Organizer” through years of work on campaigns for peace, economic justice, and environmental sustainability in numerous cities and regions of the US, as well as in Europe.