The former Vice President’s view of foreign policy is
deeply out of touch with a multipolar world, and
America’s place in it.
By Nicolas J S Davies, Medea Benjamin
Clearing House" - In a Foreign
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.
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
“Biden may not radically change the nation’s
military,” Defense One concluded, “or even
slash the bottom line of the Pentagon’s $700 billion
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. His war bill failed
in the House in a rare
213-213 tie, but the United States and NATO
attacked Yugoslavia anyway, in a war that was
illegal under both U.S. and international law.
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
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
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
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
death toll, with no end in sight.
In reality, the United States has been the main
obstacle to the world organizing in recent years.
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. And
this list doesn’t include Trump’s disastrous decision to
pull out of the nuclear agreement with Iran, or his
withdrawal from the World Health Organization in the
midst of a pandemic.
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
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
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
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
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
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
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.
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