Biden’s Appeasement of Hawks and Neocons Is Crippling His Diplomacy

Yves here. I suspect most readers will regard calling Biden’s foreign policy stance “appeasement” of hardliners to be generous given that he chose people like Susan Rice to be in his cabinet. It’s obvious but it still bears repeating: if Trump had done anything half as aggressive on the foreign policy front as Biden has, the press would be screaming from the rooftops about how he was endangering peace and stability. Instead, crickets.

By Medea Benjamin, cofounder of CODEPINK for Peace, and author of several books, including Inside Iran: The Real History and Politics of the Islamic Republic of Iran and  Nicolas J. S. Davies, an independent journalist, a researcher with CODEPINK and the author of Blood On Our Hands: the American Invasion and Destruction of Iraq

Photo credit: haramjedder.blogspot.com – Biden with NATO’s Stoltenberg

President Biden took office promising a new era of American international leadership and diplomacy. But with a few exceptions, he has so far allowed self-serving foreign allies, hawkish U.S. interest groups and his own imperial delusions to undermine diplomacy and stoke the fires of war.

Biden’s failure to quickly recommit to the Iran nuclear deal, or JCPOA, as Senator Sanders promised to do on his first day as president, provided a critical delay that has been used by opponents to undermine the difficult shuttle diplomacytaking place in Vienna to restore the agreement.

The attempts to derail talks range from the introduction of the Maximum Pressure Act on April 21 to codify the Trump administration’s sanctions against Iran to Israel’s cyberattack on Iran’s Natanz nuclear facility. Biden’s procrastination has only strengthened the influence of the hawkish Washington foreign policy “blob,” Republicans and Democratic hawks in Congress and foreign allies like Netanyahu in Israel.

In Afghanistan, Biden has won praise for his decision to withdraw U.S. troops by September 11, but his refusal to abide by the May 1 deadline for withdrawal as negotiated under the Trump administration has led the Taliban to back out of the planned UN-led peace conference in Istanbul. A member of the Taliban military commissiontold the Daily Beast that “the U.S. has shattered the Taliban’s trust.”

Now active and retired Pentagon officials are regaling the New York Times with accounts of how they plan to prolong the U.S. war without “boots on the ground” after September, undoubtedly further infuriating the Taliban, making a ceasefire and peace talks all the more difficult.

In Ukraine, the government has launched a new offensive in its civil war against the ethnically Russian provinces in the eastern Donbass region, which declared unilateral independence after the U.S.-backed coup in 2014. On April 1, Ukraine’s militarychief of staff said publicly that “the participation of NATO allies is envisaged” in the government offensive, prompting warnings from Moscow that Russia could intervene to protect Russians in Donbass.

Sticking to their usual tired script, U.S. and NATO officials are pretending that Russia is the aggressor for conducting military exercises and troop movements within its own borders in response to Kiev’s escalation. But even the BBC is challenging thisfalse narrative, explaining that Russia is acting competently and effectively to deter an escalation of the Ukrainian offensive and U.S. and NATO threats. The U.S hasturned around two U.S. guided-missile destroyers that were steaming toward the Black Sea, where they would only have been sitting ducks for Russia’s advanced missile defenses.

Tensions have escalated with China, as the U.S. Navy and Marines stalk Chinese ships in the South China Sea, well inside the island chains China uses for self defense. The Pentagon is hoping to drag NATO allies into participating in these operations, and the U.S. Air Force plans to shift more bombers to new bases in Asia and the Pacific, supported by existing larger bases in Guam, Japan, Australia and South Korea.

Meanwhile, despite a promising initial pause and policy review, Biden has decided to keep selling tens of billion dollars worth of weapons to authoritarian regimes in Saudi Arabia, the UAE and other Persian Gulf sheikdoms, even as they keep bombing and blockading famine-stricken Yemen. Biden’s unconditional support for the most brutal authoritarian dictators on Earth lays bare the bankruptcy of the Democrats’ attempts to frame America’s regurgitated Cold War on Russia and China as a struggle between “democracy” and “authoritarianism.”

In all these international crises (along with Cuba, Haiti, Iraq, North Korea, Palestine, Syria and Venezuela, which are bedevilled by the same U.S. unilateralism), President Biden and the hawks egging him on are pursuing unilateral policies that ignore solemn commitments in international agreements and treaties, riding roughshod over the good faith of America’s allies and negotiating partners.

As the Russian foreign ministry bluntly put it when it announced its countermeasures to the latest round of U.S. sanctions, “Washington is unwilling to accept that there is no room for unilateral dictates in the new geopolitical reality.”

Chinese President Xi Jinping echoed the same multipolar perspective on April 20th at the annual Boao Asian international business forum. “The destiny and future of the world should be decided by all nations, and rules set up just by one or several countries should not be imposed on others,” Xi said. “The whole world should not be led by unilateralism of individual countries.”

The near-universal failure of Biden’s diplomacy in his first months in office reflects how badly he and those who have his ear are failing to accurately read the limits of American power and predict the consequences of his unilateral decisions.

Unilateral, irresponsible decision-making has been endemic in U.S. foreign policy for decades, but America’s economic and military dominance created an international environment that was extraordinarily forgiving of American “mistakes,” even as they ruined the lives of millions of people in the countries directly affected. Now America no longer dominates the world, and it is critical for U.S. officials to more accurately assess the relative power and positions of the United States and the countries and people it is confronting or negotiating with.

Under Trump, Defense Secretary Mattis launched negotiations to persuade Vietnam to host U.S. missiles aimed at China. The negotiations went on for three years, but they were based entirely on wishful thinking and misreadings of Vietnam’s responses by U.S. officials and Rand Corp contractors. Experts agree that Vietnam would never violate a formal, declared policy of neutrality it has held and repeatedly reiterated since 1998.

As Gareth Porter summarized his silly saga, “The story of the Pentagon’s pursuit of Vietnam as a potential military partner against China reveals an extraordinary degree of self-deception surrounding the entire endeavor. And it adds further detail to the already well-established picture of a muddled and desperate bureaucracy seizing on any vehicle possible to enable it to claim that U.S. power in the Pacific can still prevail in a war with China.”

Unlike Trump, Biden has been at the heart of American politics and foreign policy since the 1970s. So the degree to which he too is out of touch with today’s international reality is a measure of how much and how quickly that reality has changed and continues to change. But the habits of empire die hard. The tragic irony of Biden’s ascent to power in 2020 is that his lifetime of service to a triumphalist American empire has left him ill-equipped to craft a more constructive and cooperative brand of American diplomacy for today’s multipolar world.

Amid the American triumphalism that followed the end of the Cold War, the neocons developed a simplistic ideology to persuade America’s leaders that they need no longer be constrained in their use of military power by domestic opposition, peer competitors or international law. They claimed that America had virtually unlimited military freedom of action and a responsibility to use it aggressively, because, as Biden parroted them recently, “the world doesn’t organize itself.”

The international violence and chaos Biden has inherited in 2021 is a measure of the failure of the neocons’ ambitions. But there is one place that they conquered, occupied and still rule to this day, and that is Washington D.C.

The dangerous disconnect at the heart of Biden’s foreign policy is the result of this dichotomy between the neocons’ conquest of Washington and their abject failure to conquer the rest of the world.

For most of Biden’s career, the politically safe path on foreign policy for corporate Democrats has been to talk a good game about human rights and diplomacy, but not to deviate too far from hawkish, neoconservative policies on war, military spending, and support for often repressive and corrupt allies throughout America’s neocolonial empire.

The tragedy of such compromises by Democratic Party leaders is that they perpetuate the suffering of millions of people affected by the real-world problems they fail to fix. But the Democrats’ subservience to simplistic neoconservative ideas also fails to satisfy the hawks they are trying to appease, who only smell more political blood in the water at every display of moral weakness by the Democrats.

In his first three months in office, Biden’s weakness in resisting the bullying of hawks and neocons has led him to betray the most significant diplomatic achievements of each of his predecessors, Obama and Trump, in the JCPOA with Iran and the May 1 withdrawal agreement with the Taliban respectively, while perpetuating the violence and chaos the neocons unleashed on the world.

For a president who promised a new era of American diplomacy, this has been a dreadful start. We hope he and his advisers are not too blinded by anachronistic imperial thinking or too intimidated by the neocons to make a fresh start and engage with the world as it actually exists in 2021.

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30 comments

  1. PlutoniumKun

    I think the chronic contradictions and incoherencies we see so early in his presidency will be noted worldwide by friend and foe alike. Maybe for now, there will be an element of relief that Trump is gone and some allowance for a new President to wave a gun around a little before getting down to serious diplomacy (Obama’s big mistake having been to do the exact opposite). But I think its very rapidly becoming apparent to leaders from Europe to Asia that Biden simply doesn’t have the level of control required to have a coherent foreign policy, even if he wanted one. It took most countries a couple of years to figure Trump out – I think it will take them even less time to figure Biden out. This will accelerate ongoing processes whereby traditional allies distance themselves from the US and build up local alliances as alternatives while real or imagined foes will be empowered to keep pressing for weakness. The big winners from this will be weapons manufacturers.

    The real tragedy is that the one area where it looks like Biden is really serious about doing some good – climate change – will be undermined by the US’s all too apparent inability to deliver its own promises.

    Reply
    1. NotTimothyGeithner

      Is Biden serious about climate change? I know he “believes” in it, and he believes in it so much he hasn’t moved against the filibuster or put the White House bound any proposal. The Paris Accords are a joke thanks to Biden’s to negotiate them down.

      Reply
      1. ChrisFromGeorgia

        I have to agree with you in questioning the Biden admins commitment to anything other than paying lip service to address climate change.

        For exhibit “A” – see the recent red carpet treatment for Cruise line CEO’s to come to the White House and beg for a lifting of the no-sail order from the CDC. All non-US based corporations that are the worst of the worst offenders in burning tons of marine diesel and polluting the air and sea.

        A serious administration would have told those scoundrels to go pound sand.

        Reply
        1. Jeremy Grimm

          I think Biden might pay a lot more than lip-service to address climate change, which is not to suggest he will do anything meaningful about climate change. I expect his green infrastructure spending will fatten someone’s wallets.

          Reply
    2. pjay

      – “This will accelerate ongoing processes whereby traditional allies distance themselves from the US and build up local alliances as alternatives…”

      I keep waiting – hoping – for this to happen. But so far, our allies keep falling into line. Occasionally evidence of elite conflicts of interest emerges, e.g. in Germany, only to disappear in a barrage of anti-Russian hysteria. As this article implies, there does not seem to be any political avenue for foreign policy sanity in the US anymore. Is there a possible path to sanity in Europe these days that can overcome the dominance of the NATO/Security cabal?

      Reply
      1. Equitable > Equal

        I think it just happened. You may have noted in recent days that Germany announced plans to move it’s troops out of Iraq by July 4, months ahead of the US’ September 11 deadline. The symbolism of that move is hard to ignore when combined with the current German position on Nord Stream 2. With regard to wars over natural resources, this year’s Independence day will bring different meaning to the word ‘indepenence’ for US military members stationed in the middle east who will be very much on their own.

        Reply
  2. Mr. Magoo

    “Tensions have escalated with China, as the U.S. Navy and Marines stalk Chinese ships in the South China Sea, well inside the island chains China uses for self defense….”

    Statements such as these, make me question the entire article. The “nine-dash line” is for self defense? There is nothing self-defensive about it.

    And they really should stop calling it the South China Sea.

    Reply
    1. Darius

      It’s been called the South China Sea for centuries. The nine-dash line was proposed by our allies, the Republic of China, in 1947 before they fled to Taiwan, where they continue to make the same claims.

      China didn’t invent thinly justified imperialist claims. Look up the annexation of Hawaii or the Spanish-American War.

      Reply
      1. Mr. Magoo

        I will look into your Taiwan story on the nine-dash line. Hardly makes it justified as it clearly imposes on other countries economic exclusion zones.

        And imperialist claims 100 or more years ago, do not justify anything today.

        Reply
    2. Mikel

      Whose “neighborhood” are the seas closest to: USA or China.

      What if you couldn’t go outside, say your back door or drive down the street to the grocery store without some gun toting gang from another state telling you where you could go, how you should live?

      Reply
    3. drumlin woodchuckles

      Those “islands” begin as reefs, sometimes just under very shallow headspace water. The ChinaGov then occupies them and begins building them up slowly to gauge meaninful world reaction, and finding none; then builds them up fast and fortifies them and calls them ” Chinese islands”.

      Greater China is creating ” facts in the sea” in the exact same way and for the same reason that Israel creates ” facts on the ground” on the Occupied West Bank ( and Occupied Golan Heights). And the ChinaGov’s legions of “hansbarists” retro-legitimize it, whatabout-it away, dare anyone to do anything about it anyway, etc.

      We shouldn’t pretend we can do anything about it. But we don’t have to pretend we don’t see it when we are looking right at it.

      Reply
      1. Jon Snow

        I think what you all are missing here is that China can literally build islands in the sea and fortify them, while your sorry excuse “Greatest Democracy” can only walk around some useless carriers and ask think-tanks to write detailed analysis about al this.
        Also on the other side of the world Russia can move whole divisions of armoured vehicles around while US can only protest on social media.

        Truly the western world has no concept of physical reality anymore …

        Reply
      2. Tom Doak

        It is not quite the same as Israel’s “facts on the ground,” because the reefs the Chinese are building upon didn’t have a local population to oppress.

        Reply
  3. If only the King knew

    A highly confusing article.
    “Biden’s weakness in resisting the bullying of hawks” – who says that he has any other view on the geopolitics than the hawks to begin with? In order to resist you have to have another view. He hasn’t and that is why all these flies gathered around the turd and the turd wants to attract the flies.

    Reply
    1. Yves Smith Post author

      I agree the authors are going too far in giving Biden the benefit of the doubt. But maybe the people in their circles are still in denial as to how aggressive Biden has been, right out of the box, and on so many fronts.

      Reply
      1. Code Name D

        I think the real question is just how much influence does Biden (or the Presdent in general) have over forin policy? Case in point is Biden’s “pull out” of Afganistan. We all know its going to be one hell of a media war to push back against it.

        And if that should fail, there will be a CIA false flag incdence to embarise Biden into changing the policy.

        The most notiable thing about foien policy is just how little is has changed over the various adminstrations.

        Reply
  4. nothing but the truth

    biden at that age does not seem to have critical eye.

    He does what he is told. That is why access to him is so tightly controlled.

    Reply
    1. NotTimothyGeithner

      The age thing ignores what Biden is. His main role has been to be a corporate frontman and lobby lefties elements into accepting terrible policies. His lack of focus now is he is the President and can’t just ask the CEO of capital one what to do.

      Reply
    1. Code Name D

      China alreay has U policy figured out. It’s what ever Wall Street wants. Bribe Wall Street – and it’ll happen.

      Reply
  5. Louis Fyne

    “tragedy” implies that the protaganist is trying to chart a course independent of what Fate brings.

    Nope, Biden Admin policy is a feature, not a bug. Biden is a creature of DC. His policies are the DC Establishment consensus.

    Trump merely rubber stamped 51% of DC Establishment foreign policy wants. Biden is rubber stamping 99%.

    Reply
  6. GramSci

    Pardon my tinfoil hat, folks, but why was Jeffrey Epstein re-indicted and how did Hunter’s laptop turn up in a pawnshop, unerased? Like PK intimated upthread, both Trump and Biden have been “reminded” that they are not in control.

    Reply
    1. Nikkikat

      GramSci, your comment is so on target, I laughed. It has been pretty well proven that our Presidents are “reminded” that they must only color in side the lines that have been drawn for them. Exhibit 1 Anthony Blinken delivering ridiculous statements in his meeting with the Chinese recently.

      Reply
      1. Susan the other

        Exhibit #2: The frail and tragic old exceptionalist stumbling up the steps to Air Force One and turning like a good little soldier at the top to salute the system watching him. Talk about Don Quixote living from one romantic thought to the next. Let us all hope the climate conference goes well – it’s one of the few things most of the world agrees on. When Joe says “.. the world doesn’t organize itself” he’s showing his full blown delusion because the world does indeed organize itself, everywhere, everyday. It just helps to have a benign and generous state in support. Not a bunch of buccaneering investors.

        Reply
        1. Sameer

          John Kerry saying “no government will solve climate change” wasn’t a great sign. Especially considering that they will have no problem handing over billions in public resources and labour in order to jumpstart this “rescue” from climate change by the private sector.

          Reply
  7. Andrew Watts

    The idea that political personalities make American foreign policy needs to be discarded. The politicians come and go, but the State remains. The bureaucracy; public and private, non-government organizations, and their supporters are the primary vehicle in which the policy of the American State is made.

    Which isn’t to say these centers of power are wholly united. Although the anti-Chinese / Russia policies appears to be a consensus with broad support. The withdrawal from Afghanistan not so much.

    Reply
  8. Jeremy Grimm

    “President Biden took office promising a new era of American international leadership and diplomacy.”
    I don’t understand any of the optimism about Biden. His choice for Vice-President should clarify the rock his presidency stands upon. If he promised a “new era” of anything I fear it will be a new era of terrible decisions and worse actions. I thought Biden was schooled in the Clinton-Bush-Obama-Clinton school of diplomacy — the same school that brought us a string of disasters and misspent opportunities.

    Reply
  9. drumlin woodchuckles

    Ummm. . . . I think that if Trump had done the kind of neo-conservative and neo-Wilsonian things that Biden has appointed people to do or advise, that the MSM press would be calling him Presidential and Leadershipful.

    When Trump ordered his first missile attack against Syria, the anti-Trump MSM press called Trump ” Presidential” and ” a leader” for it. ” At last, Trump has done something Presidential”.

    I think the press would have forgiven Trump a lot if he had brought America back into the Global Axis of Jihad against Syria.

    Reply
  10. km

    I dunno, if Trump had pushed The Button initiating a nuclear first strike on Russia, Team R cultists would be chanting “USA! USA!” while Team D cultists would be whining that this was on Putin’s orders and besides, HRC would have pushed The Button sooner and bigger, even as everyone goes up in a mushroom cloud.

    Reply

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