Biden Follows Trump On Foreign Policy

Yves here. Even though the annoyance with Biden undercuts this piece a bit, it still provides a useful high level tally of how has Biden has preserved many of Trump’s foreign policies. Indeed, this article if anything averts its eyes from misguided moves, like the increase in eyepoking China, documented almost daily in Links, calling Putin a killer (what did that accomplish?), and blowing vaccine diplomacy. I’m sure readers can add to this list.

By Barkley Rosser, Professor of Economics at James Madison University in Harrisonburg, Virginia. Originally published at EconoSpeak

We are now looking at a humanitarian disaster in Afghanistan.  It looks like the Taliban will probably take control of Kabul and thus Afghanistan in the near future. Reports already show that where they control women cannot go to school and appear in public without a veil in public and much more. Many women there are unfortunately going to suffer greatly as a result of this. I am so very deeply sorry.

Yes, as an American who supported the original invasion of Afghanistan 20 years ago to overturn the Taliban and end support for al Qaeda who did the 9/11 attack two decades ago, I am also frustrated that we did not get the heck out once the Taliban were overthrown. But it remains unclear why we did stay then, especially given that the W. Bush admin turned to invading Iraq. Latest I have checked it seems that it was Rumsfeld who played the key role in deciding that that the US stay in Afghanistan, even as that admin basically gave up on getting bin Laden.

So this should not be a partisan issue in the US. Pres.Biden long ago, including as Obama’s VP, led opposition to increasing efforts in Afghanistan. He accurately understood that this was an ultimately bad situation to get more deeply involved in, And he then made it clear he thought we should be getting out.

This was the position of Biden’s predecessor, Trump, who also called for the US leaving Afghanistan. He steadily reduced the US troop presence, and negotiated a final full withdrawal. But various advisors held him back from effectuating the final withdrawal, leaving that to his successor. But what was left was not sustainable.

There are other areas where Biden seems to be following Trump policies.  These include his reluctance to rejoin the JCPOA Iranian nuclear deal, which he promised to do, and he should have done.  But now there is a new hardline president in Iran in reaction to just this, the failure of Biden to rejoin the deal. This is simply awful.

The list is long, and I frankly do not get why Biden has held back on so much of this.  So, he has yet to remove almost any of the stupid garbage Trump tariffs. He has if anything made Trump’s prohibition of receiving refugees from abroad harder. And he is all in on Trump’s Afghanistan policy, which looks now to be a total humanitarian disaster.  But the GOP is already falsely claiming the disaster will all be Biden’s fault, not Trump’s.

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  1. calmly

    “We are now looking at a humanitarian disaster in Afghanistan.”

    Well, I suppose it’s good that we’re looking at it now, but…hasn’t it been a humanitarian disaster this whole time?

    Perhaps the NC commentariat can help me out here? I’ve read this piece three times now and am struggling to see what, if anything, it is saying.

    I suppose I should add, this being the internet, that I am really asking for help in understanding the perspective that this article is advancing. I look forward to reading the comments on this piece tomorrow, as I have some (justified) faith in the commentators on this blog. Thanks in advance.

    1. Cocomaan

      I think the writer is grappling with the idea that invading Afghanistan was a bad idea in the first place, but unable to come to grips with that idea.

    2. Towing Al-Thawri

      Beat me to taking issue with the first line, as it immediately illustrates the American Exceptionalism embedded in the author’s thinking. The self-mythologies of the USA can take absurdity (such as “now” its a humanitarian crisis as we exit) and make it common sense. US war, and humanitarian crises, with Afghanistan began at least in 1979 with Operation Cyclone – then the largest CIA operation in its history – which armed, funded and trained the Mujahideen foreign fighters to destabilize the progressive government in Afghanistan and lure the USSR into a quagmire.

      US foreign policy is, above all else, the policy of international class warfare. The goal is to undercut the sovereignty and viability of governments not under control of the “rules based order” determined and enforced by the United States and its allied governments. There are far too many examples to list, but all US interventions economically, politically and militarily are initiated under false pretenses and executed for the service of international capital – especially financial capital. This is expertly illustrated by Michael Hudson’s many writings and talks regarding imperialism

      This imperialist class warfare abroad is much more intertwined with domestic class warfare of neoliberalism and the vast depths of our carceral and debt entrapment state. The tip of the spear illustrating the interrelated nature of domestic and foreign policy is the silencing and prosecution of whistle-blowers against both the imperialist and neoliberal order.

  2. Cocomaan

    The list is long, and I frankly do not get why Biden has held back on so much of this.

    The same reason Obama continued the Bush era war on terror. Obama just “surged” in Afghanistan, which we now know did absolutely nothing of consequence.

    In doing so, Obama was leaving behind the the Sons of Iraq militias/Sunni awakening, elements of whom then transformed into ISIS when the Shia government of Iraq kicked them to the curb.

    I question the wisdom of going into Afghanistan to topple the Taliban, then leaving, which the author says they supported. Why is that, when we see that the Pashtun insurgency easily just walked back into power? Why take sides in ancient tribal battle between ghilzai and durrani ?

  3. jo6pac

    joey b. said nothing will change, he forgot to add for the better. joe has doubled down on all of the trumpseter policies

  4. NotTimothyGeithner

    “and frankly I do not get why Biden has held back on so much of this”

    I love when people admit they learned who Biden was when he became Vice President. At least, Obama had a short record in the shadow of the SS Hillary.

  5. Sawdust

    This guy seems to think the Taliban wouldn’t have bounced right back if we left sooner. Or does that not matter, and all the concern trolling about Afghan women is bogus?

    1. Procopius

      They have never learned anything, starting with the “loss” of China. Despite the emotional attachment of Joseph Alsop and Henry Luce, China was lost by Chiang Kai Shek and the Soong Family, not by us. Ever since 1949, the State Department has appointed people to positions of responsibility who know nothing of the country they are dealing with. Secondly, a first principle is that we must never, never have a plausible strategic goal. No one can explain why we kept troops in Afghanistan or how they chose people to kill or imprison. Over the years there have been so many stories of air strikes on wedding parties, funerals, hospitals, or just the wrong building that I believe them.

  6. Pate

    Isn’t the lesson here that ALL presidents serve the same “interest”. Trump, Biden et al are products for our consumption. Shadows on the wall. Theater. It’s the system not the throne.

    1. Starry Gordon

      It’s been my impression that the U.S. government and ruling class, regardless of which persons or parties were in power, has been rather consistent in policies and actions since at least the early 1940s (as of the Atlantic Charter). It would be most surprising if Biden did follow the program as Trump, Obama, Bush, Clinton, etc. did. Part of the extraordinary animus directed against Trump seemed to derive from a fear that he might not whole-heartedly follow it. It was not very long after Biden was inaugurated that he gladly bent the knee and bombed something, and from upstairs came the huge gust of a breath of relief.

      1. 1 Kings

        Trump bombed Afganistam the first few weeks he was in office. It was ‘the biggest bomb in history’ (non nuke) or something like that.
        It’s a tradition here in the US of A..

    2. Acacia

      Here’s how Putin described it, in an interview with Le Figaro:

      I have already spoken to three US Presidents. They come and go, but politics stay the same at all times. Do you know why? Because of the powerful bureaucracy. When a person is elected, they may have some ideas. Then people with briefcases arrive, well dressed, wearing dark suits, just like mine, except for the red tie, since they wear black or dark blue ones. These people start explaining how things are done. And instantly, everything changes. This is what happens with every administration.

  7. The Rev Kev

    I’m afraid that the good professor is under the illusion that Biden is better than he actually is. Biden is hard neocon as well as a hard neoliberal and in most other countries in the world would be regarded as an extreme right-winger. His actions are basically the Washington consensus. Trump was the aberration as he had no background with the Washington establishment and wouldn’t even give them a no-fly zone over Syria. And Trump only wanted to occupy places where there was something to steal, especially oil. Biden on the other hand follows the Washington consensus and I see that he has just put more sanctions on Cuba. The professor would best to read some history of Afghanistan to get a better handle on what this region is all about.

    1. TBellT

      Which is why it is so surprising Biden stuck with exit. The establishment is crying and in hardcore consent manufacturing mode trying to convince us all it was wrong. It’s a moment of rare lucidity from Biden and I feel like I’m going crazy as partisans in my life on both sides act like it was the wrong move.

  8. Alex Cox

    The author is silly. Do they really not know why the US stayed in Afghanistan for 20 years? Have they not heard of … Drugs?

    But the premise – that Biden’s foreign policy of sanctions and B52 bombing raids is a continuation of Trump’s – is sadly true, and could have been more comprehensively developed.

  9. Randy G

    “The United States of Amnesia.” Gore Vidal

    The Taliban are not exactly the ideal of enlightened humanists, but they are the godchildren of the U.S. Empire — so there is some schadenfreude in seeing them overrun the latest American colonial project like fire ants swarming the carcass of a dead wharf rat.

    The Taliban, in fact, have been ‘legitimated’ by the Empire thanks to their indefatigable 20-year resistance to the occupation by the U.S. and its NATO lackeys. Tragically, there is no other legitimate force in Afghanistan, and the Taliban triumph is baked in.

    Suddenly, however, this realization has engendered an outpouring of hand-wringing over the fate of girls and women in Afghanistan by apologists for U.S. ‘foreign policy’ — including Professor Rosser, who backed the original invasion from his academic perch in Virginia, but is now annoyed with his President.

    Have they forgotten the role of the U.S. in supporting the Mujahadeen/Taliban in order to destroy the pro-Soviet regime in Afghanistan — a regime that was committed to educating and ‘empowering’ women?

    In fact, ‘liberating’ women and modernizing Afghanistan as a secular state were the primary outrages that drove the Mujahadeen in the civil war.

    Doesn’t anyone remember that the Mujahadeen, the forefathers of the Taliban, are “freedom fighters”? That Ronald Reagan armed and supported them, even posing with them in 1983, and Hollywood celebrated them with big stars Tom Hanks and Julia Roberts in the movie, ‘Charlie Wilson’s War’. What’s not to love about reactionary Islamicists?

    The CIA funneled billions and modern weapons to the cause. And for Zbigniew Brzezinski, the important thing was giving the Soviet Union a “Vietnam” — and the women of Afghanistan were not even worth a footnote.

    Brzezinski sneered at anyone who thought that the Taliban were of importance versus the project of undermining the Soviet Union.

    And the aid to the Mujahadeen to destroy the pro-Soviet, ‘woman coddling’ regime in Kabul began 6-months before the occupation/invasion by the Soviet Union — not in reaction to it. In fact, the point was to catalyze a Soviet response.

    U.S. foreign policy “elites” are highly selective in their ‘feminism’ — not only ignoring the repressive brutality of allies such as Saudi Arabia — but perfectly content to see women slaughtered by the hundreds of thousands if not millions in their wars in Iraq and Syria, etc.

    In Saddam’s Iraq, which I visited extensively, women were educated as doctors and professors and artists, and were much better off than they are today — although the new Constitution supposedly gives them equal rights. And no that doesn’t mean Saddam was a nice fellow; it means the Empire is all about power and propaganda, and not about improving the lives of women. This is bunkum for the gullible.

  10. Michael

    I certainly am willing to give adding to the list a shot:

    Venezuela. Cuba. Nicaragua. Honduras. Any given country in Africa where the United States has an interest. I presume expanding NATO (Ukraine, Georgia). I have not seen these mentioned yet, probably because they are not so clearly or tangentially related to this decade’s apparent hero/underdog du jour.

    Some clarifications and corrections are, however, also in order:


    The reluctance to rejoin the JCPOA is more about the UAE – who view any rapprochement with Iran as a threat – and their inclination to grant China yet another potential naval base in the Indian Ocean, rather than Trumpian fundamentalist ignorance or defense contractor profits.

    The former requires keeping the Emiratis happy with American policies in the region. The latter are well-appointed regardless, given the market for cohort signaling and war continues to outstrip the demand for common sense and peace.


    As to Afghanistan itself, who would have ever expected a corrupt and incompetent nation-state would foster another corrupt, incompetent nation-state?

    The Taliban were overthrown but never eliminated. The latter would have required a genocidal campaign against Pashtu peoples in two nations. Is that what the author wanted?

    Regarding the question of the social impacts (i.e. women): the trend in the Islamic world has been towards conservatism for a long time – much longer than 20 years and arguably having little to do with outside influences from the last one hundred or so years.* The United States did nothing to arrest that because no nation can.

    The Taliban, for all their faults (and there are several), brought a level of society – laws, ordering of meta-personal relations, etc – to Afghanistan that was missing in the aftermath of the Soviet withdrawal. At some point, they might be replaced by another group our sensibilities find more appealing. Leaving the country can only accelerate such an outcome, and I do not care who finally finds the exit.


    Finally, it really is the height of Anglo-American exceptionalism to believe everything – occasionally good, generally bad, and rarely indifferent – emanates from and revolves around the Anglo-American world. It is probably tolerable in small doses, but is it really healthy on a near daily basis?

    * The trend towards conservatism in Islam can be better traced to the Mongol conquests, which quite literally shattered a cosmopolitan Islamic society, and the subsequent rise of the Turkish Ottomans who carried a more conservative (they would have said pure) “brand” of Islam to the region. The Iberian Reconquista also did not help matters any.

    1. BillS

      The instability of Afghanistan has little to do with Islam and everything to do with the clannish independence of mountain people. Mountain people do not like outsiders telling them what to do!

      Military colleges should integrate the dictum “Leave mountain people alone” into their curricula alongside “Do not fight a land war in Asia.”

  11. Sound of the Suburbs

    We are going to have to halt the production lines.
    The warehouses are full of bombs, there is no more room.
    We need another war.

    Not again.
    Who can we bomb now?

    When you have a large defence industry, you need war to use up the output from the defence industry.
    You know it makes sense!

  12. Andrew

    The US admin never gave up on Bin Laden. They had him down to a square mile in 2001 but the troops on the ground were blocked in their attempts to get him by those higher up the command chain (accordimg to Scott Horton from Bin Laden was like the Emmanuel Goldstein character from 1984, more useful alive than dead, a convenient boogeyman to conjure up every now and again when needed. After all, if he’d been apprehended in 2001 that would have nipped the burgeoning WOT in the bud and crimped future MIC profits and Bush & Cheney’s plans, and we couldn’t have that, could we?

    1. drumlin woodchuckles

      In other words, bin Laden did not escape from Tora Bora any more than Jeffrey Epstein committed suicide in jail.

      bin Laden was “escaped” from Tora Bora just as Jeffrey Epstein was “suicided” in jail.

    2. Basil Pesto

      That’s a pretty unconvincing argument. It was the war on terror, not the war on al-qaeda or osama bin laden. The idea that killing him would have made an otherwise fairly pliable nation refuse to go along with the war on terror concept is hard to believe; one can imagine the Cheneyean “this war is not yet over” speeches that would have followed.

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