United States: Biden’s foreign policy no break with the past

United States President Joe Biden has made clear that the longstanding US policy of unequivocal support of Israel would not change. Photo: Wikimedia Commons

Enough has emerged to begin to see the outlines of United States President Joe Biden’s foreign policy in key areas.

In the Middle East, there have been interrelated steps taken by the administration on Iran, Saudi Arabia, Yemen, Palestine and Israel.

Iran

During his election campaign, Biden promised to “build upon” former president Barack Obama’s 2015 Iran nuclear deal.

The deal was struck with Iran, the five other permanent members of the United Nations Security Council (China, France, Germany, Russia and Britain) and the European Union, and was adhered to by all sides.

Former president Donald Trump unilaterally pulled the US out of the agreement — a slap in the face to the other signatories — and imposed new sanctions on Iran that have further crippled its economy.

These include secondary sanctions applied to other countries that seek to trade with Iran and a ban on COVID-19 vaccines developed by Western countries.

In response, Iran stepped up its nuclear program, carefully avoiding weapons-grade enrichment.

Biden’s choice of words: “build upon” and not “return to” gave away his intentions.

Biden’s secretary of state, Antony Blinken, has rejected lifting Trump’s sanctions, making it clear there will be no return to the 2015 deal.

The point was driven home by the recent US bombing of an Iranian backed base in Syria, which torpedoed a proposed international conference to discuss the sanctions.

The bombing was ostensibly in retaliation for an attack on US forces in Iraq by an Iranian backed militia. No US soldiers were harmed, while 22 militia members were killed in the bombing

Iran wants the Trump sanctions to be lifted, but is not actively seeking the lifting of the many sanctions Washington has imposed on the country since the 1979 Revolution, which threw out the US-backed Shah and declared independence from US dominance.

However, Blinken is demanding that Iran give up its missile program before any sanctions are lifted. The US knows full well that Iran will never do this, as long as US warships patrol the coast, US bases are stationed nearby, Israel poses a nuclear threat, and Saudi Arabia threatens Iran with its US–strengthened arsenal.

The US and Israel are intent on “regime change” in Iran and installing a regime that is friendly to Washington and Jerusalem.

Saudi Arabia and Yemen

Part of this policy has been the formation of an anti-Iran military alliance, made up of the US, Israel, Saudi Arabia and the United Arab Emirates (UAE). Egypt’s harsh dictatorship is ostensibly neutral, but politically leans towards this alliance.

Biden promised to pull back US support for the Saudi-UAE war against Yemen, which has created the world’s worst humanitarian crisis, and tarnished Washington’s reputation.

Saudi Arabia says it is attacking the Houthi-led government in much of Yemen because the Houthis are an offshoot of Shia Islam and, therefore, an “Iranian threat”.

The Houthi rebellion that took the capital, Sanaa, was not orchestrated by Iran, but grew out of conditions in Yemen. Ironically, the Saudi-led war has driven the Houthis into closer collaboration with Iran, out of necessity.

Biden has said he will no longer supply the Saudis with “offensive” weapons such as guided missiles — beyond the huge amount already supplied — but only “defensive” weapons to guard their “sovereignty”.

The Obama-Biden administration used this kind of verbal obfuscation to get into the war in the first place. Obama gave the Saudis the green light to start the war and prevent aid to the starving population, and gave the regime the latest weapons to conduct the war.

Will the US continue to provide the Saudis with intelligence on which targets to bomb? Will it still refuel Saudi planes en route to their bombing runs? Will it demand that the bombing of Houthi civilians be stopped?

What the US certainly will not do is declare a no-fly zone over Yemen to stop the genocide by its ally Saudi Arabia, airlift food and medicine into Yemen and distribute it to all Yemenis who need it, regardless of faction.

Biden also promised to hold to account whoever was responsible for the murder of Saudi journalist and critic Jamal Khashoggi in the Saudi consulate in Turkey in October 2018.

Biden released a report by US intelligence agencies that places responsibility on Saudi Crown Prince, Mohamed bin Salman (aka “Mr Bone Saw”, MBS). Not a big surprise, since that is already known around the world.

However, Biden took no action against MBS, who is the de facto head of the Saudi government. The reason given by the State Department is that Saudi Arabia is “too important an ally against Iran”.

Israel

Biden has also made clear that the longstanding US policy of unequivocal support of Israel would not change. In the 2019 fiscal year, the US provided $3.8 billion in military aid to Israel. It also guaranteed about $8 billion in loans.

Almost all US aid to Israel is now military.

Biden even upheld Trump’s relocation of the US embassy to Jerusalem, which was widely denounced at the time as tightly shutting the door on any “two-state” solution.

However, such a “solution” was never going to be implemented. For the past 54 years, Israel has been a single state with borders extending from the Mediterranean Sea to Jordon. Moreover, it is an apartheid state that rules over the Palestinians in the West Bank and Gaza, who have no rights.

Trump and Biden have given formal approval to that fact.

When the International Criminal Court (ICC) recently decided to investigate war crimes committed by the Israelis and the Palestinians, only two countries objected – Israel and the US.

Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu denounced the ICC as “anti-Semitic”, which is how Israel characterises any criticism of itself, including by Jews.

Biden has also not said a word about Israel’s racist refusal to vaccinate Palestinians in the West Bank and Gaza against COVID-19 (except for allowing 2000 doses in — a tiny fraction of the population). At the same time, Israel is vaccinating Jewish settlements in those areas.

The UN’s human rights body released a statement saying it is Israel’s responsibility to provide Palestinians with equitable access to the vaccine under the Geneva Conventions.

Venezuela and Cuba

While Biden’s nominee for secretary of state, Blinken told the US Senate in January that the administration would continue to support opposition figure, Juan Guaido, as Venezuela’s president. Blinken said the US would talk only to Guaido and not to elected President Nicolas Maduro.

The European Union decided in January that it no longer recognises Guaido as president.

The anti-Maduro opposition initially supported Guaido as “interim president” in 2019. Guaido proposed schemes to have the military oust Maduro from power, which failed miserably. Most of the opposition turned against him as a result.

Why is Washington still backing Guaido, when he no longer has any significant support in the country?

The Maduro government is more stable due to the failure of Guido’s shenanigans.

Blinken back-tracked a bit, but had a “long conversation” with Guaido over the future of Venezuela.

The Biden administration says it will continue to support Trump’s sanctions imposed on Venezuela, which have further crippled the country, causing great hardship.

Trump’s sanctions came on top of those introduced by Obama in 2015.

Washington claims the poor state of the Venezuelan economy is the result of Maduro’s “bad management” and/or “socialism”.

In the past, economic sanctions imposed by one country upon another would be considered an act of war. Today, if any country dared to successfully impose sanctions on the US, it would launch a military attack against them.

But, since the end of WWII, the unquestioned military superiority of the US underlies the freedom with which Washington imposes sanctions on whomever it wishes, with impunity.

Further, the status of the US dollar as the world’s reserve currency, and the dominant international position of its Federal Reserve Bank forces other countries to go along with Washington’s sanctions.

Whatever lying excuse the US gives for imposing sanctions — to “further democracy” or “protect individual freedom” — the real reason is to protect US imperialist interests.

During his election campaign, Biden promised to “build upon” Obama’s opening up towards Cuba, which Trump torpedoed. At the end of his term, Trump’s Secretary of State Mike Pompeo put Cuba on Washington’s list of “terrorist states”, because Cuba “supports Venezuela”.

The administration avoids saying whether it will remove Cuba from this list, with the excuse that “it takes a long time” to study the question — although Pompeo put Cuba on the list in one afternoon.

Given how Trump has dealt with his promises about Iran, and his administration’s stated goal of regime change in Venezuela and Cuba, we should be skeptical that Biden will make any substantial change to the long-standing US economic embargo against Cuba, even if it lifts other restrictions.

Will Biden even repeal Trump’s additional sanctions? Or will he demand that Cuba break with Venezuela first?

What is clear is that Biden is not going to even discuss Cuba for a long time.

Foreign policy under Biden, in these instances, is a continuation of that under previous Republican and Democratic administrations: take war-like actions against “enemies” while coddling “allies”.

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