As we move further away from the Trump era, a time many would like to forget, especially its final terrufying year, a palpable feeling of disappointment with the current U.S. president and administration hangs like a dark cloud over the Democratic party.
Ambitious proposals regarding climate change, student loan debt forgiveness, universal pre-kindergarten and so many others have not been watered down as might be expected, but seemingly abandoned. This is not just due to Republican opposition but in large part to public resistance from some in President Biden’s own party like Senators Manchin (WV) and Sinema (AZ).
Even more alarming, a far right majority Supreme Court has created what could be a decades long reactionary legacy for former President Trump, already overturning established precedents like Roe v. Wade and effectively stripping the Environmental Protection Agency of its enforcement powers in terms of emissions from power plants as a climate catastrophe unfolds.
This may seem like an exclusively American problem but, even without climate change in the mix, for better or worse, U.S. politics have global implications and the country leads the way on many things, often to the good in terms of slow moving social change. It’s also the world’s preeminent military and economic power, able to use both carrots and sticks to enforce the will of its leadership and wealthy ruling class around the globe, especially in poorer nations.
In a recent opinion piece for Alternet, writer Noah Berlatsky made an interesting point that might give progressives something positive to point to in turbulent times: the Biden Administration’s seeming turn away from the militarism that has defined U.S. foreign policy in the 21st century.
Although it was met with panic from interventionists on both sides of the political spectrum, the withdrawal from Afghanistan last summer ended the country’s longest war, a conflict that cost America and its allies dearly in both blood and treasure, not to mention civilian Afghan lives.
It’s undeniable that the pull out was chaotic and marred by multiple further tragedies but this is not unique in the history of war. In fact, the scenes from late last August don’t just remind us of archival footage of the end of the Vietnam War 50 years ago but the Soviet withdrawal from Afghanistan in 1989.
While the end of any war should be celebrated, Berlatsky doesn’t mention that the suffering in Afghanistan has in many ways intensified due to a cruel sanctions regime unlikely to change the Taliban government but sure to punish ordinary Afghans including children, who will go hungry as a result.
Economic sanctions remain a main tool of U.S. and its allies’ foreign policy even though they have failed to produce anything but hardship for working people from Venezuela and Cuba to Iran to North Korea, whatever one thinks of the leadership in these very different countries.
Another area where the Biden Administration has pulled back from the militarism of its predecessors is in the use of drone strikes, which, though it was rarely seen as newsworthy at the time, increased exponentially during the Trump presidency.
As Berlatsky reported in his piece, “An international monitoring group concluded that strikes fell 54 percent in Biden’s first year compared to Trump’s last one. Most of those were in Afghanistan before the US withdrawal. Outside of Afghanistan, the US carried out only 67 strikes altogether.”
Democratic voters should be encouraging him to bring this number down even further but will not do so if they don’t even know about it.
While Donald Trump argued against ‘forever wars’ while campaigning, the numbers of drone strikes during his time in office show that this wasn’t because of any moral qualms about the damage inflicted in places like Somalia. By limiting such strikes and removing troops from both Syria and Iraq the Biden Administration is cautiously doing more to rein in American militarism than his predecessor.
The only major conflict initiated during President Biden’s time in office has been in Ukraine and Russian rather than American hubris is entirely to blame for it.
This all leads to one question: if the Biden Administration has successfully pulled away from the unpopular and unwinnable ‘War on Terror’, why aren’t they taking credit for it and winning over the segment of the U.S. population that might rally behind him for doing so?
Part of the problem may be that the administration seem to have the least competent communications team and strategy in modern times. The vice president is a gaffe machine if in a different way from the president and the Secretary of State is, publicly at least, a non-entity. I was deeply critical of Pete Buttigieg during the 2020 primaries but he is the only cabinet member who has impressed me in his media appearances, including a recent one on Fox News.
Further, most of the press will not report on steps to promote peace or diplomacy as conflict, especially in far away places, is seen as a better way to draw eyeballs and clicks. If this administration fails to highlight its successes in foreign policy it could harm the party’s chances in the upcoming midterms and in 2024, whether President Biden runs for a second term or not.