Menu Close

Why Joe Biden is a foreign policy failure

Share This Article:

Picture: Drew Angerer / Getty Images via AFP / Taken on January 25, 2021 – US President Joe Biden signs an executive order related to American manufacturing in the South Court Auditorium of the White House complex on January 25, 2021 in Washington, DC. Only an exceptional president could resist the endless war-profiteering of this mammoth war machine; alas, Biden doesn’t even try.

By Jeffrey D Sachs

When it comes to foreign policy, the president of the United States has two essential roles. The first is to rein in the military-industrial complex, or MIC, which is always pushing for war. The second is to rein in US allies that expect the US to go to war on their behalf. A few savvy presidents succeed, but most fail. Joe Biden is certainly a failure.

One of the savviest presidents was Dwight Eisenhower. In late 1956, he confronted two simultaneous crises. The first was a disastrously misguided war launched by the United Kingdom, France, and Israel to overthrow the Egyptian government and retake control of the Suez Canal following its nationalisation by Egypt. Eisenhower forced the allies to stop their brazen and illegal attack, including through a US-sponsored United Nations General Assembly resolution. The second crisis was the Hungarian Uprising against Soviet domination of Hungary. While Eisenhower sympathised with the uprising, he wisely kept the US out of Hungary and thereby avoided a dangerous military showdown with the Soviet Union.

Eisenhower’s historic farewell address to the American people in January 1961 alerted the public to the growing power of the MIC:

In the councils of government, we must guard against the acquisition of unwarranted influence, whether sought or unsought, by the military-industrial complex. The potential for the disastrous rise of misplaced power exists and will persist. We must never let the weight of this combination endanger our liberties or democratic processes. We should take nothing for granted. Only an alert and knowledgeable citizenry can compel the proper meshing of the huge industrial and military machinery of defence with our peaceful methods and goals, so that security and liberty may prosper together.

Even Eisenhower did not fully rein in the military-industrial complex, especially the Central Intelligence Agency. No president has done so entirely. The CIA was created in 1947 with two distinct roles. The first and valid one was as an intelligence agency. The second and disastrous one was as a covert army for the president. In the latter capacity, the CIA has led one calamitous failure after another from Eisenhower’s time till now, including coups, assassinations, and stage-managed “colour revolutions”, all of which have produced endless havoc and destruction.

Following Eisenhower, John F Kennedy brilliantly resolved the 1962 Cuban Missile Crisis, narrowly avoiding nuclear Armageddon by facing down his own war-mongering advisers to reach a peaceful solution with the Soviet Union. The following year he successfully negotiated the Partial Nuclear Test Ban Treaty with the Soviet Union, over Pentagon objections, and then won Senate ratification, thereby pulling the US and Soviet Union back from the brink of war. Many believe that Kennedy’s peace initiatives led to his assassination at the hands of rogue CIA officials. Biden has joined the long line of presidents who have kept classified or redacted thousands of documents that would shed more light on the assassination.

Sixty years onward, the MIC has an iron grip on American foreign policy. As I’ve recently described, foreign policy has become an insider racket, with the MIC in control of the White House, Pentagon, State Department, the Armed Services Committees of the Congress, and of course the CIA, all in a tight embrace with the major arms contractors. Only an exceptional president could resist the endless war-profiteering of this mammoth war machine.

Alas, Biden doesn’t even try. Throughout his long political career, Biden has been supported by the MIC and has in turn enthusiastically supported wars of choice, massive arms sales, CIA-backed coups, and Nato enlargement.

America foreign policy is rudderless, with a president whose only foreign policy recipe is war.

Biden’s 2024 military budget breaks all records, reaching at least $1.5 trillion in outlays for the Pentagon, CIA, homeland security, non-Pentagon nuclear arms programmes, subsidised foreign weapons sales, other military-linked outlays, and interest payments on past war-related debts. On top of this mountain of military spending, Biden is seeking an additional $50 billion in “emergency supplemental funding” for America’s “defence industrial base” to keep shipping munitions to Ukraine and Israel.

Biden doesn’t have any realistic plans for Ukraine, and even rejected a peace agreement between Russia and Ukraine in March 2022 that would have ended the conflict based on Ukrainian neutrality by ending Ukraine’s futile bid to join Nato (futile because Russia will never accept it). Ukraine is big business for the MIC — tens and potentially hundreds of billions of dollars of arms contracts, manufacturing facilities across the US, the opportunity to develop and test new weapons systems — so Biden keeps the war going despite the destruction of Ukraine on the battlefield, and the tragic and needless deaths of hundreds of thousands of Ukrainians. The MIC, and hence Biden, continue to shun negotiations, even though direct US-Russia negotiations regarding Nato and other security issues (such as US missile placements in Eastern Europe) could end the war.

In Israel, Biden’s failure is even more on display. Israel is led by an extremist government that reviles the two-state solution, according to which Israelis and Palestinians should live side by side in two sovereign peaceful and secure states, or indeed any solution that grants Palestinians their political rights. The two-state solution is deeply embedded in international law, including UN Security Council and General Assembly resolutions and supposedly in US foreign policy. The Arab and Islamic leaders are committed to normalising and securing safe relations with Israel in the context of the two-state solution.

Yet Israel is led by violent zealots who make the messianic claim that God has given Israel all the land of today’s Palestine, including the West Bank, Gaza, and East Jerusalem. These zealots therefore insist on political domination over the millions of Palestinians in their midst, or their annihilation or expulsion. Netanyahu and his colleagues don’t even hide their genocidal intentions, though most foreign observers don’t fully understand the biblical references that the Israeli leaders invoke to justify their ongoing mass slaughter of the Palestinian people.

Israel now faces highly credible charges of genocide in the International Court of Justice in a case brought by South Africa. The documentary record presented by South Africa and others is as clear as it is chilling. Israeli politics is not the politics of pragmatism and certainly not the politics of peace. It is the politics of biblical apocalypse.

Biden nonetheless provides Israel with the munitions to carry out its massive war crimes. Instead of acting like Eisenhower and pressing Israel to end its slaughter in contravention of international law including the Genocide Convention, Biden continues to ship munitions, even bypassing congressional review to the maximum extent he can. The result is US diplomatic isolation from the rest of the world, and the growing involvement of the US military in a war that is rapidly and all-too-predictably expanding across Lebanon, Syria, Iraq, Iran, and Yemen. In the recent UN General Assembly vote backing political self-determination for the people of Palestine, the US and Israel stood alone save two votes: Micronesia (bound by compact to vote with the US) and Nauru (population 12,000).

America foreign policy is rudderless, with a president whose only foreign policy recipe is war. With the US already up to its neck in the wars in Ukraine and the Middle East, Biden also intends to ship more arms to Taiwan despite China’s strident objections that the US is thereby violating long-standing US commitments to the One-China policy, including the commitment made 42 years ago in the US-PRC Joint Communique that the US government “does not seek to carry out a long-term policy of arms sales to Taiwan”. Eisenhower’s dire prophecy has been confirmed. The military-industrial complex threatens our liberty, our democracy, and our very survival.

Jeffrey D Sachs is a University Professor and Director of the Centre for Sustainable Development at Columbia University, where he directed The Earth Institute from 2002 until 2016. He is also President of the UN Sustainable Development Solutions Network and a commissioner of the UN Broadband Commission for Development. He has been advisor to three United Nations Secretaries-General, and currently serves as an SDG Advocate under Secretary-General Antonio Guterres.

This article was published on Common Dreams