The 2020 presidential election is here. Americans are turning out in record numbers to vote, with pre-election voting surpassing two-thirds of the number of all ballots cast in 2016. The country is divided, and the two major-party candidates are presented as starkly different options. But one thing Donald Trump and Joe Biden have in common is their admiration for the US empire, and both candidates have plans to keep the war machine chugging along.
Comparing the foreign policy of a second Trump term to a new Biden administration is tough. There are certain areas where Trump is marginally better, and there are areas where a Biden administration could be better.
Afghanistan is one place where Trump seems superior to Biden. Although Trump dropped a record number of bombs on Afghanistan in 2018 and 2019, the US-Taliban peace deal signed in February paved the way for a complete US withdrawal by Spring 2021. The timing of the withdrawal means Trump could reverse the plan after being elected for a second term, but he seems committed to ending this one war. Biden, on the other hand, said in an interview with Stars and Stripes in September that he cannot promise a full withdrawal from Afghanistan and that he favors keeping a small troop presence in the country.
Biden said the same for Syria and Iraq in the Stripes interview, two other countries Trump has said he would like to get out of. Regarding Syria, Trump failed miserably to follow through on a withdrawal and decided to stay in the country to "secure" the oil. Besides the criminality of occupying a sovereign country to steal its resources, the small US occupation force risks confrontation with Russia. With Syrian President Bashar al-Assad being a favorite enemy of the Democratic establishment, it’s possible the number of US troops in the Syria could increase under a Biden administration.
In Iraq, the US recently announced its plan to draw down troops from 5,200 to 3,000. Trump says he wants a full withdrawal from the country, where US troops are no longer welcome since the assassination of Iranian Gen. Qasem Soleimani. Iraq’s parliament voted unanimously to expel US troops after Trump’s enormous provocation towards Iran that brought the region to the brink of a major new war. Trump’s Iran policy clashes with his desire to withdraw from Iraq. It’s likely the Iran hawks driving the "maximum pressure" campaign would not want to give up bases in Iraq, which could serve as a launchpad for attacks against Iran.
Iran is one area where Biden could be much better than Trump. The "maximum pressure" campaign against the Islamic Republic has been disastrous and shows no sign of waning. Biden has said he would work with Iran to restore the 2015 Iran nuclear deal, a foreign policy achievement of the Obama administration.
Recent comments from Senator Bob Menendez (D-NJ) suggest Biden will face pressure from both Republicans and Democrats to try to make a tougher deal with Iran. Menendez said Biden should seek an agreement that further restricts Iran’s nuclear and military capabilities, something Tehran would never agree to before sanctions relief. Biden will also face pressure from Israel to be tough on Iran.
Some believe Biden is the most pro-Israel presidential nominee ever from either side of the aisle. President Trump has arguably been the most pro-Israel president of all time, recognizing Jerusalem as the country’s capital, recognizing Israeli sovereignty over the Golan Heights, changing US policy to no longer consider Jewish settlements in the West Bank illegal, and the so-called "Vision for Peace" that would essentially formalize apartheid rule over Palestinians.
Biden says he opposes Israeli annexation of the West Bank, but there’s no reason to believe he would reverse any of Trump’s policies, like moving the US embassy to Jerusalem, something Biden said he would not change. As far annexation, the Israelis have decided to hold off on annexing portions of the West Bank allocated to them in Trump’s plan and are going back to the slower, more politically palatable form of annexation, through settlements, something Biden would probably not interfere with.
Perhaps the worst stain on the Trump administration is the war in Yemen. President Trump chose to continue this genocidal war in April 2019, when he vetoed a war powers resolution passed by Congress that called for an end to US military involvement in Yemen. The president did it again in July 2019, when he vetoed three separate resolutions that would have banned US arms sales to Saudi Arabia. Experts agree, if the US cuts off support for the Saudis in Yemen, the war would quickly come to an end.
Joe Biden has repeatedly said he would end US support for the war in Yemen. "Under a Biden-Harris administration, we will reassess our relationship with the Kingdom, end US support for Saudi Arabia’s war in Yemen, and make sure America does not check its values at the door to sell arms or buy oil," the former vice president said in a statement on the anniversary of Jamal Khashosggi’s death.
President Trump also significantly escalated the war against al-Qaeda in Yemen and carried out more ground and air operations in the country than the administrations of George W. Bush and Barack Obama combined. Trump also broke records in Somalia. The first seven months of 2020 saw more US airstrikes on the African country than under Bush and Obama combined. With virtually no opposition in Washington to the drone war against al-Shabab in Somalia, the Biden administration would likely continue the campaign.
There’s no telling which candidate would be worse on Russia and China. Despite every liberal news outlet saying otherwise, President Trump has been extremely hawkish on Russia. One area where Biden outshines Trump with respect to Moscow is arms control treaties. The Trump administration has withdrawn from the Intermediate-Range Nuclear Forces Treaty, which banned medium-range missiles, and the Open Skies Treaty, which allowed unarmed aerial surveillance between its signatories.
The New START is the last nuclear arms control treaty between the US and Russia and will expire in February 2021. Russia has repeatedly offered to extend the agreement for five years with no preconditions, but the Trump administration is demanding more and seems to be intentionally sabotaging the vital treaty. If the New START expires, there will be no constraint on the US and Russia’s nuclear arsenal for the first time in decades, setting up a new nuclear arms race, something the Trump administration seems prepared for. Biden’s policy plan says he will pursue the extension of New START and use it as a foundation for new arms control treaties. Despite being better on arms control, Biden would still be a Russia hawk. In an interview with 60 Minutes in October, Biden identified Russia as the greatest national security threat to the US and said China is Washington’s greatest competitor.
In the wake of the coronavirus pandemic, the Trump administration’s hawkish China policies have been thrown into hyper-drive. The US has increased its military presence in the Indo-Pacific, frequently sending warships into the South China Sea and flying spy planes near China’s coast. Although they got bogged down in the Middle East, the Obama administration started the "pivot to Asia," and a Biden administration would likely continue boosting the US military presence in the region.
One of the Trump administration’s most embarrassing failures is its Venezuela policy, which Trump appointed washed up neocon Elliot Abrams to run. Since January 2019, the US has recognized Juan Guaido as the president of Venezuela, despite Nicolas Maduro still holding power in Caracas. Guaido’s coup attempts were utter failures, and the crippling economic sanctions on the country have done nothing but made the civilian population suffer. Democrats criticize Trump for his Venezuela policy, not for the harm it does to the people, but because it failed to depose Maduro.
Another disgraceful thing about the Trump administration is the attempt to prosecute WikiLeaks founder Julian Assange for exposing US war crimes. On the campaign trail in 2016, Trump praised WikiLeaks for exposing corruption in the DNC. After Assange was arrested in the UK, Trump said he knew "nothing" about WikiLeaks.
The British judge presiding over Assange’s extradition case is expected to make a decision in January 2021. This author has little faith that Joe Biden would drop the charges against Assange since he has previously likened the WikiLeaks founder to a "hi-tech terrorist." It’s clear Biden does not consider Assange to be a journalist.
Unfortunately, the issues listed above are far down on the list of priorities for Americans today. Throughout the pandemic, the civil unrest, and the antics surrounding the election, the drones have continued to buzz, the bombs continued to fall, and the sanctions continued to strangle economies. While these crimes committed by the empire are just background noise to the subjects living within the 50 states, they are absolutely everything to the people affected.
It’s tough to blame Americans for their lack of awareness of their country’s murderous foreign policy. The corporate press ignores the atrocities going on overseas and amplifies the skirmishes on the streets of the US between people with opposing political views. It’s easy to keep people unaware of the mass-murder funded by their tax dollars on the other side of the world while they are fighting with each other.
The lack of concern over US foreign policy was put on stark display by the two presidential debates. The two men auditioning to control the military of the largest empire in the history of the world didn’t even have to tell the voters what they plan to do with it. The best the candidates could muster up was some tough talk on Russia and China, and Biden criticized one of the few good things Trump did in his term – meeting with North Korea’s Kim Jong-un.
For these reasons, it is more important than ever for independent media outlets like Antiwar.com to continue to shine a light on the crimes of the empire, even when so few care. We can guarantee that no matter who wins on Tuesday, we will cover their foreign policy critically. And if by some freak chance Libertarian Party candidate Jo Jorgensen wins, we will not rest until she fulfills her plan to withdraw US troops from every foreign country.
While our staff might celebrate Trump’s declarations to bring the troops home and is hopeful Biden would end the war in Yemen, we are under no illusions. The major-party options this year are this: An incumbent president who campaigned on ending "endless war" but has only escalated them or a lifelong politician who led the charge in the Senate to give George W Bush his invasion of Iraq and now lies about it. Antiwar.com needs your help to cover the interventionist foreign policy of whichever candidate wins on Tuesday. Consider making a donation today, and spread the word. Tell your friends and family about us and help make Washington’s imperialist wars part of the national conversation.
Dave DeCamp is the assistant news editor of Antiwar.com and is based in Richmond, VA. Follow him on Twitter @decampdave.