On September 21, President Biden addressed the United Nations General Assembly for the first time. His speech was a confusing combination of boasts followed by lines that refuted those boasts.
Here is an attempt to decode some of the biggest confusions.
We Are Not Seeking a New Cold War
Biden made the claim that America is neither "seeking a new Cold War" nor trying to divide the world up "into rigid blocks." He then made at least seven statements that refuted that claim.
He referred to the US as a hegemon, or at least a superpower, when he referred to "the commitment of my new administration to help lead the world." His very next statement was that the US is "fixing our eyes" on the key challenges of the future, including "managing the shifts in global power dynamics." "Managing" is a euphemism, and "shifts in global power dynamics" is an allusion to China. The two combined equal the very Cold War that Biden denies he is seeking.
Biden continued his coded threats of Cold War with China when he spoke of "renewing and defending democracy." His political philosophy claim that "government by and for the people is still the best way to deliver for all of our people" sounds expected and harmless from an American president until you decode it by remembering that Biden recently framed the new Cold War battle as “a battle between the utility of democracies in the 21st century and autocracies.” Our “children or grandchildren," he said, "are going to be doing their doctoral thesis on the issue of who succeeded, autocracy or democracy.”
In case anyone missed the coded allusion, Biden provided the key to refuting his own claim when he said that the US is turning "our focus to the priorities and the regions of the world, like the Indo-Pacific, that are most consequential today and tomorrow." The US will do that, by the way, "with our allies and partners," though the Biden administration is "not seeking . . . a world divided into rigid blocs." Biden does not want to divide the world into blocs, but he has "prioritized rebuilding our alliances, revitalizing our partnerships, and recognizing they’re essential and central to America’s enduring security and prosperity." No more blocs, but America has "reaffirmed our sacred NATO Alliance to Article 5 commitment." Article 5 is the collective defense article that means that "an attack against one Ally is considered as an attack against all Allies."
Though Biden says he is not seeking Cold War style blocs, he simultaneously
boasts that he has "elevated the Quad partnership among Australia, India,
Japan, and the United States," a partnership whose purpose is to counter
China. Biden might also have mentioned the new AUKUS alliance between the US,
UK and Australia, which the White House defined
as "an enhanced trilateral security partnership." AUKUS will "foster
deeper integration of security and defense-related science, technology, industrial
bases, and supply chains. And in particular, we will significantly deepen cooperation
on a range of security and defense capabilities." Its first way of promoting
"deeper information and technology sharing" is to provide Australia
with nuclear-powered submarines whose only advantage is that they
are superior for offensive attacks and not defensive needs.
We Are Opening a New Era of Relentless Diplomacy
Biden says that his is the era of diplomacy. But his diplomacy with China has been the diplomacy of provocation in Taiwan punctuated by military provocation. His promised diplomacy in Cuba has been absent. There has been no diplomacy in Venezuela. In Ukraine, diplomacy comes wrapped in a package of $60 million of security assistance. The easy diplomacy in Iran is on hold, and the Middle East is not even on the horizon.
Artificial Intelligence and Cyberattacks
Biden promised a world of safe technology. "As new technologies continue to evolve, we’ll work together with our democratic partners to ensure that new advances in areas from biotechnology, to quantum computing, 5G, artificial intelligence, and more are used to lift people up, to solve problems, and advance human freedom – not to suppress dissent or target minority communities." He added that his administration is "working to establish clear rules of the road for all nations as it relates to cyberspace." Except for them.
The US has participated in cyber attacks on Iran’s civilian nuclear facilities. And lest you think America has outgrown its flirtation with cyber attacks and artificial intelligence, new reporting by the New York Times has established that the Israeli assassination of Iran’s Mohsen Fakhrizadeh was carried out by the very latest in artificial intelligence, a "straight-out-of-science-fiction . . . high-tech, computerized sharpshooter kitted out with artificial intelligence . . . operated via satellite." The 2020 remote-controlled robot killing was approved by the Trump administration.
Brazenly, Biden promised a world where every country has the right to access to global trade: "We will pursue new rules of global trade and economic growth that strive to level the playing field so that it’s not artificially tipped in favor of any one country at the expense of others and every nation has a right and the opportunity to compete fairly." Every country except the at least nineteen who are currently under US sanctions.
US sanctions have cost Cuba over $130 billion. In Venezuela, US sanctions have killed an estimated 40,000 people. And, despite the promise of diplomacy, Biden has insistently continued these sanctions. American sanctions are a key means of denying nations the "right and the opportunity to compete fairly."
Biden assured the world that the US would continue "support for arms control measures." But, in violation of their Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty (NPT) promise to "pursue negotiations in good faith on effective measures relating to cessation of the nuclear arms race at an early date and to nuclear disarmament, and on a treaty on general and complete disarmament under strict and effective international control," the US is planning on acquiring more than 600 ground-based strategic deterrent intercontinental ballistic missiles. A "new weapon of mass destruction," this massive nuclear missile will be able to travel 6,000 miles and carry "a warhead more than 20 times more powerful than the atomic bomb dropped on Hiroshima. It will be able to kill hundreds of thousands of people in a single shot."
The US is also facilitating other countries in violation of its NPT obligation not to "assist, encourage, or induce any non-nuclear-weapon State to manufacture or otherwise acquire nuclear weapons." Biden just reaffirmed the strategic understanding with Prime Minister Naftali Bennett of Israel not to "press Israel to join the nuclear Nonproliferation Treaty or give up its alleged nuclear arsenal." The recent promise to provide Australia with nuclear-powered submarines also "undermine[s] the nonproliferation regime," according to Frank von Hippel, senior research physicist at Princeton University and a specialist in nuclear power, nuclear energy and nuclear arms control and proliferation.
Working With Iran
Biden renewed his vow to negotiate with Iran and return to compliance with the JCPOA nuclear agreement. "We are working with the P5+1 to engage Iran diplomatically and seek a return to the JCPOA. We’re prepared to return to full compliance if Iran does the same." But that vow has been broken.
Iran waited for months for Biden to return to negotiations. Instead, the US has refused to end all of the illegal sanctions. Iran has promised from the first day of the Biden presidency that if the US returned to compliance by ending sanctions, Iran would return to compliance – they are actually not out of compliance – by reversing all of the "remedial measures it has taken in the wake of Trump’s withdrawal from the nuclear deal.” The US has also refused Iran’s not unreasonable request that they guarantee they will not simply abandon the agreement again.
Biden noted the unfairness of the rich growing richer while the poor grow poorer. "Around the world," he said, "we’re increasingly seeing citizens demonstrate their discontent seeing the wealthy and well-connected grow richer and richer." Around the world? What about at home? The US is the fifty-fourth worst country in the world for wealth inequality, or the gap between the rich and the poor, just behind Haiti. Canada is 73 places ahead of the US. The UK is 56 places ahead, France is 87 places ahead and Norway is 110 ahead.
As for the rich growing richer, a recent analysis found that, while the average American household paid 14% in federal taxes each year, the 25 richest Americans paid only 3.4%. While Jeff Bezos earned $99 billion between 2014 and 2018, he paid only 0.98% in taxes (he paid none in 2007).
Middle East Peace
Biden put a Middle-East peace on the list, and then took it away in his next sentence. "I continue to believe that a two-state solution is the best way to ensure Israel – Israel’s future as a Jewish, democratic state living in peace alongside a viable, sovereign, and democratic Palestinian state." That may be his belief. But his actions are different: "We’re a long way from that goal at this moment, but we must never allow ourselves to give up on the possibility of progress."
Biden’s revocation of the hope is consistent with his earlier policy statements. Middle-East peace is on hold and not being prioritized because, for the Biden administration, it is not a priority. Secretary of State Antony Blinken has formulated it this way: "I don’t think we’re at the – in a place where the getting to some kind of negotiation for what ultimately I think has to be the result, which is a two-state solution, is the first order of business."
So, to decode Biden’s paradoxical statement, there is a belief in a two-state solution and a Middle-East peace plan but no hope for one and no plan to pursue one.
"The democratic world is everywhere," Biden celebrated. "It lives in the anti-corruption activists, the human rights defenders, the journalists, the peace protesters on the frontlines of this struggle" in several countries. One of the countries he singled out is Venezuela.
But the people of Venezuela have repeatedly elected Hugo Chavez and Nicolás Maduro in democratic elections certified as fair. Venezuela has democracy; Biden just doesn’t like the results of that democracy. It is the majority in Washington and not the majority in Venezuela that supports Juan Guaidó’s coup government in Venezuela and has long desires a new government.
Secretary of State Blinken has called for “an effective policy that can restore Venezuela to democracy.” But the people of Venezuela think they have democracy. State Department spokesman Ned Price confirmed that the US continues to recognize Juan Guaidó as Venezuela’s legitimate president. But the people of Venezuela overwhelming spurn him and think Maduro is their president. Secretary of State Blinken supports "Interim President Juan Guaidó," stressing the need for "free and fair elections." But the people of Venezuela think Maduro is their president, and the international observers think they do have "free and fair elections."
Time after time, Biden refuted his statements with his very next statement. Time after time his rhetoric was detached from reality. Time after time his meaning becomes clear only after it is decoded.
Ted Snider has a graduate degree in philosophy and writes on analyzing patterns in US foreign policy and history.