For Stop the War, the critical issue is what difference the shift from Trump to Biden will mean for world peace

Andrew Murray


It appears that Joe Biden has won the US Presidential election and that, despite legal challenges and mendacious bluster, Trump will be forced to vacate the White House.

No-one will mourn the passing of a Presidency marked by an unabashed chauvinism and racism and a contempt for democratic values and procedures.  By virtue of the office he held, Trump was the international poster boy for an authoritarian nationalism which, populist rhetoric notwithstanding, operated as a means of perpetuating, rather than challenging, the status quo socially and economically.  Trump’s defeat, albeit by a far narrower margin than anticipated, is welcome – democracy can breathe slightly easier.  The continuing strength of his popular support, in the midst of a health crisis he has been inept at containing, is a warning.

For Stop the War, the critical issue is what difference the shift from Trump to Biden will mean for world peace, international relations in general and British-US relations in particular.  Here judgements must inevitably be more nuanced.  We cannot be hypnotised by Trump’s performative obnoxiousness and protofascist inclinations to the extent of neglecting the likely dynamics in US policy on these issues.

Biden sold himself as a return to “business as usual” in political life – the return of the mainstream of the US establishment to power after the freak show of the Trump years.  His political preference is for bipartisanship, and nowhere more so than in the area of foreign policy.  This, if of course, the establishment bipartisanship that unites around the principle of US world hegemony and has launched the “war on terror”, the source of endless death and destruction across a huge swathe of the planet this century.

The likely return of this elite to undivided authority needs to be measured against the reality of Trump’s international policies, where in some respects his bite has been considerably less baleful than his very noisy bark.  Despite expectations, he has not started any new wars of intervention and has begun winding down the US military presence in certain theatres of conflict.  Undoubtedly, this is one of the factors contributing to his popularity in some working class communities in the USA – the sort which provide the foot-soldiers for US imperialism.

On the other hand, Trump has escalated tensions with Iran (although he refused to move to military action when his advisers were pressing it in 2018); started a “new cold war” with China, facilitated Saudi aggression and given full-on support to Israeli colonialism.  He has withdrawn the USA from international agreements (most importantly over climate change and Iran) and escalated the nuclear arms race.

Notwithstanding, the bulk of US neoconservatives have supported Biden, on the grounds that he will preserve alliances, like NATO, which Trump has threatened, at least rhetorically, and he will restore the much-vaunted “moral element” to US policy, using democracy and human rights as the justification for aggressive interventions and ignoring national sovereignty and international law alike.

What does Biden’s foreign policy platform say on these matters?  His Presidency “will never hesitate to protect the American people, including when necessary, by using force. We have the strongest military in the world—and as president, Biden will ensure it stays that way. The Biden administration will make the investments necessary to equip our troops for the challenges of the next century, not the last one. But the use of force should be our last resort, not our first—used only to defend our vital interests, when the objective is clear and achievable, and with the informed consent of the American people.”

“A Biden administration will do more than restore our historic partnerships; it will lead the effort to reimagine them for the future. This means keeping NATO’s military capabilities sharp, while also expanding our capacity to take on new, non-traditional threats like weaponized corruption, cyber theft, and new challenges in space and on the high seas.”

He also pledges that he “will end the forever wars in Afghanistan and the Middle East, which have cost us untold blood and treasure” and “bring the vast majority of our troops home from Afghanistan and narrowly focus our mission on Al-Qaeda and ISIS. And he will end our support for the Saudi-led war in Yemen. Staying entrenched in unwinnable conflicts only drains our capacity to lead on other issues that require our attention, and it prevents us from rebuilding the other instruments of American power.”

Biden will work to revive the nuclear agreement with Iran and strategic arms talks with Russia, and arms control more generally.  He will rejoin the Paris Climate Change Agreement, although there remains almost no chance of the US Senate ratifying it.

In relation to China, there will probably be little substantive shift in policy, although possibly there will be less emphasis on trade-war issues.  The US military “pivot to Asia”, directed against China, began under Obama not Trump.  Confronting China’s rise is a more-or-less bipartisan imperative across the US establishment.  The drift to a new cold war in the Far East, always pregnant with the possibility of turning hot, will not be reversed under a Biden presidency.  Indeed, he wrote in a recent essay “the United States does need to get tough with China. If China has its way, it will keep robbing the United States and American companies of their technology and intellectual property. It will also keep using subsidies to give its state-owned enterprises an unfair advantage… The most effective way to meet that challenge is to build a united front of U.S. allies and partners to confront China’s abusive behaviors and human rights violations…”  The language of unabashed great-power rivalry.

On the other great power front, Biden may well be more aggressive towards Russia than Trump, in his eccentric way, was.  He will give NATO unity and possible expansion a much greater priority than his predecessor.  He writes: “The Kremlin fears a strong NATO, the most effective political-military alliance in modern history. To counter Russian aggression, we must keep the alliance’s military capabilities sharp…”

Biden’s commitments on ending the wars in South Asia and the Middle East do not significantly differ from Trump’s, although if he delivers on ending support for the Saudi war in Yemen that will be welcome.  On his record, Biden is likely less interventionist than Hilary Clinton would have been, but possibly more so than Trump.

While the absurd and reactionary “peace plan” for Israel-Palestine launched by Jared Kushner will probably be put on the back burner, there is not likely to be any serious Biden initiatives for genuine peace in the conflict, which would require the application of more pressure on Israeli colonialism in Palestinian lands than official Washington is presently capable of.  Nor will Trump’s provocative moves, like shifting the US embassy in Israel to Jerusalem, be reversed.

Stop the War has always kept its focus on British foreign policy, which has been deeply and disastrously entwined with US imperialism, never more disastrously in the “war on terror” begun under Bush and Blair and still rumbling on in a number of theatres to this day, even if its founding dream of a “new world order” under the hegemony of the US and its closest allies has long since dissipated.

Boris Johnson is reportedly anxious about a Biden presidency, because he had himself over-invested in his relationship with Trump and because he desperately needs a trade deal with the US as Brexit looms with the transition period ending on December 31.  Biden appears to set more store by the maintenance of the Good Friday agreement in Ireland than Johnson does, and US Democrats have warned that Britain will get no trade agreement if it approach to Brexit imperils peace in Ireland through the erection of a hard border between the Republic and the six counties in the north.

However that plays out, we should use the opportunity to press the case for a different foreign policy for Britain.  For example, whether or not Biden delivers on his pledge to end support for the war in Yemen, we should step up demands that Britain stop arming the Saudi aggressors.  Likewise, we should urge British disengagement from the policy of confrontation with China.

Most importantly, we should ensure complete British military disengagement from what Biden calls the “forever wars” in Afghanistan, Iraq, Syria and Libya.

We should resist any return to “business as usual” in terms of the Anglo-US “special relationship”, or allowing any complacency arising from Trump’s defeat to disarm or demobilise anti-war activism, under circumstances when it has in any case been circumscribed by the pandemic.  The main lines of US world policy will remain unchanged, and some of the most brazen advocates of “liberal interventionism” will once again have their hands on the levers of power.  It is time British policy became independent of the outcomes of US elections.

07 Nov 2020

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