In a cliché-ridden foreign-policy speech delivered at the State Department
on Thursday, President Joe Biden declared that “America is back” –
on the global stage, presumably, as policeman of the world, but certainly not
a disinterested policeman. The problem is that it never left.
Despite some uncouth rhetoric and regular New York Times headlines regarding
“American isolationism,” Donald Trump never withdrew the U.S. government
from its meddling role in the world. He baited Russia, China, Iran, Cuba, and
Venezuela, and ended no war or US assistance to other wars. Far from leaving
NATO or punishing its members for not paying more for their military forces,
he oversaw its expansion – which had only one purpose: to aggravate Russia.
Yes, Trump apparently removed some troops from Germany – does anyone have
a good reason why they are still there? – but Biden promised to change
that. He also wants to add Georgia and Ukraine to NATO, which of course –
wink – would never make Russia nervous.
If that’s what he means by “America is back,” let’s us shout in unison:
Thanks, but no thanks!
Not that we should be surprised by Biden’s position, considering that his foreign-policy
team consists of Obama administration retreads who act as though there’s a world
of difference between intervention and humanitarian intervention.
Biden put Russia and China on notice: “The days of the United States rolling
over in the face of Russia’s aggressive actions – interfering with our
elections, cyberattacks, poisoning its citizens – are over.”
Hang on. We’ve never been given evidence that Russia, which has a weak economy
and limited military, interfered with an election – quite the contrary
– or engaged in cyberattacks. By the way, we know the US government does
that sort of thing routinely, even with respect to Russia and its allies. Moreover,
if Vladimir Putin’s government poisons its citizens – obviously something
to be condemned by all decent people – how is that an aggressive action
against against the United States or any other country? By that curious standard,
US persecution of Chelsea Manning, Julian Assange, Edward Snowden, John Kiriakou,
et al. could be construed as aggression against others.
I will give Biden credit for agreeing with Russia to extend the New START Treaty
on nuclear weapons. (Putin’s so-called puppet, Trump, pulled out of such treaties.)
And on China:
And we’ll also take on directly the challenges posed by our prosperity,
security, and democratic values by our most serious competitor, China. We’ll
confront China’s economic abuses; counter its aggressive, coercive action;
to push back on China’s attack on human rights, intellectual property,
and global governance.
Note the words: “Our most serious competitor.” One way to reduce
tensions among states is to stop seeing them as competing economic entities.
America doesn’t compete with China in the global marketplace because America
is not a homogeneous entity with a single scale of preferences. An American
consumer and a Chinese merchant may have a harmony of interest; likewise an
American manufacturer and a Chinese consumer or producer. (Concerns about intellectual
property can be taken care of by repealing the relevant laws. Ideas cannot legitimately
be owned.) But Biden, like Trump, is locked into the mercantilist worldview
in which nations compete against each other. That’s why Biden promises to reinforce
the “Buy American” policy, costing taxpayers more for stuff that the
U.S. government could buy for less from foreign manufacturers. “Buy American”
also distorts the international division of labor, making everyone less prosperous.
Regarding Biden’s other charges against China, one need not approve of the
oppressive Chinese government to understand that something is wrong when no
government but the US government is allowed to have a sphere of influence (“backyard”),
which thereby extends to the whole world. In a world of states, that sort of
policy is asking for trouble.
So Biden’s speech
wholeheartedly embraced America’s role as the global overseer, self-appointed
to keep everyone on good behavior, strangely alternating between invocations
of altruism and “naked [national] self-interest.” We know where that
took us in the past.
Biden promised to end assistance to Saudi Arabia’s “offensive” actions
in Yemen. Fine. But how will he define “offensive”? We might have
a clue in what Biden said right after this promise:
At the same time, Saudi Arabia faces missile attacks, UAV strikes, and other
threats from Iranian-supplied forces in multiple countries. We’re going
to continue to support and help Saudi Arabia defend its sovereignty and its
territorial integrity and its people.
Bear in mind that the Saudi regime is one of the most repressive in the world.
So nothing will really change. If Biden wanted to make a constructive difference
to that region, he would end the long-standing multi-front covert/overt war
against Iran, including all the sanctions Trump imposed. Biden didn’t otherwise
mention Iran in the speech, yet he says he wants to reenter the nuclear deal,
which Trump stormed out of. The way to do that is end the sanctions, which harm
and even kill innocent people.
While we’re talking about the Middle East, let us note that Biden said nothing
about Israel and Palestine, despite all the damage Trump did there on behalf
of the Israeli state and against the long-suffering Palestinians. We already
know from his Senate confirmation hearing that Secretary of State Tony Blinken
has no problem with what Trump did: from moving the embassy to Jerusalem to
declaring the settlements in the de facto annexed West Bank just fine and dandy.
Massive annual military aid to Israel – without any conditions whatever
– of course will continue. That policy of course gives propaganda opportunities
to other regimes that the US government can then condemn as destabilizing. But
which party is the real destabilizer?
Also among the no-mentions was Afghanistan. How can Biden give his first speech
on foreign policy without discussing the country’s longest war? That is really
remarkable. The names Iraq and Syria also do not appear in the speech. Amazing.
As long as government exists, the proper foreign policy is nonintervention.
Policing the world inevitably invites defensive and deterrent responses, which
are then used as pretenses to counter so-called “aggressive” actions.
It also makes fortunes for military contractors. The result is perpetual war
in which liberty and prosperity must suffer.
Sheldon Richman is the executive editor of The
Libertarian Institute, senior fellow and chair of the trustees of the Center
for a Stateless Society, and a contributing editor at Antiwar.com.
He is the former senior editor at the Cato Institute and Institute for Humane
Studies, former editor of The Freeman, published by the Foundation
for Economic Education, and former vice president at the Future
of Freedom Foundation. His latest book is What
Social Animals Owe to Each Other.