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President Biden has said, “Diplomacy is back at the center of our foreign policy.”
Making diplomacy a priority will not happen by returning to the policies of the past. Making diplomacy a priority will require significant changes in our national attitudes and behavior. We need to go forward to a new, cooperative, demilitarized foreign policy.
Too often in the past military force – not diplomacy – has been at the center of our foreign policy and our actions toward other nations. When military force was not used, economic sanctions produced similar death and suffering for targeted countries. Too often our participation in international diplomatic forums have been to manipulate, control, or weaken the outcomes.
We were more interested in protecting our dominance, military power or commercial interests than doing what was best for people around the world.
The long standing goal of U.S. foreign policy has been to dominate the world. Our commercial interests and our capitalist economic structure overrode all other international considerations.
We defined “national security” as what is good for multinational corporations. We tolerated no significant op-position, or competition, with these goals.
This bipartisan dogma got us into many conflicts and quagmires, most notably Vietnam, Iraq, Afghanistan and the endless war on terrorism.
Destroying countries, economies, and the civilian populations was just “collateral damage” in our pursuit of world hegemony. The United States, as the sole super power, is “exceptional” and the rules don’t apply to us. Adhering to international law is for lesser nations.
So far the Biden administration’s foreign policy decisions are a mix of old school and hope for new direction. They have – thankfully – abandoned the unilateral, erratic and bombastic style of the Trump administration.
But they have not abandoned the long-established bipartisan, militarized foreign policy of the past. Biden is continuing to believe America has a right and duty to lead and police the world.
The decision to bomb Syria again is an example. Bombing Syria is illegal under international law.
We are not at war with Syria and forces on the ground there do not threaten our country. The excuse is those forces attacked an Iraqi base with U.S. military personnel.
Bombing won’t do anything to protect our troops but it is the standard reaction to any “threat.” Every president is afraid to appear “weak” by responding any other way.
On the positive side Biden has made several decisions that offer hope for a more intelligent and less belligerent foreign policy.
As I wrote last week, Biden has made some positive moves to stop the war in Yemen. We don’t know if he will succeed, but it a step in the right direction.
Biden has extended the New Start Nuclear weapons reduction treaty with Russia agreements. He has rejoined the World Heath Organization and taken steps to rejoin the Paris Climate Accords. He has promised to rejoin the agreement between the E.U. and Iran nuclear weapons development.
Just this week legislation was introduced in the Senate to repeal the Authorizations for Use of Military Force (AUMF). Biden is supporting this effort.
The 2001 and 2002 AUMF has been used by all presidents since to justify use of military force all over the world. Repealing these authorizations are necessary to end the disastrous “forever” wars.
According to the Cost of War Project at Boston College, in the last three years the U.S has bombed seven countries (Afghanistan, Iraq, Libya, Pakistan, Somalia, Syria and Yemen).
There are eight countries where U.S. troops are engaged in combat on the ground (Afghanistan, Iraq, Kenya, Mali, Nigeria, Somalia, Syria and Yemen).
In total we now have combat troops in 85 countries.
Why should we care? How does this affect us in the Northland?
Many of us have family members, or know someone, who served in these forever wars. We have friends and relatives who are suffering with the aftermath of their service. All of us pay taxes to support the massive war machine. Those dollars could be used more effectively in our own communities.
The forever wars have not made us more secure or better off.
Nothing illustrates our misguided, militarized foreign policy more than the disparity in funding between war and diplomacy. For many decades the Pentagon has received 50-60% of the federal annual budget.
The State Department has received around 3%. This must change.
Violence, whether done by “terrorists” or the U.S military, does not re-solve disputes.
Everyone knows there are no military solutions to the civil war in Syria or any of the conflicts in the region.
Phyllis Bennis is a Middle East expert with the Institute for Policy Studies and author of eleven books on foreign policy. Regarding Biden’s order to bomb Syria she said, “Regardless of who is giving orders to U.S. bombers, we know that deploying U.S. troops, drones, and warplanes across the region does not provide safety or security for anyone.”
It should be obvious that the old militarized foreign policy has not worked. We have been bombing almost continuously in the Middle East since the first Gulf War in 1990. Thirty years of bombing has accomplished nothing but death, destruction and more conflict. Terrorism has not been defeated. No country is more stable or democratic. But we cannot learn from past mistakes or stop repeating the old failed tactics.
We need a new foreign policy that emphasizes peaceful cooperative. We should strive to strengthen the international institutions that promote diplomacy and peaceful resolutions of conflict. The United Nations, the World Court, the World Health Organization, The Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change and The International Campaign to Abolish Nuclear Weapons are examples. We should stop relying on military intervention.
President Biden is taking steps in the the right direction. But he will need the support of all of us to overcome the influence of the old school, foreign policy establishment and the military industrial complex.
People must keep pressure on our legislators and Biden to create a better foreign policy.
In one of the hopeful statements his inaugural address Biden said, “With your help the United States will lead again, not just by the example of our power, but the power of our example.”
It is time for America to become a peaceful example for the world to follow.