“At the moment, Afghanistan faces mass hunger and an economic catastrophe as billions of dollars belonging to the Afghan Central Bank sit in the United States, frozen by order of the Biden administration.”
Saudi Arabia Arms Sale Is
One of Biden’s Many Militaristic Actions in First Year
President Joe Biden speaks in the Roosevelt Room on the continuing situation in Afghanistan and the developments of Hurricane Henri at the White House on August 22, 2021, in Washington, D.C.SAMUEL CORUM / GETTY IMAGES
Given the brutish
approach of his predecessor, many expected President Joe Biden to shift away
from the worst practices in U.S. foreign policy and at the border in the
previous four years. Indeed, in the first weeks of his presidency, the Biden
administration signaled changes. In Secretary of State Antony Blinken’s first
press briefing, the State Department announced that it was reviewing weapons
sales to Saudi Arabia and the United Arab Emirates (UAE) — which have led the
catastrophic war on Yemen with essential U.S. partnership.
A week later, Biden declared in
his first foreign policy address as president that “We are ending all American
support for offensive operations in the war in Yemen, including relevant arms
Regarding its practices at the
border, Biden administration officials promised a shift away from Trump’s practices
of separating families and caging children, calling them a “moral failing.” He said
that the new White House would “deal with immigration comprehensively, fairly,
As 2021 comes to a close,
however, we are seeing the latter part of a trajectory that settles into
familiar, disastrous militarism.
These arrangements come as
Saudi Arabia is escalating its devastating bombing in
Yemen. In November, Saudi forces carried out the largest number of air strikes
since Trump’s last year in office.
These bookends — Biden’s early
announcement of an end to U.S. support for the war in Yemen and his subsequent
robust material support of that war — capture the set of practices that the
Biden White House is settling into, not only in Yemen, but also in the realm of
war and imperialism more broadly.
Consider the White House’s
approval of a $23 billion weapons sale to the U.A.E., which
provides the Emirates with attack drones and F-35 fighter jets. The arrangement
was negotiated under the Trump administration as the prize for the U.A.E.’s
role in leading the normalization of diplomatic relations between Israel and
itself, Bahrain, Morocco and Sudan, despite Israel’s deepening violence against
The Biden administration embraced the normalization agreements,
along with Trump’s other actions meant to consolidate U.S. support and extend
legitimacy to Israel in a time when Palestinian protest presents a steady
challenge to Israeli apartheid, and global Palestine solidarity campaigns have
gained more traction than ever.
Trump fulfilled longstanding
wishes of the Israeli right wing, including moving the U.S. embassy to
Jerusalem from Tel Aviv, declaring the legality of Israeli settlements in the
occupied Palestinian West Bank — which are considered unambiguously illegal
according to international law — and endorsing the Israeli occupation of the
Syrian Golan Heights. The crudeness with which Trump performed these acts —
framing them nakedly as pandering to right-wing evangelical Christian voters,
and declaring himself the “King of Israel” — may contrast with Biden’s
rhetoric. Yet when it comes to concrete action, Biden has accepted and
continued along his predecessor’s path.
This continuity is also
painfully evident regarding Biden’s actions toward migrants — many of whom have
been displaced due to U.S. imperialist policies. For example, in the face of
severe social, political and economic crises in Central America — which are
driven by decades of Washington-directed economic policies and brutal
repression carried out by U.S.-armed regimes in Honduras, Guatemala and El
Salvador — Kamala Harris, in Guatemala City on her first overseas tour as vice
president, presented the U.S.’s policy in succinct cruelty: “Do not come.”
Once they approach or enter the
country, migrants face a complex of forces that remains in place to detain,
incarcerate, and deport migrants and prevent their entry into the United
Biden has maintained the use of
Title 42 — a statute that allows the federal government special powers in
public health emergencies — to deny migrants, including asylum seekers, access
at the U.S.-Mexico border, in violation of international law. Biden is thus
continuing Trump’s use of the measure, which was invoked when the COVID-19
pandemic began. Public health professionals and scholars have argued that the
measure cannot be justified in the name of public health and have called upon the administration to end it.
Biden has also reopened some of
the most notorious detention sites highlighted in the Trump era, including
Florida’s Homestead Shelter for Unaccompanied Children. The numbers of people
in detention by Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) have swelled to
22,000 under Biden — marking a 56 percent increase since the day the new president
Biden’s most dramatic and
revealing act at the border this year was his handling of the arrival of
thousands of primarily Haitian asylum seekers at Del Rio, Texas, in September.
From Border Patrol agents on horseback whipping the Black migrants, to their
confinement in squalid conditions on riverbanks and under a bridge, the U.S.
government and its police forces engaged in racist violence, treating the
Haitians as a criminal threat to be contained, rather than vulnerable people
with the right to seek refuge and asylum. Biden deported the group of thousands
to Haiti in an operation that revealed the logistical capacity at his disposal
— which could, of course, instead be used to welcome people and support their
Finally, the Biden
administration has resumed Trump’s infamous “Remain in Mexico” policy, which
forces people seeking asylum at the U.S.-Mexico Border to apply in Mexico and wait
there while their applications are processed. The policy goes against U.S. law,
which guarantees people the right to apply for asylum inside the U.S. —
regardless of how they entered. Biden initially opposed the program, suspending
it in February. In the face of rulings by the Fifth Circuit Court of Appeals
and the Supreme Court, however, the White House negotiated a new version of the
policy with the Mexican government, and has begun to administer it. The program
— which made tens of thousands of asylum seekers
vulnerable to kidnapping, assault and other hazards in Mexico under Trump — is
Biden did follow through on his
promise to withdraw U.S. troops from Afghanistan. But even that long overdue
and necessary move for a war that was unjust from its first day was done with
such careless disregard for the lives of Afghans that it sparked a new and
escalating humanitarian crisis. U.S. forces even killed several Afghans —
including seven children in a single family — in the chaotic withdrawal of
ground troops. While State Department officials failed Afghans made suddenly
vulnerable by the haphazard withdrawal — with no plan to evacuate the many who
sought exit — the Pentagon secured its ability to continue carrying out air
missions in Afghanistan through its bases in the region and by positioning an
aircraft carrier in the Arabian Sea weeks in advance.
At the moment, Afghanistan
faces mass hunger and an economic catastrophe as billions of dollars belonging
to the Afghan Central Bank sit in the United States, frozen by order of the Biden administration.
Yet, amid these blatant
continuations of state violence, grassroots pressure has clearly made an impact
on U.S. policy.
Biden’s rhetorical vows to end
U.S. involvement in the war in Yemen, for example, empty as they were, were
responses in significant part to a years-long, consistent and vocal challenge
of U.S. support for the war. This has been led by Yemeni activists in the U.S.,
journalists, and UN and other aid workers in Yemen calling attention to the
catastrophic humanitarian crisis there and the U.S.’s central role. Activism
has continued with Biden in the White House, including a hunger strike earlier this year led by
activists in the Yemeni Liberation Movement.
Similarly, 2021 saw an
increasingly critical and widespread challenge to U.S. support for Israel,
especially during its horrific attack on Gaza and repression of Palestinians in
Jerusalem during Ramadan this May. The ice cream company Ben and Jerry’s could
no longer reconcile its progressive brand with doing business in Israel’s
illegal settlements in the occupied territories, and announced the end of its
operations there. And though it ultimately passed, congressional approval for
an additional $1 billion to Israel to replenish its missiles after the attack
was more controversial and faced more direct opposition than any funding
proposal for Israel in U.S. history.
These formidable challenges to
U.S. support for Israeli apartheid stemmed from many years of
Palestine-solidarity organizing, as well as a more widespread anti-racist
consciousness in the U.S. driven by years of Black-led resistance to police
violence and other forms of racism.
On the subject of popular
resistance, it is important to remember that the greatest moments of setback
for Trump’s anti-immigrant agenda came when people mobilized en masse.
This happened in response to the anti-Muslim travel ban, when thousands took to
airports to express solidarity with those targeted — and then again in rallies
across the country in response to the separation of families and cruel
detention of children at the border. These moments of protest disrupted those
policies, albeit temporarily.
As we enter a new year, we are
challenged to build movements with capacity expansive enough to build and
sustain solidarity with those targeted and displaced by U.S. policies. Mass
mobilization is necessary to stop the violence that the U.S. carries out and
supports around the world and at its borders.
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"The master class
has always declared the wars; the subject class has always fought the battles.
The master class has had all to gain and nothing to lose, while the subject
class has had nothing to gain and everything to lose--especially their
lives." Eugene Victor Debs