Remember President Biden’s request for $33 billion in “aid” to Ukraine? That $33 billion package has become $40 billion and has already been approved by the House. More than half of this “aid” is in the form of weapons or in support of deploying more U.S. troops and equipment to Europe. And even that $40 billion isn’t high enough for some members of the Senate, who are calling for even more “aid,” i.e. more spending at the expense of the American taxpayer that will likely serve to prolong the Russia-Ukraine War.
More and more money for war recalls a famous quip by Winston Churchill in the age of navalism, when industrial interests in the UK pushed for more and more battleships to be built so that Britain could continue to rule the waves and not be slaves.
As Churchill famously said: The Admiralty had demanded six ships; the economists offered four; and we finally compromised on eight.
America has embraced a militarized Keynesianism that is very good indeed for weapons makers like Raytheon and Lockheed Martin. It’s also very good for the Pentagon, whose budget projections keep rising when they should be falling.
Think about it. Overall, the Russian military hasn’t yet distinguished itself in Ukraine, and the longer the war lasts, the weaker that military becomes. If the U.S. military budget was actually based on an honest assessment of threats, the budget should be decreasing as Russia becomes less of a threat.
Another interesting aspect of this is that it’s mainly been Republicans voting against the $40 billion package in “aid.” Democrats, no matter how “progressive,” are eagerly voting for it, even as inflation soars in America and people struggle to make ends meet.
Perhaps it’s time to build more battleships to help the poor and struggling? We can house the unhoused in ships!
Today as I was checking out at Job Lots, the cashier asked me if I wanted to donate money for Ukrainian refugee relief. I thought quickly of the $33 billion Biden already wants from us for Ukraine and politely said “no thanks.”
Then I read Todd Miller’s new article at TomDispatch.com on the security-industrial complex along the U.S. border with Mexico and reflected on all those people risking their lives to cross the border into America, most of them refugees from wars and climate change and violence and the like. I’ve never been asked by a company or a cashier for that matter to contribute to their relief. Indeed, when the issue of refugees comes up along the Southern border, it’s always about more money for Homeland Security and more border control agents and surveillance technology (including drones and robotic dogs, as Miller notes), all to keep the “bad” people out of America, all those “illegals” who allegedly want to take American jobs while doing violence to vulnerable Americans.
Remarkably, Miller notes in his article how the Biden administration is following basically the same approach to border security as the Trump administration. The only real difference is that Biden is relying less on physical walls and more on “virtual” ones (towers, sensors, cameras, drones, etc.). This is hardly surprising when you consider Kamala Harris went south of the border to deliver a singular message to would-be asylum seekers. Her message to them: Do not come.
As Miller notes in his article, you can count on one thing: America’s border with Mexico will never be secure, no matter how much we spend, because insecurity and overhyped “threats” sell very well indeed.
Is America really the home of the brave, given our fears of invasions, whether from “dangerous” brown- and black-skinned people coming up from the south or all those gangster Russians and sneaky Chinese allegedly scheming against us?
If we want to help refugees facing violence and starvation, we don’t have to look as far as Ukraine. Depending on where you live in America, you might only have to look just beyond the wall or fence or surveillance tower in front of you. As you do, you might ponder why we’re not sending $33 billion to help them survive. Is it because they’re not killing Russians with American-made weaponry?
Joe Biden’s been president for a year and a few months; it’s time to award him a provisional grade for his performance as president. Here are a few factors to consider:
* Biden ended the Afghan War. Sure, it was a disordered ending, a pell-mell evacuation, a calamitous collapse that saw Afghan innocents killed in a final drone strike (nothing new about that, I suppose). But he did end a twenty-year war, so credit to him for that.
* Biden was able to pass an infrastructure bill, though it was disappointingly small. Still, America truly needs to invest in its infrastructure (rather than, for example, nuclear weapons), so credit again to Biden.
* Biden kept his promise to nominate an African American woman to the Supreme Court. The court is still overwhelmingly conservative, so her presence won’t make a critical difference to decisions, but dare I say, it’s about time the court looked more like the diversity of America.
* When Biden announced his candidacy, the first thing he did was meet with Comcast executives and other high and mighty media- and business-types. He told them nothing would fundamentally change under his administration. That’s a campaign promise he’s kept.
* Another promise Biden has kept is sizable increases to the Pentagon’s budget. If you’re part of the military-industry complex, you’re probably more than satisfied with Biden’s budgets.
* Finally, some people assert that Biden has stood firm against Russia and Putin, marshaling the West against Putin’s war of aggression in Ukraine. I beg to differ with this assertion, but more on that below.
Now, let’s look at where Biden has failed or proven to be a disappointment.
* Biden has kept none of his progressive promises, which is unsurprising, given his track record as a senator from Delaware. No $15 federal minimum wage. No public option for health care. No student debt relief (just moratoriums on payments). On these and similar issues, Biden’s defenders place the blame on obstinate “centrist” senators like Manchin and Sinema, or they blame the Senate Parliamentarian for ruling against the $15 wage increase due to a technicality. It’s all special pleading. When their own Senate Parliamentarian got in their way, the Republicans simply replaced that unelected person with someone more tractable. Chuck Schumer could easily have done the same. Manchin and Sinema can be cajoled or coerced if Biden had the will to do so. But “centrist” Democrats adore Manchin and Sinema because they serve as convenient scapegoats for why Biden can’t be more progressive.
* Biden’s “Build Back Better” plan died a meaningless death, but, once again, this was more by design. Recall Biden’s key promise that nothing would fundamentally change under his administration.
* Again, withdrawing from the Afghan War was a sound decision, but it was poorly implemented.
* The Russia-Ukraine War: Biden has gone all-in with his military approach to the war, meaning more money for the Pentagon, more weapons for Ukraine, harsh sanctions that hit ordinary Russians the hardest, and rhetoric that declares Putin to be a genocidal war criminal. Diplomatic efforts have taken a back seat to efforts to effect regime change in Russia. Some people may see this as tough and hard- minded; I see it as provocative and incredibly foolhardy. Brinksmanship with Russia risks nuclear war, with Biden’s harsh rhetoric leaving little room for a negotiated settlement. More than a few people see the U.S. as weakening Russia in a proxy war in which Biden is willing to fight to the last Ukrainian. Toughness is not about more weapons and war; it’s about finding ways to build fewer weapons and to end war.
* Inflation is reaching new highs and many Americans are struggling economically, but Biden’s main approach here has been to blame Putin. Unlike Harry Truman, the buck never stops with Joe Biden.
* The Biden team made a disastrous choice for his vice president. Biden has no affinity with Kamala Harris, and Harris herself has wilted on the world stage. High staff turnover suggests she’s a polarizing figure and a poor boss. The only good thing about Harris, from the Biden perspective, is that people dislike her more than they do the president.
* Biden’s unpopularity. Predictions for the midterm elections this November are dire for Democrats. It’s possible, even likely, Republicans will regain both the Senate and House, leaving Biden a lame duck for his final two years in office. Few if any Democratic candidates are seeking Biden’s support or planning to ride his coattails to victory.
* Biden’s mental status. Biden will be 80 this November. I’m not an expert on dementia. But I’ve seen plenty of speeches by Biden where he’s become forgetful; when he can’t remember words; when he gets frustrated. I feel for him. He can read from a teleprompter but get him off-script and he becomes unpredictable and says nonsensical things. Occasionally, he looks lost or at a loss. Something similar was happening to Ronald Reagan in his second term.
Always looming in the background and foreground is the party of Trump. To my mind, the best way to defeat rightwing popular authoritarianism is to have leaders who answer to the people rather than to corporations and oligarchs. The Democratic Party is venal and corrupt, which allows Trump & Co. an opening to play a (false) populist card. The Democrats, as presently led by Biden, Schumer, Pelosi, et al., are easy foils for authoritarian dipshits like Trump.
Trump would be far less dangerous if the Democrats actually believed and acted on their various campaign promises to help people rather than oligarchs and corporations.
The ultimate grade of Joe Biden’s presidency will depend on whether through his actions and inaction he gives Trump an opening to win the presidency in 2024. Assuming Trump wins again in 2024, Biden’s final grade will be an “F.”
His provisional grade? First, I’m not a Democrat. Second, I despise Trump, a man totally unqualified to serve the public in any capacity. Overall, my grade for Biden is a “C-,” and on less generous days I’m inclined to give him a “D.” He is a man who’s often out of his depth, a man well past his prime, a man who perhaps shouldn’t have run in 2020 and who most certainly shouldn’t run again in 2024, given the demands of the presidency. (Recall that when Biden suggested a run for the presidency in 2020, Obama told him, You don’t have to do this, Joe. Not exactly an inspiring vote of confidence!)
What do you think, readers? What grade has Joe Biden earned so far in your opinion?
When it comes to war, mainstream media voices in the U.S. are almost always for it, even when it could conceivably escalate to a nuclear exchange.
That’s a disturbing lesson reinforced by recent U.S. media coverage of the Russia-Ukraine crisis. The basic narrative is that Putin’s Russia is the aggressor, the U.S. is the defender of democracy, and that U.S. actions are high-minded even when they involve weapons sales, troop deployments, and draconian economic sanctions.
You don’t get more mainstream than David Brooks and Jonathan Capehart on PBS, so I tuned in to watch their “debate” (2/18) on the issue. Both men expressed their approval of Democrats and Republicans coming together to support the Biden administration’s hardline against Russia. Bipartisan unity is to be celebrated when it comes to warmongering, I suppose. Especially revealing was David Brooks’s quick dismissal of left/right critics of the administration’s policies:
There will be some people who worry on the left that this is part of American imperialism to get involved in Europe. There are some people on the right who like Vladimir Putin. They see him as a manly, socially conservative, authoritarian kind of guy who they kind of like. So, I’m sure, on either end, there will be some [critics]. But, among the mainstream of both parties, I think, right now, there’s strong unity. The Biden administration has done an excellent job of rallying the Western alliance. It’s been a demonstration of why the world needs America to be a leader of the free world.
So, leftist critics are knee-jerk anti-imperialists; rightists critics are authoritarian Putin-lovers. But real Americans in the mainstream support Joe Biden and America as the “leader of the free world.”
What’s amazing about the “mainstream” in America is how narrow that stream is allowed to be. Of course, as Noam Chomsky famously wrote, it’s all about manufacturing consent. But imagine if true diversity of opinion was allowed on PBS. Imagine if someone like Jonathan Capehart said the following:
“The U.S. betrayed its promise not to expand NATO to the borders of Russia. Even worse, the U.S. meddled in Ukrainian politics in 2014, driving a coup and empowering neo-Nazi forces there. Sending weapons to Ukraine is making a bad situation worse, and constant threats are ratcheting up tensions that could lead to war. In war, mistakes are always possible, even common, which could lead to a wider and disastrous war between the world’s two leading nuclear powers. Measured diplomacy is what we need, even as the U.S. should take a step back in a region of the world that is not directly related to our national defense.”
Imagine that statement as a counter-narrative to the idea the U.S. is always in the right (as well as blameless), that more troops and weapons are always the answer, and that Russia has no national defense issues of its own, because NATO obviously poses no military threat to anyone. (Imagine, for one second, seeing the expansion of NATO and U.S. meddling in Ukraine from a Russian perspective, which we should be willing to do because you should always plumb the mindset of your rival or enemy.)
Truly, the lack of diversity of opinion on foreign relations and war is startling in U.S. media. It’s almost as if we have an official state media, isn’t it, comrade? I still remember Tass and Pravda from the days of the Soviet Union; who knew that today the U.S. would have its very own versions of them, while still applauding itself as the unbesmirched leader of the “free” world?
The situation along the border of Russia and Ukraine is volatile. War is possible. Given this volatility and the possibility of war, does it make any sense to send more weaponry to Ukraine?
From this CNN report, that is exactly what the USA is doing: sending more arms and ammunition to Ukraine:
“The second bird in Kyiv! More than 80 tons of weapons to strengthen Ukraine’s defense capabilities from our friends in the USA! And this is not the end,” Ukrainian Defense Minister Oleksii Reznikov said in a tweet Sunday. The first shipment of security assistance from the US had arrived in Ukraine on Friday. That shipment included “close to 200,000 pounds of lethal aid, including ammunition for the front line defenders of Ukraine,” the US Embassy in Kyiv tweeted Friday night. The shipments come as the US has sought to convince Moscow to de-escalate the situation at the Ukrainian border, where Russia has amassed more than 100,000 troops. Earlier Sunday, Secretary of State Antony Blinken amplified his warning against a Russian invasion of Ukraine, saying “a single additional Russian force” entering Ukraine “in an aggressive way” would result in a severe response by the US and its allies. “If a single additional Russian force goes into Ukraine in an aggressive way, as I said, that would trigger a swift, a severe and a united response from us and from Europe,” Blinken told CNN’s Dana Bash on “State of the Union.”
Let me get this straight: weapons and ammo are “security assistance,” or “lethal aid,” a construction that should win a prize for best oxymoron of the year. Hi! I’m here to help you. How about some “lethal” aid? Meanwhile, even as the US escalates the situation with “lethal aid” and threats, the US State Department insists it’s the Russians who need to “de-escalate the situation.” No contradiction here, right?
Consider here the words of Antony Blinken, he of the “swift” and “severe” and “united” response if only a “single” Russian force should enter Ukraine “in an aggressive way.” This naked bombast directly contradicts President Joe Biden’s words at last week’s press conference. Biden, who occasionally has “senior moments” of inadvertent truth, explained that NATO wasn’t united and that a minor incursion by Russian forces probably wouldn’t trigger a swift and severe response. It’s reassuring to know we have such skilled and consistent leaders as Biden and Blinken in charge here.
US meddling in Ukraine is complex, but let’s just say America’s leaders are part of the problem, not the solution. As usual, the US response to almost any situation is to send troops and weapons while telling the other side to “de-escalate.”
Worst of all, though, from an American perspective, is the lack of skilled and smart leadership in the White House. Biden appears confused and his vice president is hapless. Blinken is a neo-con tool who won’t be confused with Bismarck, let alone Henry Kissinger. He thinks American diplomacy is most effective when it’s backed by brazen military threats. No speaking softly with a big stick held prudently in reserve; Blinken prefers to shout loudly while openly brandishing the big stick of the US military.
The Biden administration says it wants to remove U.S. combat troops from Iraq. Hooray! Mission finally accomplished, right? It may be 18 years after George W. Bush declared it to be so, but who’s counting the years?
Not so fast. For President Biden still wants to keep roughly 2000 or so U.S. troops in Iraq for training and advisory purposes. So much for mission accomplished.
Why can’t U.S. troops just leave — for good? If Iraq can’t defend itself after nearly two decades of U.S. “training” in the war on terror, maybe it’s finally time to admit our limits (or our folly) and simply leave.
It almost seems like America’s system of “defense” is an imperial project — an effort to enlarge American power at almost any cost (and the Iraq war has cost America in the trillions of dollars).
This is the telling argument of Tom Engelhardt’s latest post at TomDispatch.com. The U.S. is the empire that dare not speak its name, even as it begins to collapse due to perpetual war externally and perpetual rancor internally. And, believe me, as former President Trump would say, those two are related. He should know, given how he tapped that rancor and aggravated it for his own purposes.
Here’s an excerpt from Engelhardt’s latest, where he points out what might be termed the Pentagon Paradox: The more America’s generals fail, the more they succeed (more money, more promotions, more power):
Still, let’s face it, this isn’t the set of conflicts that, once upon a time, involved invasions, massive air strikes, occupations, the killing of staggering numbers of civilians, widespread drone attacks, the disruption of whole countries, the uprooting and displacement of more than 37 million people, the deployment at one point of 100,000 U.S. troops in Afghanistan alone, and the spending of untold trillions of American taxpayer dollars, all in the name of fighting terror and spreading democracy. And think of it as mission (un)accomplished in the truest sense imaginable.
In fact, that idea of spreading of democracy didn’t really outlast the Bush years. Ever since, there’s been remarkably little discussion in official Washington about what this country was really doing as it warred across significant parts of the planet. Yes, those two decades of conflict, those “forever wars,” as they came to be called first by critics and then by anyone in sight, are at least winding, or perhaps spiraling, down — and yet, here’s the strange thing: Wouldn’t you think that, as they ended in visible failure, the Pentagon’s stock might also be falling? Oddly enough, though, in the wake of all those years of losing wars, it’s still rising. The Pentagon budget only heads ever more for the stratosphere as foreign policy “pivots” from the Greater Middle East to Asia (and Russia and the Arctic and, well, anywhere but those places where terror groups still roam).
In other words, when it comes to the U.S. military as it tries to leave its forever wars in someone else’s ditch, failure is the new success story.
And how! Maybe we need a new saying in America: Nothing succeeds like failure. It’s truly paradoxical until you realize that someone is always winning and profiting from this failure, even as the rest of America suffers.
Engelhardt’s book above has a well-judged title: “A Nation Unmade By War.” But perhaps we can improve it? How about “An Empire Unmade By War”?
America doesn’t have a foreign policy, it has a business plan, and it’s business as usual in the Biden administration. Joe Biden promised his donors that nothing would fundamentally change in his administration. Kamala Harris said her agenda wasn’t about substantive change. So what we’re getting under the Biden/Harris team is eminently predictable:
More blank checks for Israel, and no recognition of any rights for Palestinians.
A revival of the old Cold War, with China as the leading “threat” but with Russia not forgotten.
Politics subordinated to the military, rather than the military in service of political aims. In brief, military dominance is America’s foreign policy.
Related to (1-3) is dominance of the world’s trade in weapons. The State Department has become a tiny branch of the Pentagon and the military-industrial complex. It’s all about closing arms deals, moving hardware, selling weaponry, making a buck.
Naturally, one of Biden’s first acts as president was to bomb a foreign country, in this case Syria. So presidential!
In Joe Biden, America has a fading and flailing man to lead a fading and flailing empire. In Kamala Harris, America has an example of old wine in new packaging. She’s a woman, she’s Black, she’s South Asian — and she thinks like Hillary Clinton and Henry Kissinger.
Remember when Joe Biden said he’d be all about diplomacy? That the power of America’s example would rule over the example of our power? Nice words, but that’s all they’ve been so far. Words.
Two examples where Biden has appeared to offer meaningful change are with Afghanistan and Yemen. With Afghanistan, Biden has promised a complete military withdrawal by 9/11/2021. But does this apply only to combat troops while excluding mercenaries, the CIA, special forces “trainers,” and the like? It’s not yet clear. Plus anything can happen between now and 9/11 for Biden to switch gears and keep some combat troops in place.
With Yemen, Biden made a point about excluding offensive arms sales to Saudi Arabia while still allowing defensive ones. Almost any weapon can be labeled as defensive in nature, so it’s doubtful whether Saudi operations in Yemen will be impacted at all by Biden’s weasel-word policies.
The Biden/Harris foreign policy, such as it is, is retrograde. It’s a return to the Cold War, with an emphasis on new nuclear weapons and larger Pentagon budgets. It’s about global dominance while America at home burns. It’s foolish and stupid yet it will make a few people richer for a few more business cycles.
And thus it’s business as usual in Washington, which is exactly what Biden/Harris were hired for.
Who was the last U.S. president with a reputation for peace?
By bombing Syria this week, Joe Biden has become yet another “wartime” president. Apparently Iranian-backed militias from Iraq operating inside Syria were the intended target of the bombs. Perhaps as many as 22 “militants” were killed in these attacks. Using language that would make Big Brother blush, the Biden administration claimed the attacks aimed “to de-escalate the overall situation in both Eastern Syria and Iraq.”
I’ve heard of precision bombing, but this is the first time I’ve heard of de-escalatory bombing. Naturally, Congress wasn’t consulted.
Along with this provocative and needless act of aggression, the Biden administration is currently weighing its options in Afghanistan. Three options seem to be on the table: withdrawing all U.S. troops and ending the war; prolonging the war indefinitely; and continued “negotiations” with modest increases of those troops. The last option is considered the sober sensible one by Beltway sages. Complete withdrawal after twenty years of turmoil and death is predictably seen as too risky, whereas a wholehearted commitment to generational war in Afghanistan, a la General Petraeus, is seen as politically unpopular, even if the end result of the sober sensible option is exactly that: more war fought in the (false) name of (eventual) peace.
So, under Joe Biden, we have bombing for de-escalation and more war for peace. Again, Biden deserves praise when he promised that nothing would fundamentally change under his administration.
The Bernie Sanders meme has been good fun over the last few days. At an inauguration ceremony where everyone was dressed to the nines, like the rulers of the Capitol in “Hunger Games,” Bernie looked like one of the downtrodden from the districts. He looked like one of us. A no-frills man of the people. And so the photo of him with his practical coat and handmade mittens has caught on exactly because it was real. As Caitlin Johnstone put it,
“This is why something as simple as Bernie Sanders turning up in mittens captured everyone’s hearts and imaginations. It was such a glitch in the whole phony performance and such a nice break from being lied to all the fucking time. We need to give people that experience way more.”
Bernie has already been pushing and pressuring the Biden administration to be more aggressive in helping people suffering in the districts, to use “Hunger Games” terminology. (We’d say “flyover country.”) Meanwhile, back in the Capitol, people were gushing over Michelle Obama’s fashion sense, or Lady Gaga’s inaugural outfit, with its huge golden bird that truly echoed the privileged getups of Capitol denizens (credit to Ron Placone for the Gaga/Hunger Games reference).
“In this moment of unprecedented crises, Congress and the Biden administration must respond through unprecedented action. No more business as usual. No more same old, same old.
Democrats, who will now control the White House, the Senate and the House, must summon the courage to demonstrate to the American people that government can effectively and rapidly respond to their pain and anxiety. As the incoming chairman of the Senate budget committee that is exactly what I intend to do.”
Good luck, Mitten Man. We need you now more than ever.
The Democrats have carried both Senate seats in Georgia, meaning the Senate is now effectively tied at 50-50, eliminating Mitch McConnell as Senate majority leader and leaving it to Vice President-elect Kamala Harris to be the Senate’s tiebreaking vote.
The question is: What will Democrats do with this (very weak) majority? Or, as Greg Laxer put it here, “BUT…do the Dems have sufficient internal discipline to pass any legislation remotely progressive or to seat a SCOTUS nominee deemed controversial?” Good question.
Of course, it’s not just about “internal discipline.” Joe Biden, a mealy-mouthed corporatist, is on the record as saying that nothing will fundamentally change under his administration. I don’t see him or Nancy Pelosi or Chuck Schumer pushing for a progressive agenda. These “leaders” are DINOs, Democrats in name only, and it will be interesting to see if Biden & Co. even come through on their promise to elevate relief checks from $600 to $2000.
I’m glad Democrats won in Georgia, but not because I expect great things and transformative change from them now. Just look at what Obama/Biden produced in 2009 with a “supermajority” in Congress: a bailout for banks and corporations and Romneycare without a public option, later rebranded as Obamacare. Obama/Biden also saw the failed Afghan surge, the Libyan disaster, and a major escalation in drone strikes, among other warmongering acts.
So, why am I glad about Georgia? Because now Biden and Pelosi and Co. can’t blame Mitch McConnell for blocking all their “noble” efforts in the Senate. Now we’ll really see the priorities of Biden/Pelosi laid bare. And they both have very long and strong records of serving elite interests at the expense of regular people.
It’s good to see awful Republican candidates lose in Georgia; even better to see Mitch McConnell removed from his position of power and obstruction. Now what, Democrats? Care to help the poor while ending war? Or will you continue to serve the rich while making war?
These next two years will be interesting indeed. If Democrats don’t go big, they will go home, as in losing both houses of Congress in 2022. If past performance is indicative of future gains and losses, I’m not bullish on Biden/Pelosi producing big gains for Main Street USA. But I’d be happy to be proven wrong.