Medea Benjamin

The Trump administration's parting outrage against Cuba

On January 11, in his final days before leaving office, Secretary of State Mike Pompeo added one parting blow to the series of bludgeons his administration has inflicted on Cuba for four years: putting the island on the list of "state sponsors of terror" that includes only Iran, North Korea and Syria. The designation drew swift condemnation from policymakers and humanitarian groups as a decision widely characterized as "politically motivated." It comes six years after the Obama administration had removed Cuba from the same list as part of his policy of rapprochement.

In the six years since, Trump's State Department could not point to a single act of terror sponsored by Cuba. Instead, Secretary Pompeo based his decision on Cuba's alleged support for the ELN (National Liberation Army – Colombia's second-largest guerilla group) and the harboring of a handful of U.S. fugitives wanted for crimes committed in the 1970s, including renowned Black revolutionary Assata Shakur. Lacking more specific accusations, the State Department criticized Cuba for its supposed "malign interference in Venezuela and the rest of the Western Hemisphere."

These claims don't stand up to scrutiny. Regarding the ELN, the gist of the story is that the Trump administration is punishing Cuba for its role in attempting to bring peace to the long-simmering conflict in Colombia. ELN negotiators arrived in Cuba in 2018 for peace talks with the Colombian government. As part of the protocols for these meetings, ELN negotiators were allowed entry into Cuba and promised safe passage back into Colombia after their conclusion. Guarantor countries, including Cuba and Norway, assumed responsibility for their safe return. The talks collapsed in January 2019 following an ELN car bombing in Bogotá that killed 22 people. Colombia requested the extradition of the negotiators, but Cuba refused because the Colombia government will not honor the previous government's commitment to guaranteeing the negotiators' freedom upon returning home.

Regarding Secretary Pompeo's other arguments, Cuba's main influence in the Western Hemisphere has been the opposite of "malign": it has deployed its doctors throughout the region and the world, saving thousands of lives during the Covid-19 pandemic. And when it comes to harboring terrorists, it's worth noting that for decades the United States harbored Luis Posada Carriles, mastermind of a 1973 bombing that killed 73 people on a Cuban commercial airliner.

Cuba's placement on the state sponsors of terror list is meant to be a thorn in any plan by the Biden administration for rapprochement. Taking Cuba off the list will require a review process that could take months, delaying any new initiatives to roll back Trump-era policies. It will also cause further pain to Cuba's economy, already battered by tightened sanctions and the pandemic that has devastated the island's tourism industry. The new terrorism label will likely scare off many businesses that import to Cuba, banks that finance transactions with Cuba and foreign investors.

A week before the designation, nine U.S. Senators wrote to Secretary Pompeo and warned that such a step "will politicize our national security." It has drawn strong condemnation from Senator Patrick Leahy, who said it made a "mockery of what had been a credible, objective measure," and House Foreign Affairs Chairman, Representative Gregory Meeks who said the hypocrisy from President Trump less than a week after he incited a domestic terror attack was "stunning but not surprising."

Faith group Pastors For Peace was one of many organizations to condemn the designation: "We know that this latest act, in the waning days of the Trump administration, is not only an aggressive act against Cuba, but aggression against the incoming administration who have pledged to return to a policy leading to peace and civilized relations with our island neighbor."

Policy group ACERE (which CODEPINK is a part of) drew a connection between the designation and recent events at home: "Perpetuating the myth that Cuba is a threat to the American people – while minimizing the threat posed by far-right extremists at home – is an embarrassment to our country on the world stage."

The real motive behind this move is to offer a parting gift to the Cuban exile community and its allies that have been loyal supporters of the Trump administration and helped oust several Democratic members of Congress in the last election. This is par for the course for an administration that has repeatedly used sanctions for political gain with no regard for the Cuban people who, for four years, have borne the brunt of sanctions affecting everything from energy, tourism, medicines, remittances and flights. Just like millions of U.S. citizens, Cubans are counting the days until the Trump administration becomes history and hoping the next administration will offer some relief.

Medea Benjamin is an author, activist and cofounder of the peace group CODEPINK.

Leonardo Flores is a Latin American policy expert and a campaign coordinator with CODEPINK.

Biden's pick to lead the intelligence community is a wolf in sheep's clothing

Even before President-Elect Joe Biden sets foot in the White House, the Senate Intelligence Committee may start hearings on his nomination of Avril Haines as Director of National Intelligence.

Barack Obama's top lawyer on the National Security Council from 2010 to 2013 followed by CIA Deputy Director from 2013 to 2015, Haines is the proverbial wolf in sheep's clothing. She is the affable assassin who, according to Newsweek, would be summoned in the middle of the night to decide if a citizen of any country, including our own, should be incinerated in a U.S. drone strike in a distant land in the greater Middle East. Haines also played a key role in covering up the U.S. torture program, known euphemistically as "enhanced interrogation techniques," which included repeated water boarding, sexual humiliation, sleep deprivation, dousing naked prisoners with ice cold water, and rectal rehydration.

For these reasons, among others, the activist groups CODEPINK, Progressive Democrats of America, World Beyond War and Roots Action have launched a campaign calling on the Senate to reject her confirmation.

These same groups ran successful campaigns to dissuade Biden from choosing two other warmongering candidates for critical foreign policy positions: China-hawk Michele Flournoy for Secretary of Defense and torture apologist Mike Morell for CIA Director. By hosting calling parties to Senators, launching petitions and publishing Open Letters from DNC delegates, feminists—including Alice Walker, Jane Fonda, and Gloria Steinem—and Guantanamo torture survivors, activists helped derail candidates who were once considered shoo-ins for Biden's cabinet.

Now activists are challenging Avril Haines.

In 2015, when Haines was CIA Deputy Director, CIA agents illegally hackedthe computers of the Senate Intelligence Committee to thwart the Committee's investigation into the spy agency's detention and interrogation program. Haines overruled the CIA's own Inspector General in failing to discipline the CIA agents who violated the U.S. Constitution's separation of powers. According to former CIA whistleblower John Kiriakou, she not only shielded the hackers from accountability but even awarded them the Career Intelligence Medal.

And there's more. When the exhaustive 6,000-page Senate Intelligence Committee report on torture was finally complete, after five years of investigation and research, Haines took charge of redacting it to deny the public's right to know its full details, reducing the document to a 500-page, black-ink-smeared summary.

Page 45 of the redacted Senate Intelligence Committee report on CIA torture.

This censorship went beyond merely "protecting sources and methods"; it avoided CIA embarrassment, while ensuring her own career advancement.

Moreover, Haines supported torture apologist Gina Haspel as Trump's CIA Director. Haspel ran a secret black site prison in Thailand where torture was regularly inflicted. Haspel also drafted the memo ordering the destruction of almost 100 videotapes documenting CIA torture.

As David Segal of Demand Progress told CNN, "Haines has an unfortunate record of repeatedly covering up for torture and torturers. Her push for maximalist redactions of the torture report, her refusal to discipline the CIA personnel who hacked the Senate and her vociferous support for Gina Haspel -- which was even touted by the Trump White House as Democrats stood in nearly unanimous opposition to the then-nominee to lead the CIA -- should be interrogated during the confirmation process."

This sentiment was echoed by Mark Udall, a Democratic senator on the intelligence committee when it finished the torture report. "If our country is going to turn the page on the dark chapter of our history that was the CIA's torture program, we need to stop nominating and confirming individuals who led this terrible program and helped cover it up."

Another reason Haines's nomination should be rejected is her support for the proliferation of killer drones. There has been a concerted effort by former Obama colleagues to paint Haines as a voice of restraint that tried to pro­tect­ civil­ians. But according to former CIA whistleblower Kiarikou, Haines regularly approved the drone bombings that killed not only suspected terrorists, but entire families, including children, who died as collateral damage."It was Avril that decided whether it was legal to incinerate someone from the sky," said Kiriakou.

When human rights groups denounced Obama's rash use of extrajudicial killings, including the assumption that all military-age males in the strike zone were "enemy combatants" and therefore legitimate targets, Haines was enlisted to co-author a new "pres­i­den­tial pol­i­cy guid­ance" to tighten the regulations. But this new "guidance," issued on May 22, 2013, continued to blur the line between civilians and combatants, nor­mal­izing tar­get­ed assas­si­na­tions and effectively repudiating the "presumption of innocence" that has been the bedrock principle of civilian law for over 800 years.

The drone playbook, "PROCEDURES FOR APPROVING DIRECT ACTION AGAINST TERRORIST TARGETS LOCATED OUTSIDE THE UNITED STATES AND AREAS OF ACTIVE HOSTILITIES," says on page 1 that any "direct action must be conducted lawfully and taken against lawful targets," yet the guidelines never reference international or domestic laws that define when extrajudicial killings outside of an active war zone are permitted.

On page 4, the guidelines for drone strikes allow for lethal action against those who are not "high value targets," without explaining the criteria the CIA would use to identify someone as an imminent threat to the security of the United States. On page 12, the co-authors, Haines among them, redacted the minimum profile requirements for an individual "nominated" for lethal action. The very term "nominated" suggests an effort to sugarcoat targeted assassination, as though the bombing target is recomended for a U.S. presidential cabinet position.

Page 12 of Haines's guidelines for extrajudicial killings. Required generic profile entries for individuals "nominated" for lethal action are redacted.

Moreover, the guidelines themselves were often totally disregarded. The policy states, for example, that the U.S. "prioritizes, as a matter of policy, the capture of terrorist suspects as a preferred option over lethal action" and that lethal action should be taken "only when capture of an individual is not feasible." But the Obama administration did nothing of the sort. Under George Bush, at least 780 terrorist suspects were captured and thrown into the U.S.-run gulag in Guantanamo. Haines's guidelines prohibit transfer to Guantanamo so, instead, suspects were simply incinerated.

The guidelines required "near certainty that non-combatants will not be killed or injured," but this requirement was routinely violated, as documented by the Bureau of Investigative Journalism.

Haines's policy guidance also states that the U.S. would respect other states' sovereignty, only undertaking lethal action when other governments "cannot or will not" address a threat to the U.S. This, too, became simply empty words on paper. The U.S. barely even consulted with the governments in whose territory it was dropping bombs and, in the case of Pakistan, openly defied the government. In December 2013, the National Assembly of Pakistan unanimously approved a resolution against U.S. drone strikes in Pakistan, calling them a violation of "the charter of the United Nations, international laws and humanitarian norms" and Pakistan's former Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif stated: "The use of drones is not only a continual violation of our territorial integrity but also detrimental to our resolve and efforts at eliminating terrorism from our country." But the U.S. ignored the pleas of Pakistan's elected government.

The proliferation of drone killings under Obama, from Yemen to Somalia, also violated U.S. law, which gives Congress the sole authority to authorize military conflict. But Obama's legal team, which included Haines, circumvented the law by insisting that these military interventions fell under the 2001 Authorization for the Use of Military Force (AUMF), the law Congress passed to target Afghanistan in the wake of the 9/11 attacks. This specious argument provided fodder for the out-of-control misuse of that 2001 AUMF which, according to the Congressional Research Service, has been relied on to justify U.S. military action at least 41 times in 19 countries.

In addition, the guidelines don't even require the CIA and other agencies participating in the drone program to notify the President, the Commander-in-Chief, as to who is to be killed in a drone strike, except when a targeted individual is a U.S. citizen or when the agencies in charge cannot agree on the target.

There are many other reasons to reject Haines. She advocates intensifying crippling economic sanctions on North Korea that undermine a negotiated peace, and "regime change"--hypothetically engineered by a U.S. ally--that could leave a collapsed North Korea vulnerable to terrorist theft of its nuclear material; she was a consultant at WestExec Advisors, a firm that exploits insider government connections to help companies secure plum Pentagon contracts; and she was a consultant with Palantir, a data-mining company that facilitated Trump's mass deportations of immigrants.

But Haines's record on torture and drones, alone, should be enough for Senators to reject her nomination. The unassuming spy—who got her start at the White House as a legal adviser in the Bush State Department in 2003, the year the U.S. invaded Iraq—might look and sound more like your favorite college professor than someone who enabled murder by remote control or wielded a thick black pen to cover up CIA torture, but a clear examination of her past should convince the Senate that Haines is unfit for high office in an administration that promises to restore transparency, integrity, and respect for international law.

Tell your Senator: Vote NO on Haines.

Medea Benjamin is cofounder of CODEPINK for Peace, and author of several books, including Drone Warfare: Killing by Remote Control. In 2013 she directly confronted President Obama about his drone killings.

Marcy Winograd of Progressive Democrats of America served as a 2020 DNC Delegate for Bernie Sanders and co-founded the Progressive Caucus of the California Democratic Party. Coordinator of CODEPINKCONGRESS, Marcy spearheads Capitol Hill calling parties to mobilize co-sponsors and votes for progressive foreign policy legislation.

Why Democrats must make a firm break from the CIA's horrifying record on torture

It was painful enough to live through the U.S invasion of Iraq that caused untold devastation and human misery for no justifiable reason.

Now we are again reminded of the grim Bush legacy with President-elect Biden's nomination of Avril Haines for Director of National Intelligence. Haines, who has an inside-the-beltway reputation for being nice and soft spoken, was a little too nice to CIA agents who hacked the computers of Senate Intelligence Committee investigators looking into the CIA use of torture--waterboarding, sleep deprivation, hypothermia, rectal feeding, whippings, sexual humiliation--at prisons in Guatanamo and Afghanistan during the Bush War on Terror.

As Deputy Director of the CIA in the Obama administration, Haines chose not to discipline those CIA hackers who violated the separation of powers, crossing the boundary line and beaching the firewall between the executive and legislative branches. To add insult to injury, Haines led the team that redacted an exhaustive 5-year, 6,000-page Senate Intelligence Committee Report on Torture until it was reduced to a censored, 500-page summary smeared with black ink to cover up the screaming horrors and shield those responsible.

That's why torture survivors and their advocates have just released a damning Open Letter urging Senators to vote NO on Haines when her nomination lands in their laps in mid-January or February after the cyber pomp and circumstance of a virtual Presidential inauguration. The letter, signed by several decade-long detainee/survivors of torture at Guantanamo, also objects to the possible nomination of Mike Morell, a CIA analyst under Bush, for CIA Director.

"Elevating torture apologists to a leadership position within the Biden administration will damage the USA's standing and give the world's dictators succor and comfort," said

Djamel Ameziane, a Guantanamo detainee from Algeria who was tortured and held without charge from 2002-2013, until he was finally released from prison.

Morell's traction may be on the wane with the Biden administration, however, after progressives launched a campaign against Morell, the former Deputy and Acting CIA Director under Obama, and Senator Ron Wyden—a powerful Democrat on the Senate Intelligence Committee—called him a "torture apologist" and said his appointment to head the CIA was a "non starter."

Objections to Morell include his defense of the Agency's "enhanced interrogation" practices: mock drownings, "walling" -- repeatedly slamming prisoners against a wall, whipping detainees with electrical cords, dumping freezing cold water on detainees naked except for diapers.

Morell refused to call these practices torture. "I don't like calling it torture for one simple reason: to call it torture says my guys were torturers," Morell admitted to Vice reporters in 2015. "I'm gonna defend my guys till my last breath," said Morell, who put his CIA buddies above truth, the law and basic decency.

Morell doesn't call it torture, but Guantanamo survivor Moazzam Begg knows exactly what torture is. Begg, who signed a false confession while tortured, is Outreach Director for CAGE, a UK-based organization serving communities hard hit by the War on Terror. Begg recollects his days in US custody. "They tied me up with my hands behind my back to my legs, kicked me in the head, kicked me in the back, threatened to take me to Egypt to be tortured, to be raped, to be electrocuted. They had a woman screaming in the next room whom I believed at that time was my wife. They bought pictures of my children and told me I would never see them again."

Contrary to the Senate report and the CIA's own internal review, Morell justified the torture by insisting that it was effective in thwarting future plots against Americans. Senate staffers said Morell got names, dates and facts all mixed up, and was dead wrong on the effectiveness of torture.

Torture Survivor and award-winning writer Mansoor Adayfi, sold to US forces in Afghanistan for bounty money and imprisoned without charge at Guantanamo for 14 years, knows firsthand that torture doesn't work. "In Guantanamo, when they put you under very bad circumstances—like 72 hours under very cold air conditioning, and you are tied to the ground and someone comes and pours cold water on you—you are going to tell them whatever they want you to say. I will sign anything, I will admit anything!"

In addition to soft-pedaling the use of torture, Morell helped shield the abusers from accountability by defending the CIA's 2005 destruction of nearly 90 videotapes of the brutal interrogation of Abu Zubaydah and other detainees in CIA black sites.

Progressives should know soon whether Morell's cozy relationship with Bush-era CIA agents buries his nomination for good.

Biden is expected to nominate his candidate for CIA director any day now. For Jeffrey Kaye, author of Cover-Up at Guantanamo and a signatory to the Open Letter, the President-Elect must pass on Morell and the Senate must reject Haines. "Morell and Haines have put loyalty to CIA torturers above adherence to US treaties and domestic law, as well as basic morality. To allow them to serve in government would send a message to all that accountability for torture is passé, and that war crimes will always be dismissed with a wink from those in high office."

Other signatories to the letter objecting to Morell and Haines include:

  • Mohamedou Ould Salahi, Guantanamo prisoner held without charge for 14 years; beaten, force fed, deprived of sleep; released in 2016, author, Guantánamo Diary;
  • Major Todd Pierce (U.S. Army, Retired), Judge Advocate General attorney on the defense teams for Guantánamo military commissions defendants;
  • Sister Dianna Ortiz, a US missionary, teacher of Mayan children, who was tortured by members of the CIA-funded Guatemalan army;
  • Carlos Mauricio, College professor kidnapped and tortured by US-backed right-wing death squads in El Salvador; Executive Director: Stop Impunity Project;
  • Roy Bourgeois, Roman Catholic priest who founded School of the Americas Watch to protest US training Latin American military officers in torture techniques;
  • Colonel Larry Wilkerson, Whistleblower and Chief of Staff to Secretary of State Colin Powell;
  • John Kiriakou, former CIA officer imprisoned after exposing classified information about CIA waterboarding;
  • Roger Waters, musician formerly with Pink Floyd, whose song "Each Small Candle" is a tribute to a torture victim.

Progressives have been lobbying against the inclusion of torture apologists in the Biden administration since the August Democratic National Convention, when 450 delegates delivered a letter to Biden urging him to hire new foreign policy advisors and reject Haines. CODEPINK later launched a petition signed by over 4,000, and organized Capitol Hill calling parties with Muslim Delegates and Allies to leave "No on Haines, No on Morell," messages at the offices of Senate Intelligence Committee members slated to question Haines during confirmation hearings.

For months, Morell was considered the frontrunner for CIA director, but opposition to his disgraceful defense of torture has cast a pall on his nomination. Now anti-war activists say they want to make sure his nomination is off the table, and that Biden and the Senate also understand Avril Haines must be rejected for her complicity in suppressing evidence of CIA torture.

There's more, too.

Both Morell and Haines supported Trump's nomination of Gina Haspel to CIA Director — a nomination that then-Senator Kamala Harris, other prominent Democrats, and Senator John McCain vigorously opposed. Haspel supervised a black site prison in Thailand and drafted the memo authorizing the destruction of CIA videotapes documenting torture.

In the words of Colonel Wilkerson, Chief of Staff for Bush's Secretary of State Colin Powell , "Kidnapping, torture and assassination have no place in a democracy and turn the CIA into a secret police … Abuses of the kind documented in the Senate's report could happen again."

And they could--if Biden and the Senate elevate torture apologists and whitewashers to the White House.

We need intelligence leaders who acknowledge that torture is illegal under international law; that is inhumane; that it is ineffective; that it puts at risk U.S. military personnel captured by adversaries. The American people must send a clear message to President-elect Biden that we will not accept torture enablers in his administration.

Medea Benjamin is cofounder of CODEPINK for Peace, and author of several books, including Drone Warfare: Killing by Remote Control. She has participated in anti-torture protests outside the Guantanamo Prison in Cuba, at the White House and in Congressional hearings.

Marcy Winograd of Progressive Democrats of America served as a 2020 DNC Delegate for Bernie Sanders and co-founded the Progressive Caucus of the California Democratic Party. Coordinator of CODEPINKCONGRESS, Marcy spearheads Capitol Hill calling parties to mobilize co-sponsors and votes for peace and foreign policy legislation.

Will Biden’s America stop creating terrorists?

Joe Biden will take command of the White House at a time when the American public is more concerned about battling coronavirus than fighting overseas wars. But America's wars rage on regardless, and the militarized counterterrorism policy Biden has supported in the past—based on airstrikes, special operations and the use of proxy forces—is precisely what keeps these conflicts raging.

In Afghanistan, Biden opposed Obama's 2009 troop surge, and after the surge failed, Obama reverted to the policy that Biden favored to begin with, which became the hallmark of their war policy in other countries as well. In insider circles, this was referred to as "counterterrorism," as opposed to "counterinsurgency."

In Afghanistan, that meant abandoning the large-scale deployment of U.S. forces, and relying instead on air strikes, drone strikes and special operations "kill or capture" raids, while recruiting and training Afghan forces to do nearly all the ground fighting and holding of territory.

In the 2011 Libya intervention, the NATO-Arab monarchist coalition embedded hundreds of Qatari special operations forces and Western mercenaries with the Libyan rebels to call in NATO airstrikes and train local militias, including Islamist groups with links to Al Qaeda. The forces they unleashed are still fighting over the spoils nine years later.

While Joe Biden now takes credit for opposing the disastrous intervention in Libya, at the time he was quick to hail its deceptive short-term success and Colonel Gaddafi's gruesome assassination. "NATO got it right," Biden said in a speech at Plymouth State College in October 2011 on the very day President Obama announced Gaddafi's death. "In this case, America spent $2 billion and didn't lose a single life. This is more the prescription for how to deal with the world as we go forward than it has in the past."

While Biden has since washed his hands of the debacle in Libya, that operation was in fact emblematic of the doctrine of covert and proxy war backed by airstrikes that he supported, and which he has yet to disavow. Biden still says he supports "counterterrorism" operations, but he was elected president without ever publicly answering a direct question about his support for the massive use of airstrikes and drone strikes that are an integral part of that doctrine.

In the campaign against Islamic State in Iraq and Syria, U.S.-led forces dropped over 118,000 bombs and missiles, reducing major cities like Mosul and Raqqa to rubble and killing tens of thousands of civilians. When Biden said America "didn't lose a single life" in Libya, he clearly meant "American life." If "life" simply means life, the war in Libya obviously cost countless lives, and made a mockery of a UN Security Council resolution that approved the use of military force only to protect civilians.

As Rob Hewson, the editor of the arms trade journal Jane's Air-Launched Weapons, told the AP as the U.S. unleashed its "Shock and Awe" bombardment on Iraq in 2003, "In a war that's being fought for the benefit of the Iraqi people, you can't afford to kill any of them. But you can't drop bombs and not kill people. There's a real dichotomy in all of this." The same obviously applies to people in Libya, Afghanistan, Syria, Yemen, Palestine and wherever American bombs have been falling for 20 years.

As Obama and Trump both tried to pivot from the failed "global war on terrorism" to what the Trump administration has branded "great power competition," or a reversion to the Cold War, the war on terror has stubbornly refused to exit on cue. Al Qaeda and Islamic State have been driven from places the U.S. has bombed or invaded, but keep reappearing in new countries and regions. Islamic State now occupies a swath of northern Mozambique, and has also taken root in Afghanistan. Other Al Qaeda affiliates are active across Africa, from Somalia and Kenya in East Africa to eleven countries in West Africa.

After nearly 20 years of "war on terror," there is now a large body of research into what drives people to join Islamist armed groups fighting local government forces or Western invaders. While American politicians still wring their hands over what twisted motives can possibly account for such incomprehensible behavior, it turns out that it's really not that complicated. Most fighters are not motivated by Islamist ideology as much as by the desire to protect themselves, their families or their communities from militarized "counterterrorism" forces, as documented in this report by the Center for Civilians in Conflict.

Another study, titled The Journey to Extremism in Africa: Drivers, Incentives and the Tipping Point for Recruitment, found that the tipping point or "final straw" that drives over 70% of fighters to join armed groups is the killing or detention of a family member by "counterterrorism" or "security" forces. The study exposes the U.S. brand of militarized counterterrorism as a self-fulfilling policy that fuels an intractable cycle of violence by generating and replenishing an ever-expanding pool of "terrorists" as it destroys families, communities and countries.

For example, the U.S. formed the Trans-Sahara Counterterrorism Partnership with 11 West African countries in 2005 and has so far sunk a billion dollars into it. In a recent report from Burkina Faso, Nick Turse cited U.S. government reports that confirm how 15 years of U.S.-led "counterterrorism" have only fueled an explosion of terrorism across West Africa.

The Pentagon's Africa Center for Strategic Studies reports that the 1,000 violent incidents involving militant Islamist groups in Burkina Faso, Mali and Niger in the past year amount to a seven-fold increase since 2017, while the confirmed minimum number of people killed has increased from 1,538 in 2017 to 4,404 in 2020.

Heni Nsaibia, a senior researcher at ACLED (Armed Conflict Location Event Data), told Turse that, "Focusing on Western concepts of counterterrorism and embracing a strictly military model has been a major mistake. Ignoring drivers of militancy, such as poverty and lack of social mobility, and failing to alleviate the conditions that foster insurgencies, like widespread human rights abuses by security forces, have caused irreparable harm."

Indeed, even the New York Times has confirmed that "counterterrorism" forces in Burkina Faso are killing as many civilians as the "terrorists" they are supposed to be fighting. A 2019 U.S. State Department Country Report on Burkina Faso documented allegations of "hundreds of extrajudicial killings of civilians as part of its counterterrorism strategy," mainly killing members of the Fulani ethnic group.

Souaibou Diallo, the president of a regional association of Muslim scholars, told Turse that these abuses are the main factor driving the Fulani to join militant groups. "Eighty percent of those who join terrorist groups told us that it isn't because they support jihadism, it is because their father or mother or brother was killed by the armed forces," said Diallo. "So many people have been killed—assassinated—but there has been no justice."

Since the inception of the Global War on Terror, both sides have used the violence of their enemies to justify their own violence, fueling a seemingly endless spiral of chaos spreading from country to country and region to region across the world.

But the U.S. roots of all this violence and chaos run even deeper than this. Both Al Qaeda and Islamic State evolved from groups originally recruited, trained, armed and supported by the CIA to overthrow foreign governments: Al Qaeda in Afghanistan in the 1980s, and the Nusra Front and Islamic State in Syria since 2011.

If the Biden administration really wants to stop fueling chaos and terrorism in the world, it must radically transform the CIA, whose role in destabilizing countries, supporting terrorism, spreading chaos and creating false pretexts for war and hostility has been well documented since the 1970s by Colonel Fletcher Prouty, William Blum, Gareth Porter and others.

The United States will never have an objective, depoliticized national intelligence system, or therefore a reality-based, coherent foreign policy, until it exorcises this ghost in the machine. Biden has chosen Avril Haines, who crafted the secret quasi-legal basis for Obama's drone program and protected CIA torturers, to be his Director of National Intelligence. Is Haines up to the job of transforming these agencies of violence and chaos into a legitimate, working intelligence system? That seems unlikely, and yet it is vital.

The new Biden administration needs to take a truly fresh look at the whole range of destructive policies the United States has pursued around the world for decades, and the insidious role the CIA has played in so many of them.

We hope Biden will finally renounce hare-brained, militarized policies that destroy societies and ruin people's lives for the sake of unattainable geopolitical ambitions, and that he will instead invest in humanitarian and economic aid that really helps people to live more peaceful and prosperous lives.

We also hope that Biden will reverse Trump's pivot back to the Cold War and prevent the diversion of more of our country's resources to a futile and dangerous arms race with China and Russia.

We have real problems to deal with in this century - existential problems that can only be solved by genuine international cooperation. We can no longer afford to sacrifice our future on the altar of the Global War on Terror, a New Cold War, Pax Americana or other imperialist fantasies.

Medea Benjamin is cofounder of CODEPINK for Peace, and author of several books, including Inside Iran: The Real History and Politics of the Islamic Republic of Iran. She is a member of the writers' group Collective20.

Nicolas J. S. Davies is an independent journalist, a researcher with CODEPINK and the author of Blood On Our Hands: the American Invasion and Destruction of Iraq.

We're witnessing a desperate attempt to sabotage Biden's Iran policy in Trump's last days in office

Israel used all four years of Trump's presidency to entrench its systems of occupation and apartheid. Now that Joe Biden has won the U.S. election, the assassination of Iran's top nuclear scientist, likely by Israel with the go-ahead from the US administration, is a desperate attempt to use Trump's last days in office to sabotage Biden's chances of successful diplomacy with Iran. Biden, Congress and the world community can't let that happen.

On Friday November 27, Iran's top nuclear scientist, Mohsen Fakhrizadeh, was assassinated in the Iranian city of Absard outside of Tehran. First, a truck with explosives blew up near the car carrying Fakhrizadeh. Then, gunmen started firing on Fakhrizadeh's car. The immediate speculation was that Israel had carried out the attack, perhaps with the support of the Iranian terrorist group the People's Mujahedin Organization of Iran (MEK). Iranian Foreign Minister Javad Zarif tweeted that there were "serious indications of [an] Israeli role" in the assassination.

All indications indeed point to Israel. In 2018, Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu identified this scientist, Fakhrizadeh, as a target of his administration during a presentation in which he claimed that Israel had obtained secret Iranian files that alleged the country was not actually abiding by the Iran Nuclear Deal. "Remember that name, Fakhrizadeh. So here's his directive, right here," Netanyahu said.

Fakhrizadeh was far from the first assassination of an Iranian nuclear scientist. Between 2010 and 2012, four Iranian nuclear scientists were assassinatedMasoud Alimohammadi, Majid Shahriari, Darioush Rezaeinejad and Mostafa Ahmadi Roshan. Though Israel never took official credit for the extrajudicial executions, reports were fairly conclusive that Israel, working with the MEK, were behind the killings. The Israeli government never denied the allegations.

The assassination of Fakhrizadeh also follows reports that the Israeli government recently instructed its senior military officials to prepare for a possible U.S. strike on Iran, likely referring to a narrowly averted plan by President Trump to bomb Iran's Natanz nuclear site. Furthermore, there was a clandestine meeting between Netanyahu and Saudi ruler Mohammed bin Salman. Among the topics of conversation were normalization between the two countries and their shared antagonism towards Iran.

Israel's attacks on Iran's nuclear activities are particularly galling given that Israel, not Iran, is the only country in the Middle East in possession of nuclear weapons, and Israel refuses to sign the International Treaty on the Non-Proliferation of Nuclear Weapons. Iran, on the other hand, doesn't have nuclear weapons and it has opened itself up to the most intrusive international inspections ever implemented. Adding to this absurd double standard is the intense pressure on Iran from the United States—a nation that has more nuclear weapons than any country on earth.

Given the close relationship between Netanyahu and Trump, and the seriousness of this attack, it is very likely that this assassination was carried out with the green light from Trump himself. Trump has spent his time in the White House destroying the progress the Obama administration made in easing the conflict with Iran. He withdrew from the nuclear deal and imposed an unending stream of crippling sanctions that have affected everything from the price of food and housing, to Iran's ability to obtain life-saving medicines during the pandemic. He has blocked Iran from getting an IMF $5 billion emergency loan to deal with the pandemic. In January, Trump brought the US to the brink of war by assassinating Iranian General Qassem Soleimani, and in an early November meeting with his top security advisors, and right before the assassination of Fakhrizadeh, Trump himself reportedly raised the possibility of a military strike against Iran's nuclear facilities.

After the news broke of the assassination, Trump expressed implicit approval of the attack by retweeting Israeli journalist and expert on the Israeli Mossad intelligence service, Yossi Melman, who described the killing of Fahkrizadeh as a "major psychological and professional blow for Iran."

Iran has responded to these intense provocations with extreme patience and reserve. The government was hoping for a change in the White House and Biden's victory signaled the possibility of both the U.S. and Iran going back into compliance with the nuclear deal. This recent assassination, however, further strengthens the hands of Iranian hardliners who say it was a mistake to negotiate with the United States, and that Iran should just leave the nuclear deal and build a nuclear weapon for its own defense.

Iranian-American analyst Negar Mortazavi bemoaned the chilling effect the assassination will have on Iran's political space. "The atmosphere will be even more securitized, civil society and political opposition will be pressured even more, and the anti-West discourse will be strengthened in Iran's upcoming presidential election," she tweeted.

The hardliners already won the majority of seats in the February parliamentary elections and are predicted to win the presidential elections scheduled for June. So the window for negotiations is a narrow one of four months immediately after Biden's inauguration. W. What happens between now and January 20 could derail negotiations before they even start.

Jamal Abdi, president of the National Iranian American Council, said that US and Israeli efforts to sabotage Iran's nuclear program "have now morphed into Trump & Netanyahu sabotaging the next US President. They are trying to goad Iran into provocations & accelerating nuclear work—exactly what they claim to oppose. Their real fear is US & Iran talking."

That's why U.S. members of Congress, and President-elect Joe Biden himself, must vigorously condemn this act and affirm their commitment to the US rejoining the nuclear deal. When Israel assassinated other nuclear scientists during the Obama administration, Secretary of State Hillary Clinton denounced the murders, understanding that such illegal actions made negotiations infinitely more difficult.

The European Union, as well as some important US figures have already condemned the attack. Connecticut Senator Chris Murphy pointed out the risks involved in normalizing assassinations, how the killing will make it harder to restart the Iran Nuclear agreement, and how the assassination of General Soleimani backfired from a security standpoint. Former Obama advisor Ben Rhodes tweeted that it was an "outrageous action aimed at undermining diplomacy," and former CIA head John Brennan called the assassination "criminal" and "highly reckless," risking "lethal retaliation and a new round of regional conflict," but rather than putting the responsibility on the U.S. and Israel to stop the provocations, he called on Iran to "be wise" and "resist the urge to respond."

Many on Twitter have raised the question of what the world response would be if the roles were reversed and Iran assassinated an Israeli nuclear scientist. Without a doubt, the U.S. administration, whether Democrat or Republican, would be outraged and supportive of a swift military response. But if we want to avoid escalation, then we must hope that Iran will not retaliate, at least not during Trump's last days in office.

The only way to stop this crisis from spiraling out of control is for the world community to condemn the act, and demand a UN investigation and accountability for the perpetrators. The countries that joined Iran and the United States in signing the 2015 nuclear agreement—Russia, China, Germany, the UK and France—must not only oppose the assassination but publicly recommit to upholding the nuclear deal. President-elect Joe Biden must send a clear message to Israel that under his administration, these illegal acts will have consequences. He must also send a clear message to Iran that he intends to quickly re-enter the nuclear deal, stop blocking Iran's $5 billion IMF loan request, and begin a new era of diplomacy to dial back the intense conflict he inherited from Trump's recklessness.

Medea Benjamin is cofounder of CODEPINK for Peace, and author of several books, including Inside Iran: The Real History and Politics of the Islamic Republic of Iran. She is a member of the writers' group Collective20.

Ariel Gold is the national co-director of CODEPINK and runs their Peace with Iran campaign.

Here are 10 ways Joe Biden can immediately undo Trump's executive order-driven foreign policy

Donald Trump loves executive orders as a tool of dictatorial power, avoiding the need to work through Congress. But that works both ways, making it relatively easy for incoming President Joe Biden to reverse many of Trump's most disastrous decisions. Here are 10 things Biden can do as soon as he takes office. Each one can set the stage for broader progressive foreign policy initiatives, which we have also outlined.

1) End the U.S. role in the Saudi-led war on Yemen and restore U.S. humanitarian aid to Yemen.

Congress already passed a war powers resolution to end the U.S. role in the Yemen war, but Trump vetoed it, prioritizing war-machine profits and a cozy relationship with the horrific Saudi dictatorship. Biden should immediately issue an executive order to end every aspect of the U.S. role in the war, based on the resolution that Trump vetoed.

The U.S. should also accept its share of responsibility for what many have called the greatest humanitarian crisis in the world today, and provide Yemen with funding to feed its people, restore its health care system and eventually rebuild this devastated country. Biden should restore and expand USAID funding and recommit U.S. financial support to the UN, the WHO and World Food Program relief programs in Yemen.

2) Suspend all U.S. arms sales and transfers to Saudi Arabia and the United Arab Emirates (UAE).

Both countries are responsible for massacring civilians in Yemen, and the UAE is reportedly the largest arms supplier to Gen. Haftar's rebel forces in Libya. Congress passed bills to suspend arms sales to both of them, but Trump vetoed them too. Then he struck arms deals worth $24 billion with the UAE as part of an obscene military and commercial ménage à trois between the U.S., the UAE and Israel, which he absurdly tried to pass off as a peace agreement.

While mostly ignored at the behest of the weapons companies, there are actually U.S. laws that require the suspension of arms transfers to countries that use them to violate U.S. and international law. They include the Leahy Law, which prohibits the U.S. from providing military assistance to foreign security forces that commit gross violations of human rights, and the Arms Export Control Act, which states that countries must use imported U.S. weapons only for legitimate self defense.

Once these suspensions are in place, the Biden administration should seriously review the legality of Trump's arms sales to both countries, with a view to canceling them and banning future sales. Biden should commit to applying these laws consistently and uniformly to all U.S. military aid and arms sales, without making exceptions for Israel, Egypt or other U.S. allies.

3) Rejoin the Iran Nuclear Agreement (JCPOA) and lift sanctions on Iran.

After reneging on the JCPOA, Trump slapped draconian sanctions on Iran, brought us to the brink of war by killing its top general, and is even trying to order up illegal, aggressive war plans in his last days as president. The Biden administration will face an uphill battle undoing this web of hostile actions and the deep mistrust they have caused, so Biden must act decisively to restore mutual trust: immediately rejoin the JCPOA, lift the sanctions, and stop blocking the $5 billion IMF loan that Iran desperately needs to deal with the COVID crisis.

In the longer term, the U.S. should give up the idea of regime change in Iran — this is for the people of Iran to decide — and instead restore diplomatic relations and start working with Iran to de-escalate other Middle East conflicts, from Lebanon to Syria to Afghanistan, where cooperation with Iran is essential.

4) End U.S. threats and sanctions against officials of the International Criminal Court (ICC).

Nothing so brazenly embodies the U.S. government's enduring, bipartisan disdain for international law as its failure to ratify the Rome Statute of the International Criminal Court (ICC). If Biden is serious about recommitting the U.S. to the rule of law, he should submit the Rome Statute to the U.S. Senate for ratification to join 120 other countries as members of the ICC. The Biden administration should also accept the jurisdiction of the International Court of Justice (ICJ), which the U.S. rejected after the Court convicted the U.S. of aggression and ordered it to pay reparations to Nicaragua in 1986.

5) Back President Moon Jae-in's diplomacy for a "permanent peace regime" in Korea.

Biden has reportedly agreed to meet South Korea's President Moon after he is sworn in. Trump's failure to provide sanctions relief and explicit security guarantees to North Korea doomed his diplomacy and became an obstacle to the diplomatic process under way between Korean presidents Moon and Kim Jong-un.

The Biden administration must start negotiating a peace agreement to formally end the Korean War, and initiate confidence-building measures such as opening liaison offices, easing sanctions, facilitating reunions between Korean-American and North Korean families and halting U.S.-South Korea military exercises. Negotiations must involve concrete commitments to non-aggression from the U.S. side to pave the way for a denuclearized Korean Peninsula and the reconciliation that so many Koreans desire — and deserve.

6) Renew New START with Russia and freeze the U.S.'s trillion-dollar new nuke plan.

Biden can end Trump's dangerous game of brinksmanship on Day One and commit to renewing Obama's New START Treaty with Russia, which freezes both countries' nuclear arsenals at 1,550 deployed warheads each. He can also freeze Obama and Trump's plan to spend more than a trillion dollars on a new generation of U.S. nuclear weapons.

Biden should also adopt a long overdue "no first use" nuclear weapons policy, but most of the world is ready to go much further. In 2017, 122 countries voted for the Treaty on the Prohibition of Nuclear Weapons (TPNW) at the UN General Assembly. None of the current nuclear weapons states voted for or against the treaty, essentially pretending to ignore it. On October 24, 2020, Honduras became the 50th country to ratify the treaty, which will now go into effect on Jan. 22, 2021.

So here is a visionary challenge for President Biden for that day, his second full day in office: Invite the leaders of each of the other eight nuclear weapons states to a conference to negotiate how all nine nuclear weapons states will sign onto the TPNW, eliminate their nuclear weapons and remove this existential danger hanging over every human being on Earth.

7) Lift illegal unilateral U.S. sanctions against other countries.

Economic sanctions imposed by the UN Security Council are generally considered legal under international law, and require action by the Security Council to impose or lift them. But unilateral economic sanctions that deprive ordinary people of necessities like food and medicine are illegal and cause grave harm to innocent citizens.

U.S. sanctions on countries like Iran, Venezuela, Cuba, Nicaragua, North Korea and Syria are a form of economic warfare. UN special rapporteurs have condemned them as crimes against humanity and compared them to medieval sieges. Since most of these sanctions were imposed by executive order, President Biden can lift them the same way on Day One.

In the longer term, unilateral sanctions that affect an entire population are a form of coercion, like military intervention, coups and covert operations, that have no place in a legitimate foreign policy based on diplomacy, the rule of law and the peaceful resolution of disputes.

8) Roll back Trump policies on Cuba and move to normalize relations.

Over the past four years, the Trump administration overturned the progress towards normal relations made by President Obama, sanctioning Cuba's tourism and energy industries, blocking coronavirus aid shipments, restricting remittances to family members and sabotaging Cuba's international medical missions, which are a major source of income for its health system.

Biden should start working with the Cuban government to allow the return of diplomats to their respective embassies, lift all restrictions on remittances, remove Cuba from the list of countries that are not U.S. partners against terrorism, cancel the portion of the Helms Burton Act (Title III) that allows Americans to sue companies that use property seized by the Cuban government 60 years ago, and collaborate with Cuban health professionals in the fight against COVID-19.

These measures would mark a down payment on a new era of diplomacy and cooperation, as long as they don't fall victim to crass attempts to gain conservative Cuban-American votes in the next election, which Biden and politicians of both parties should commit to resisting.

9) Restore pre-2015 rules of engagement to spare civilian lives.

In the fall of 2015, as U.S. forces escalated their bombing of ISIS targets in Iraq and Syria to more than 100 bomb and missile strikes per day, the Obama administration loosened military rules of engagement to let U.S. commanders in the Middle East order airstrikes that were expected to kill up to 10 civilians without prior approval from Washington. Trump reportedly loosened the rules even further, but details were not made public. Iraqi Kurdish intelligence reports counted 40,000 civilians killed in the assault on Mosul alone. Biden can reset these rules and start killing fewer civilians on Day One.

But we can avoid these tragic civilian deaths altogether by ending these wars. Democrats have been critical of Trump's often ad hoc pronouncements about withdrawing U.S. forces from Afghanistan, Syria, Iraq and Somalia. President Biden now has the chance to truly end these wars. He should set a date, no later than the end of December 2021, by when all U.S. troops will come home from all these combat zones. This policy may not be popular among war profiteers, but it would certainly be popular among Americans across the ideological spectrum.

10) Freeze U.S. military spending, and launch a major initiative to reduce it.

At the end of the Cold War, former senior Pentagon officials told the Senate Budget Committee that U.S. military spending could safely be cut by half over the next 10 years. That goal was never achieved, and the promised peace dividend gave way to a triumphalist "power dividend."

The military-industrial complex exploited the crimes of Sept. 11, 2001, to justify an extraordinary one-sided arms race in which the U.S. accounted for 45% of global military spending from 2003 to 2011, far outstripping its peak Cold War military spending. The military-industrial complex is counting on Biden to escalate a renewed Cold War with Russia and China as the only plausible pretext for continuing these record military budgets.

Biden must dial back the conflicts with China and Russia, and instead begin the critical task of moving money from the Pentagon to urgent domestic needs. He should start with the 10 percent cut supported this year by 93 representatives and 23 senators.

In the longer term, Biden should look for deeper cuts in Pentagon spending, as in Rep. Barbara Lee's bill to cut $350 billion per year from the U.S. military budget, approximating the 50% peace dividend we were promised after the Cold War and freeing up resources we sorely need to invest in health care, education, clean energy and modern infrastructure.

Here are 10 foreign policy fiascos Biden can fix on day one

Donald Trump loves executive orders as a tool of dictatorial power, avoiding the need to work through Congress. But that works both ways, making it relatively easy for President Biden to reverse many of Trump's most disastrous decisions. Here are ten things Biden can do as soon as he takes office. Each one can set the stage for broader progressive foreign policy initiatives, which we have also outlined.

1) End the U.S. role in the Saudi-led war on Yemen and restore U.S. humanitarian aid to Yemen.

Congress already passed a War Powers Resolution to end the U.S. role in the Yemen war, but Trump vetoed it, prioritizing war machine profits and a cozy relationship with the horrific Saudi dictatorship. Biden should immediately issue an executive order to end every aspect of the U.S. role in the war, based on the resolution that Trump vetoed.

The U.S. should also accept its share of responsibility for what many have called the greatest humanitarian crisis in the world today, and provide Yemen with funding to feed its people, restore its healthcare system and eventually rebuild this devastated country. Biden should restore and expand USAID funding and recommit U.S. financial support to the UN, the WHO, and to World Food Program relief programs in Yemen.

2) Suspend all U.S. arms sales and transfers to Saudi Arabia and the United Arab Emirates (UAE).

Both countries are responsible for massacring civilians in Yemen, and the UAE is reportedly the largest arms supplier to General Haftar's rebel forces in Libya. Congress passed bills to suspend arms sales to both of them, but Trump vetoed them too. Then he struck arms deals worth $24 billion with the UAE as part of an obscene military and commercial ménage à trois between the U.S., the UAE and Israel, which he absurdly tried to pass off as a peace agreement.

While mostly ignored at the behest of the weapons companies, there are actually U.S. laws that require the suspension of arms transfers to countries that use them to violate U.S. and international law. They include the Leahy Law that prohibits the U.S. from providing military assistance to foreign security forces that commit gross violations of human rights; and the Arms Export Control Act, which states that countries must use imported U.S. weapons only for legitimate self defense.

Once these suspensions are in place, the Biden administration should seriously review the legality of Trump's arms sales to both countries, with a view to canceling them and banning future sales. Biden should commit to applying these laws consistently and uniformly to all U.S. military aid and arms sales, without making exceptions for Israel, Egypt or other U.S. allies.

3) Rejoin the Iran Nuclear Agreement (JCPOA) and lift sanctions on Iran.

After reneging on the JCPOA, Trump slapped draconian sanctions on Iran, brought us to the brink of war by killing its top general, and is even trying to order up illegal, aggressive war plans in his last days as president. The Biden administration will face an uphill battle undoing this web of hostile actions and the deep mistrust they have caused, so Biden must act decisively to restore mutual trust: immediately rejoin the JCPOA, lift the sanctions, and stop blocking the $5 billion IMF loan that Iran desperately needs to deal with the COVID crisis.

In the longer term, the U.S. should give up the idea of regime change in Iran--this is for the people of Iran to decide--and instead restore diplomatic relations and start working with Iran to deescalate other Middle East conflicts, from Lebanon to Syria to Afghanistan, where cooperation with Iran is essential.

4) End U.S. threats and sanctions against officials of the International Criminal Court (ICC).

Nothing so brazenly embodies the U.S. government's enduring, bipartisan disdain for international law as its failure to ratify the Rome Statute of the International Criminal Court (ICC). If President Biden is serious about recommitting the U.S. to the rule of law, he should submit the Rome Statute to the U.S. Senate for ratification to join 120 other countries as members of the ICC. The Biden administration should also accept the jurisdiction of the International Court of Justice (ICJ), which the U.S. rejected after the Court convicted the U.S. of aggression and ordered it to pay reparations to Nicaragua in 1986.

5) Back President Moon's diplomacy for a "permanent peace regime" in Korea.

President-elect Biden has reportedly agreed to meet South Korea's President Moon Jae-in soon after he is sworn in. Trump's failure to provide sanctions relief and explicit security guarantees to North Korea doomed his diplomacy and became an obstacle to the diplomatic process under way between Korean presidents Moon and Kim. The Biden administration must start negotiating a peace agreement to formally end the Korean war, and initiate confidence-building measures such as opening liaison offices, easing sanctions, facilitating reunions between Korean-American and North Korean families and halting U.S.-South Korea military exercises. Negotiations must involve concrete commitments to non-aggression from the U.S. side to pave the way for a denuclearized Korean Peninsula and the reconciliation that so many Koreans desire--and deserve.

6) Renew New START with Russia and freeze the U.S.'s trillion-dollar new nuke plan.

Biden can end Trump's dangerous game of brinksmanship on Day One and commit to renewing Obama's New START Treaty with Russia, which freezes both countries' nuclear arsenals at 1,550 deployed warheads each. He can also freeze Obama and Trump's plan to spend more than a trillion dollars on a new generation of U.S. nuclear weapons.

Biden should also adopt a long overdue "no first use" nuclear weapons policy, but most of the world is ready to go much further. In 2017, 122 countries voted for the Treaty on the Prohibition of Nuclear Weapons (TPNW) at the UN General Assembly. None of the current nuclear weapons states voted for or against the treaty, essentially pretending to ignore it. On October 24, 2020, Honduras became the 50th country to ratify the treaty, which will now go into effect on January 22, 2021.

So, here is a visionary challenge for President Biden for that day, his second full day in office: Invite the leaders of each of the other eight nuclear weapons states to a conference to negotiate how all nine nuclear weapons states will sign onto the TPNW, eliminate their nuclear weapons and remove this existential danger hanging over every human being on Earth.

7) Lift illegal unilateral U.S. sanctions against other countries.

Economic sanctions imposed by the UN Security Council are generally considered legal under international law, and require action by the Security Council to impose or lift them. But unilateral economic sanctions that deprive ordinary people of necessities like food and medicine are illegal and cause grave harm to innocent citizens.

U.S. sanctions on countries like Iran, Venezuela, Cuba, Nicaragua, North Korea and Syria are a form of economic warfare. UN special rapporteurs have condemned them as crimes against humanity and compared them to medieval sieges. Since most of these sanctions were imposed by executive order, President Biden can lift them the same way on Day One.

In the longer term, unilateral sanctions that affect an entire population are a form of coercion, like military intervention, coups and covert operations, that have no place in a legitimate foreign policy based on diplomacy, the rule of law and the peaceful resolution of disputes.

8) Roll back Trump policies on Cuba and move to normalize relations

Over the past four years, the Trump administration overturned the progress towards normal relations made by President Obama, sanctioning Cuba's tourism and energy industries, blocking coronavirus aid shipments, restricting remittances to family members and sabotaging Cuba's international medical missions, which are a major source of income for its health system.

President Biden should start working with the Cuban government to allow the return of diplomats to their respective embassies, lift all restrictions on remittances, remove Cuba from the list of countries that are not U.S. partners against terrorism, cancel the portion of the Helms Burton Act (Title III) that allows Americans to sue companies that use property seized by the Cuban government 60 years ago, and collaborate with Cuban health professionals in the fight against COVID-19.

These measures would mark a down payment on a new era of diplomacy and cooperation, as long as they don't fall victim to crass attempts to gain conservative Cuban-American votes in the next election, which Biden and politicians of both parties should commit to resisting.

9) Restore pre-2015 rules of engagement to spare civilian lives.

In the fall of 2015, as U.S. forces escalated their bombing of ISIS targets in Iraq and Syria to over 100 bomb and missile strikes per day, the Obama administration loosened military rules of engagement to let U.S. commanders in the Middle East order airstrikes that were expected to kill up to 10 civilians without prior approval from Washington. Trump reportedly loosened the rules even further, but details were not made public. Iraqi Kurdish intelligence reports counted 40,000 civilians killed in the assault on Mosul alone. Biden can reset these rules and start killing fewer civilians on Day One.

But we can avoid these tragic civilian deaths altogether by ending these wars. Democrats have been critical of Trump's often ad hoc pronouncements about withdrawing U.S. forces from Afghanistan, Syria, Iraq and Somalia. President Biden now has the chance to truly end these wars. He should set a date, no later than the end of December 2021, by when all U.S. troops will come home from all these combat zones. This policy may not be popular among war profiteers, but it would certainly be popular among Americans across the ideological spectrum.

10) Freeze U.S. military spending, and launch a major initiative to reduce it.

At the end of the Cold War, former senior Pentagon officials told the Senate Budget Committee that U.S. military spending could safely be cut by half over the next ten years. That goal was never achieved, and the promised peace dividend gave way to a triumphalist "power dividend."

The military-industrial complex exploited the crimes of September 11th to justify an extraordinary one-sided arms race in which the U.S. accounted for 45% of global military spending from 2003 to 2011, far outstripping its peak Cold War military spending. The military-industrial complex is counting on Biden to escalate a renewed Cold War with Russia and China as the only plausible pretext for continuing these record military budgets.

Biden must dial back the conflicts with China and Russia, and instead begin the critical task of moving money from the Pentagon to urgent domestic needs. He should start with the 10 percent cut supported this year by 93 representatives and 23 senators.

In the longer term, Biden should look for deeper cuts in Pentagon spending, as in Representative Barbara Lee's bill to cut $350 billion per year from the U.S. military budget, approximating the 50% peace dividend we were promised after the Cold War and freeing up resources we sorely need to invest in healthcare, education, clean energy and modern infrastructure.

Medea Benjamin is the cofounder of CODEPINK for Peace, and the author of several books, including Kingdom of the Unjust: Behind the US-Saudi Connection and Inside Iran: the Real History and Politics of the Islamic Republic of Iran.

Nicolas J. S. Davies is an independent journalist, a researcher with CODEPINK, and the author of Blood On Our Hands: the American Invasion and Destruction of Iraq.

Will the Biden team be warmongers or peacemakers?

Congratulations to Joe Biden on his election as America's next president! People all over this pandemic-infested, war-torn and poverty-stricken world were shocked by the brutality and racism of the Trump administration and are anxiously wondering whether Biden's presidency will open the door to the kind of international cooperation that we need to confront the serious problems facing humanity in this century.

For progressives everywhere, the knowledge that "another world is possible" has sustained us through decades of greed, extreme inequality and war, as U.S.-led neoliberalism has repackaged and force-fed 19th century laissez-faire capitalism to the people of the 21st century. The Trump experience has revealed, in stark relief, where these policies can lead.

Joe Biden has certainly paid his dues to and reaped rewards from the same corrupt political and economic system as Trump, as the latter delightedly trumpeted in every stump speech. But Biden must understand that the young voters who turned out in unprecedented numbers to put him in the White House have lived their whole lives under this neoliberal system, and did not vote for "more of the same." Nor do they naively think that deeply-rooted problems of American society like racism, militarism and corrupt corporate politics began with Trump.

During his election campaign, Biden has relied on foreign policy advisors from past administrations, particularly the Obama administration, and seems to be considering some of them for top cabinet posts. For the most part, they are members of the "Washington blob" who represent a dangerous continuity with past policies rooted in militarism and other abuses of power.

These include interventions in Libya and Syria, support for the Saudi war in Yemen, drone warfare, indefinite detention without trial at Guantanamo, prosecutions of whistleblowers and whitewashing torture. Some of these people have also cashed in on their government contacts to make hefty salaries in consulting firms and other private sector ventures that feed off government contracts.

- As former Deputy Secretary of State and Deputy National Security Advisor to Obama, Tony Blinken played a leading role in all Obama's aggressive policies. Then he co-founded WestExec Advisors to profit from negotiating contracts between corporations and the Pentagon, including one for Google to develop Artificial Intelligence technology for drone targeting, which was only stopped by a rebellion among outraged Google employees.

- Since the Clinton administration, Michele Flournoy has been a principal architect of the U.S.'s illegal, imperialist doctrine of global war and military occupation. As Obama's Undersecretary of Defense for Policy, she helped to engineer his escalation of the war in Afghanistan and interventions in Libya and Syria. Between jobs at the Pentagon, she has worked the infamous revolving door to consult for firms seeking Pentagon contracts, to co-found a military-industrial think tank called the Center for a New American Security (CNAS), and now to join Tony Blinken at WestExec Advisors.

- Nicholas Burns was U.S. Ambassador to NATO during the U.S. invasions of Afghanistan and Iraq. Since 2008, he has worked for former Defense Secretary William Cohen's lobbying firm The Cohen Group, which is a major global lobbyist for the U.S. arms industry. Burns is a hawk on Russia and China and has condemned NSA whistleblower Edward Snowden as a "traitor."

- As a legal adviser to Obama and the State Department and then as Deputy CIA Director and Deputy National Security Advisor, Avril Haines provided legal cover and worked closely with Obama and CIA Director John Brennan on Obama's tenfold expansion of drone killings.

- Samantha Power served under Obama as UN Ambassador and Human Rights Director at the National Security Council. She supported U.S. interventions in Libya and Syria, as well as the Saudi-led war on Yemen. And despite her human rights portfolio, she never spoke out against Israeli attacks on Gaza that happened under her tenure or Obama's dramatic use of drones that left hundreds of civilians dead.

- Former Hillary Clinton aide Jake Sullivan played a leading role in unleashing U.S. covert and proxy wars in Libya and Syria.

- As UN Ambassador in Obama's first term, Susan Rice obtained UN cover for his disastrous intervention in Libya. As National Security Advisor in Obama's second term, Rice also defended Israel's savage bombardment of Gaza in 2014, bragged about the U.S. "crippling sanctions" on Iran and North Korea, and supported an aggressive stance toward Russia and China.

A foreign policy team led by such individuals will only perpetuate the endless wars, Pentagon overreach and CIA-misled chaos that we—and the world—have endured for the past two decades of the War on Terror.

Making diplomacy "the premier tool of our global engagement."

Biden will take office amid some of the greatest challenges the human race has ever faced—from extreme inequality, debt and poverty caused by neoliberalism, to intractable wars and the existential danger of nuclear war, to the climate crisis, mass extinction and the Covid-19 pandemic.

These problems won't be solved by the same people, and the same mindsets, that got us into these predicaments. When it comes to foreign policy, there is a desperate need for personnel and policies rooted in an understanding that the greatest dangers we face are problems that affect the whole world, and that they can only be solved by genuine international collaboration, not by conflict or coercion.

During the campaign, Joe Biden's website declared, "As president, Biden will elevate diplomacy as the premier tool of our global engagement. He will rebuild a modern, agile U.S. Department of State—investing in and re-empowering the finest diplomatic corps in the world and leveraging the full talent and richness of America's diversity."

This implies that Biden's foreign policy must be managed primarily by the State Department, not the Pentagon. The Cold War and American post-Cold War triumphalism led to a reversal of these roles, with the Pentagon and CIA taking the lead and the State Department trailing behind them (with only 5% of their budget), trying to clean up the mess and restore a veneer of order to countries destroyed by American bombs or destabilized by U.S. sanctions, coups and death squads.

In the Trump era, Secretary of State Mike Pompeo reduced the State Department to little more than a sales team for the military-industrial complex to ink lucrative arms deals with India, Taiwan, Saudi Arabia, the UAE and countries around the world.

What we need is a foreign policy led by a State Department that resolves differences with our neighbors through diplomacy and negotiations, as international law in fact requires, and a Department of Defense that defends the United States and deters international aggression against us, instead of threatening and committing aggression against our neighbors around the world.

As the saying goes, "personnel is policy," so whomever Biden picks for top foreign policy posts will be key in shaping its direction. While our personal preferences would be to put top foreign policy positions in the hands of people who have spent their lives actively pursuing peace and opposing U.S. military aggression, that's just not in the cards with this middle-of-the-road Biden administration.

But there are appointments Biden could make to give his foreign policy the emphasis on diplomacy and negotiation that he says he wants. These are American diplomats who have successfully negotiated important international agreements, warned U.S. leaders of the dangers of aggressive militarism and developed valuable expertise in critical areas like arms control.

William Burns was Deputy Secretary of State under Obama, the # 2 position at the State Department, and he is now the director of the Carnegie Endowment for International Peace. As Under Secretary for Near Eastern Affairs in 2002, Burns gave Secretary of State Powell a prescient and detailed but unheeded warning that the invasion of Iraq could "unravel" and create a "perfect storm" for American interests. Burns also served as U.S. Ambassador to Jordan and then Russia.

Wendy Sherman was Obama's Undersecretary of State for Political Affairs, the # 4 position at the State Department, and was briefly Acting Deputy Secretary of State after Burns retired. Sherman was the lead negotiator for both the1994 Framework Agreement with North Korea and the negotiations with Iran that led to the Iran nuclear agreement in 2015. This is surely the kind of experience Biden needs in senior positions if he is serious about reinvigorating American diplomacy.

Tom Countryman is currently the Chair of the Arms Control Association. In the Obama administration, Countryman served as Undersecretary of State for International Security Affairs, Assistant Secretary of State for International Security and Nonproliferation, and Principal Deputy Assistant Secretary for Political-Military Affairs. He also served at U.S. embassies in Belgrade, Cairo, Rome and Athens, and as foreign policy advisor to the Commandant of the U.S. Marine Corps. Countryman's expertise could be critical in reducing or even removing the danger of nuclear war. It would also please the progressive wing of the Democratic Party, since Tom supported Senator Bernie Sanders for president.

In addition to these professional diplomats, there are also Members of Congress who have expertise in foreign policy and could play important roles in a Biden foreign policy team. One is Representative Ro Khanna, who has been a champion of ending U.S. support for the war in Yemen, resolving the conflict with North Korea and reclaiming Congress's constitutional authority over the use of military force.

Another is Representative Karen Bass, who is the chair of the Congressional Black Caucus and also of the Foreign Affairs Subcommittee on Africa, Global Health, Human Rights, and International Organizations.

If the Republicans hold their majority in the Senate, it will be harder to get appointments confirmed than if the Democrats win the two Georgia seats that are headed for run-offs, or than if they had run more progressive campaigns in Iowa, Maine or North Carolina and won at least one of those seats. But this will be a long two years if we let Joe Biden take cover behind Mitch McConnell on critical appointments, policies and legislation. Biden's initial cabinet appointments will be an early test of whether Biden will be the consummate insider or whether he is willing to fight for real solutions to our country's most serious problems.

Conclusion

U.S. cabinet positions are positions of power that can drastically affect the lives of millions of Americans and billions of our neighbors overseas. If Biden is surrounded by people who, against all the evidence of past decades, still believe in the illegal threat and use of military force as key foundations of American foreign policy, then the international cooperation the whole world so desperately needs will be undermined by four more years of war, hostility and international tensions, and our most serious problems will remain unresolved.

That's why we must vigorously advocate for a team that would put an end to the normalization of war and make diplomatic engagement in the pursuit of international peace and cooperation our number one foreign policy priority.

Whomever President-elect Biden chooses to be part of his foreign policy team, he—and they—will be pushed by people beyond the White House fence who are calling for demilitarization, including cuts in military spending, and for reinvestment in our country's peaceful economic development.

It will be our job to hold President Biden and his team accountable whenever they fail to turn the page on war and militarism, and to keep pushing them to build friendly relations with all our neighbors on this small planet that we share.

Medea Benjamin is the cofounder of CODEPINK for Peace, and the author of several books, including Kingdom of the Unjust: Behind the US-Saudi Connection and Inside Iran: the Real History and Politics of the Islamic Republic of Iran.

Nicolas J. S. Davies is an independent journalist, a researcher with CODEPINK, and the author of Blood On Our Hands: the American Invasion and Destruction of Iraq.

Trump's gruesome legacy marks his administration as an accomplice to the Saudi crown prince's crimes

Washington Post journalist Jamal Khashoggi was brutally murdered on October 2, 2018 by agents of Saudi Arabia's despotic government, and the CIA concluded they killed him on direct orders from Saudi Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman (MBS). Eight Saudi men have been convicted of Khashoggi's murder by a Saudi court in what the Washington Post characterized as sham trials with no transparency. The higher ups who ordered the murder, including MBS, continue to escape responsibility.

Khashoggi's assassination and dismemberment was so horrific and cold-blooded that it sparked worldwide public outrage. President Trump, however, stood by MBS, bragging to journalist Bob Woodward that he saved the prince's "ass" and got "Congress to leave him alone."

MBS's ascent to dictatorial power, soon after his elderly father King Salman became king in January 2015, was sold to the world as ushering in a new era of reform, but has in reality been characterized by violent, ruthless repression. The number of executions has doubled, from 423 executions between 2009 and 2014 to more than 800 since January 2015.

They include the mass execution of 37 people on April 23, 2019, mostly for taking part in peaceful Arab Spring protests in 2011-12. These protests took place in Shiite areas where people face systemic discrimination in the majority Sunni kingdom. At least three of those executed were minors when they were sentenced, and one was a student arrested at the airport on his way to attend Western Michigan University. Many of the victims' families have said that they were convicted based on forced confessions extracted by torture, and two victims' beheaded corpses were put on public display.

Under MBS, all dissent has been crushed. In the last two years, all of Saudi Arabia's independent human rights defenders have been imprisoned, threatened into silence, or have fled the country. This includes women's rights activists such as Loujain al-Hathoul, who opposed the ban on women drivers. Despite some openings for women under MBS, including the right to drive, Saudi women remain subject to discrimination in law and practice, with laws that ensure they are subordinate citizens to men, particularly in relation to family matters such as marriage, divorce, child custody and inheritance.

The Trump administration has never challenged Saudi Arabia's internal repression, and worse yet, it has played a vital role in the brutal Saudi-led war on neighboring Yemen. After Yemeni president Abdrabbuh Mansur Hadi failed to leave office at the end of his two-year term as the head of a transitional government, or to fulfill his mandate to draw up a new constitution and hold a new election, the Houthi rebel movement invaded the capital, Sana'a, in 2014, placed him under house arrest and demanded that he do his job.

Hadi instead resigned, fled to Saudi Arabia and conspired with MBS and the Saudis to launch a war to try to restore him to power. The United States has provided in-air refueling, intelligence and planning for Saudi and Emirati air strikes and has raked in over 100 billion dollars in arms sales. While U.S. support for the Saudi war began under President Obama, Trump has provided unconditional support as the horrors of this war have shocked the entire world.

According to the Yemen Data Project, at least 30% of US-supported airstrikes on Yemen have hit civilian targets, including hospitals, health clinics, schools, marketplaces, civilian infrastructure, and a particularly horrific airstrike on a school bus that killed 40 children and 11 adults.

After five years, this brutal war has succeeded only in wreaking mass devastation and chaos, with dozens of children dying every day from starvation, malnutrition and preventable diseases, all now compounded by the Covid-19 pandemic.

Belated Congressional efforts to end U.S. support for the war, including the passage of a War Powers bill in March 2019 and a bill to suspend arms sales to Saudi Arabia in July 2019, have been vetoed when they reached President Trump's desk.

The U.S. alliance with the Saudis certainly predates Trump, going back to the discovery of oil in the 1930s. While its traditional role as an oil supplier is no longer vital to the U.S. economy, Saudi Arabia has become one of the largest purchasers of U.S. weapons, a major investor in U.S. businesses and an ally against Iran. After the failed U.S. wars in Afghanistan and Iraq, the U.S. began grooming Saudi Arabia to play a leading geopolitical and military role, alongside Israel, in a new U.S.-led alliance to counter the growing influence of Iran, Russia and China in the Middle East.

The war on Yemen was the first test of Saudi Arabia's role as a leading U.S. military ally, and it exposed both the practical and moral bankruptcy of this policy, unleashing another endless war and the world's worst humanitarian crisis in one of the poorest countries on Earth. MBS's assassination of Jamal Khashoggi came at a critical moment in the unraveling of this doomed strategy, laying bare the sheer insanity of basing America's Middle East policy for the 21st century on an alliance with a neo-feudal monarchy sustained by murder and repression.

President Obama tried to change tack towards the end of his administration, putting a hold on the sale of munitions to Saudi Arabia and signing a nuclear deal with Iran. Trump reversed both these policies, and continued to treat Saudi Arabia as a critical ally, even as the world recoiled in horror at Khashoggi's assassination.

While Saudi abuses have not diminished the Trump administration's unconditional support, they have ignited global opposition. In an exciting new development, exiled Saudi activists have formed a political party, the National Assembly Party or NAAS, calling for democracy and respect for human rights in the kingdom. In its inaugural statement, the party laid out a vision for Saudi Arabia in which all citizens are equal under the law and a fully elected parliament has legislative and oversight powers over the state's executive institutions. The founding document was signed by several prominent Saudi activists in exile, including London-based professor Madawi al-Rasheed; Abdullah Alaoudh, a Saudi academic who is also the son of jailed Islamic scholar Salman al-Awda; and Shia activist Ahmed al-Mshikhs.

Another new initiative, timed for the second anniversary of Khashoggi's murder, is the launch of Democracy for the Arab World Now (DAWN), an organization conceived by Jamal Khashoggi several months before his murder. DAWN will promote democracy and support political exiles across the Middle East, in keeping with the vision of its martyred founder.

Progressive groups in the United States continue to oppose U.S. support for Saudi Arabia's Yemen war and to push USAID to restore direct humanitarian aid that has been slashed to Houthi-controlled parts of Yemen in 2020 in the midst of the Covid-19 pandemic. European activists have launched successful campaigns to stop weapons sales to Saudi Arabia in several countries.

These past two years have also seen activists organizing boycotts of Saudi events. Pre-COVID, when the kingdom opened up to musical extravaganzas, groups such as CODEPINK and Human Rights Foundation pressured entertainers like Nicki Minaj to cancel appearances. Minaj put out a statement saying, "It is important for me to make clear my support for the rights of women, the LGBTQ community and freedom of expression." Meghan MacLaren, the U.K.'s top woman golfer, withdrew from a lucrative new golf tournament in Saudi Arabia, citing reports by Amnesty International and saying she cannot take part in "sportwashing" Saudi human rights abuses.

A new group called Freedom Forward, which seeks to sever the US-Saudi alliance, has focused on the upcoming G20 in Riyadh, which is taking place virtually in November, urging invitees to refuse to participate. The campaign has successfully lobbied the mayors of several major cities, including New York City, Los Angeles, Paris and London, to boycott the event, along with notables invited to side events for women and global thinkers.

As we mark two years since Jamal Khashoggi's murder, we may also soon be marking the end of the Trump administration. While it is hard to take Vice President Biden on his word that he would not sell more weapons to the Saudis and would make them "pay the price" for killing Khashoggi, it is good to hear a presidential candidate admit that there is "very little social redeeming value in the present government in Saudi Arabia" and call it a "pariah state." Perhaps with enough pressure from below, a new administration could start the process of disentangling the U.S. from the deadly embrace of the Saudi dictatorship.

But as long as U.S. leaders continue to coddle the Saudis, it's difficult not to ask who is more evil—the maniacal Saudi crown prince responsible for Khashoggi's murder and the slaughter of more than a hundred thousand Yemenis, or the mendacious Western governments and businesspeople who continue to support and profit from his crimes?

Medea Benjamin is cofounder of CODEPINK for Peace, and author of several books, including Kingdom of the Unjust: Behind the U.S.-Saudi Connection.

Nicolas J. S. Davies is an independent journalist, a researcher with CODEPINK and the author of Blood On Our Hands: the American Invasion and Destruction of Iraq.

How Biden flubbed a key town hall foreign policy question

Toward the end of Joe Biden's October 15 town hall session, a Trump supporter asked Biden the only foreign policy question of the night. "So peace is breaking out all over the world," the questioner claimed. "Our troops are coming home. Serbia is talking to Kosovo. And the Arabs and Israelis are talking peace, which I believe is a modern-day miracle, what's going on. Does President Trump's foreign policy deserve some credit?"

This question encapsulated all the smoke and mirrors that Trump has used to confuse the public and obscure his broken promises to end America's wars, bring our troops home and build a more peaceful world. This was a fantastic opportunity for Biden to clarify the reality of Trump's abysmal record and explain what he would do instead. But he didn't. Instead he endorsed some of the most deceptive elements of Trump's propaganda, dropped some clangers of his own and, in a classic Freudian slip, laid bare his own enduring commitment to American imperialism.

In response to the questioner's designation of Israel's deal with the UAE and Bahrain as a "modern-day miracle," Biden simply rolled over and said, "I complement the president on the deal with Israel." What he should have said was something like this:

"The UAE and Bahrain are ruled by dictators with absolute, despotic power who represent neither their own people nor the Arab world, let alone the people of Palestine—who gained nothing from these deals. Since these countries were not at war with Israel to begin with, these accords have nothing to do with peace. They are more about flooding the Middle East with even more U.S. weapons and forming new military alliances against Iran. Yes, we need peace deals between Israel and its Arab neighbors, but they must be deals that truly bring peace, end Israel's illegal military occupations and advance the equal rights of Palestinians and Israelis."

Biden didn't respond to the mention of the White House meeting between Serbia and Kosovo, but he could have explained that it had to be postponed when President Hashim Thaci of Kosovo was indicted for war crimes by an international court at The Hague. Thaci is charged with organizing the killing of hundreds of Serbian prisoners of war to sell their internal organs on the international transplant market under cover of NATO bombing in 1999. When the indictment was unveiled in June 2020, Thaci was literally in his plane on the way to meet Serbian leaders at the White House, and had to make a U-turn over the Atlantic to return to Kosovo.

Twenty-one years after NATO dropped 23,000 bombs on Serbia and illegally annexed Kosovo, neither Serbia nor nearly half the countries in the world have recognized Kosovo's independence from Serbia. Biden could have pointed to this as a case study in why the U.S. must stop waging regime change wars, organizing coups in other countries, and installing CIA-backed gangsters and war criminals like Thaci to rule them.

As for the critically important statement by the town hall questioner that "Our troops are coming home," Biden claimed that there are more troops in Afghanistan now than when he and Obama left office. That appears to be incorrect, since there were 11,000 troops there in December 2016 and 8,600 U.S. troops as of September 22nd, despite the lack of confirmation from the Pentagon on further reductions that Trump had promised.

However, Biden could have simply compared the number of troops brought home by Obama and Trump, which would have been an impressive comparison. Obama reduced U.S. troop levels abroad from 483,670 in December 2008, just before he took office, to 275,850 by December 2016. If the latest figures from the Trump administration are correct, there are still over 238,000 U.S. military personnel overseas.

So Obama reduced the U.S.'s overseas military presence by 43%, while Trump has reduced it by no more than another 14%. With Trump claiming he is "bringing our troops home" in every stump speech, why on Earth is Biden not trumpeting the fact that he and Obama brought home five times more troops than Trump has? Why is Biden running from that record? Is he planning to reverse that trend if elected? Millions of American voters would like to know.

A disappointing aspect of Biden's response was his habitual readiness to take the low road, smearing China's President Xi Jinping, criticizing Trump for even trying to make peace with North Korea, and repeating an unsubstantiated story about Russia paying "bounties" to the Taliban for killing U.S. troops. A better response from Biden would have been to fault Trump for not following through on the peace initiative with North Korea and for stirring up new Cold Wars with Russia and China, when the American people want their leaders to focus on existing threats like the pandemic, our devastated economy and the climate crisis.But perhaps the most revealing moment of the evening was Biden's Freudian slip about the imperial character of America's relations with its allies and the rest of the world:

"You know, we've always ruled - (corrects himself) we've been most effective as a world leader, in my humble opinion - not just by the exercise of our power - we're the most powerful nation in the world - but the power of our example. That's what's led the rest of the world to follow us, on almost anything."

The U.S. did indeed rule an empire in the twentieth century, albeit a neocolonial empire in an anti-colonial and post-colonial world that had to be sustained by a whole web of myths and lies. But now we are standing at a crossroads in American and world history. America's history of war, militarism and international coercion has reached its final stage in the terminal decline of an increasingly corrupt and decadent American empire. Yet most of our leaders are still hell-bent on preserving America's imperial power at any cost: endless wars, climate catastrophe, mass extinctions, and the terrifying risk of a final, apocalyptic mass-casualty war—most likely a nuclear war.

But there is another path leading away from this crossroads, one that Joe Biden should embrace, which involves redirecting our country's resources and energies away from unsustainable imperial power through a peaceful transition to a sustainable, prosperous post-imperial future.

It would have been inspiring to hear Biden say that his goals would be to put an end to U.S. efforts at regime change; to significantly reduce the threat of nuclear war and join the UN Treaty on the Abolition of Nuclear Weapons; to free up hundreds of billions of dollars per year for domestic needs by right-sizing the Pentagon budget; and to put peaceful diplomacy front and center.

That would have been a paradigm-changing answer that would have motivated millions of Americans across the political spectrum—from leftists to anti-imperialist Republicans and libertarians—who long to live in a peaceful, just and sustainable world.

Medea Benjamin, co-founder of Global Exchange and CODEPINK: Women for Peace, is the author of the new book, Inside Iran: The Real History and Politics of the Islamic Republic of Iran. Her previous books include: Kingdom of the Unjust: Behind the U.S.-Saudi Connection; Drone Warfare: Killing by Remote Control; Don't Be Afraid Gringo: A Honduran Woman Speaks from the Heart, and (with Jodie Evans) Stop the Next War Now (Inner Ocean Action Guide). Follow her on Twitter: @medeabenjamin

Nicolas J.S. Davies is the author of Blood On Our Hands: the American Invasion and Destruction of Iraq. He also wrote the chapters on "Obama at War" in Grading the 44th President: a Report Card on Barack Obama's First Term as a Progressive Leader.

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