Nicolas J. S. Davies

A broken promise: Biden's Syria bombing is a reckless mistake

The February 25 U.S. bombing of Syria immediately puts the policies of the newly-formed Biden administration into sharp relief. Why is this administration bombing the sovereign nation of Syria? Why is it bombing "Iranian-backed militias" who pose absolutely no threat to the United States and are actually involved in fighting ISIS? If this is about getting more leverage vis-a-vis Iran, why hasn't the Biden administration just done what it said it would do: rejoin the Iran nuclear deal and de-escalate the Middle East conflicts?

According to the Pentagon, the U.S. strike was in response to the February 15 rocket attack in northern Iraq that killed a contractor working with the U.S. military and injured a U.S. service member. Accounts of the number killed in the U.S. attack vary from one to 22.

The Pentagon made the incredible claim that this action "aims to de-escalate the overall situation in both Eastern Syria and Iraq." This was countered by the Syrian government, which condemned the illegal attack on its territory and said the strikes "will lead to consequences that will escalate the situation in the region." The strike was also condemned by the governments of China and Russia. A member of Russia's Federation Council warned that such escalations in the area could lead to "a massive conflict."

Ironically, Jen Psaki, now Biden's White House spokesperson, questioned the lawfulness of attacking Syria in 2017, when it was the Trump administration doing the bombing. Back then she asked: "What is the legal authority for strikes? Assad is a brutal dictator. But Syria is a sovereign country."

The airstrikes were supposedly authorized by the 20-year-old, post-9/11 Authorization for the Use of Military Force (AUMF), legislation that Rep. Barbara Lee has been trying for years to repeal since it has been misused, according to the congresswoman, "to justify waging war in at least seven different countries, against a continuously expanding list of targetable adversaries."

The United States claims that its targeting of the militia in Syria was based on intelligence provided by the Iraqi government. Defense Secretary Austin told reporters: "We're confident that target was being used by the same Shia militia that conducted the strike [against U.S. and coalition forces]."

But a report by Middle East Eye (MEE) suggests that Iran has strongly urged the militias it supports in Iraq to refrain from such attacks, or any warlike actions that could derail its sensitive diplomacy to bring the U.S. and Iran back into compliance with the 2015 international nuclear agreement or JCPOA.

"None of our known factions carried out this attack," a senior Iraqi militia commander told MEE. "The Iranian orders have not changed regarding attacking the American forces, and the Iranians are still keen to maintain calm with the Americans until they see how the new administration will act."

The inflammatory nature of this U.S. attack on Iranian-backed Iraqi militias, who are an integral part of Iraq's armed forces and have played a critical role in the war with ISIS, was implicitly acknowledged in the U.S. decision to attack them in Syria instead of in Iraq. Did Prime Minister Mustafa Al-Kadhimi, a pro-Western British-Iraqi, who is trying to rein in the Iranian-backed Shiite militias, deny permission for a U.S. attack on Iraqi soil?

At Kadhimi's request, NATO is increasing its presence from 500 troops to 4,000 (from Denmark, the U.K. and Turkey, not the U.S.) to train the Iraqi military, reducing its dependence on the Iranian-backed militias. But Kadhimi risks losing his job in an election this October if he alienates Iraq's Shiite majority. Iraqi Foreign Minister Fuad Hussein is heading to Tehran to meet with Iranian officials over the weekend, and the world will be watching to see how Iraq and Iran will respond to the U.S. attack.

Some analysts say the bombing may have been intended to strengthen the U.S. hand in its negotiations with Iran over the nuclear deal (JCPOA). "The strike, the way I see it, was meant to set the tone with Tehran and dent its inflated confidence ahead of negotiations," said Bilal Saab, a former Pentagon official who is currently a senior fellow with the Middle East Institute.

But this attack will make it more difficult to resume negotiations with Iran. It comes at a delicate moment when the Europeans are trying to orchestrate a "compliance for compliance" maneuver to revive the JCPOA. This strike will make the diplomatic process more difficult, as it gives more power to the Iranian factions who oppose the deal and any negotiations with the United States.

Showing bipartisan support for attacking sovereign nations, key Republicans on the foreign affairs committees such as Senator Marco Rubio and Rep. Michael McCaul immediately welcomed the attacks. So did some Biden supporters, who crassly displayed their partiality to bombing by a Democratic president.

Party organizer Amy Siskind tweeted: "So different having military action under Biden. No middle school level threats on Twitter. Trust Biden and his team's competence." Biden supporter Suzanne Lamminen tweeted: "Such a quiet attack. No drama, no TV coverage of bombs hitting targets, no comments on how presidential Biden is. What a difference."

Thankfully though, some Members of Congress are speaking out against the strikes. "We cannot stand up for Congressional authorization before military strikes only when there is a Republican President," Congressman Ro Khanna tweeted, "The Administration should have sought Congressional authorization here. We need to work to extricate from the Middle East, not escalate." Peace groups around the country are echoing that call. Rep. Barbara Lee and Senators Bernie Sanders, Tim Kaine and Chris Murphy also released statements either questioning or condemning the strikes.

Americans should remind President Biden that he promised to prioritize diplomacy over military action as the primary instrument of his foreign policy. Biden should recognize that the best way to protect U.S. personnel is to take them out of the Middle East. He should recall that the Iraqi Parliament voted a year ago for U.S. troops to leave their country. He should also recognize that U.S. troops have no right to be in Syria, still "protecting the oil," on the orders of Donald Trump.

After failing to prioritize diplomacy and rejoin the Iran nuclear agreement, Biden has now, barely a month into his presidency, reverted to the use of military force in a region already shattered by two decades of U.S. war-making. This is not what he promised in his campaign and it is not what the American people voted for.

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.

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

Biden risks an early major blunder on the world stage

As Congress still struggles to pass a COVID relief bill, the rest of the world is nervously reserving judgment on America's new president and his foreign policy, after successive U.S. administrations have delivered unexpected and damaging shocks to the world and the international system.

Cautious international optimism toward Biden is very much based on his commitment to Obama's signature diplomatic achievement, the JCPOA or nuclear agreement with Iran. Biden and the Democrats excoriated Trump for withdrawing from it and promised to promptly rejoin the deal if elected. But Biden now appears to be hedging his position in a way that risks turning what should be an easy win for the new administration into an avoidable and tragic diplomatic failure.

While it was the United States under Trump that withdrew from the nuclear agreement, Biden is taking the position that the U.S. will not rejoin the agreement or drop its unilateral sanctions until Iran first comes back into compliance. After withdrawing from the agreement, the United States is in no position to make such demands, and Foreign Minister Zarif has clearly and eloquently rejected them, reiterating Iran's firm commitment that it will return to full compliance as soon as the United States does so.

Biden should have announced U.S. re-entry as one of his first executive orders. It did not require renegotiation or debate. On the campaign trail, Bernie Sanders, Biden's main competitor for the Democratic nomination, simply promised, "I would re-enter the agreement on the first day of my presidency."

Then-candidate Senator Kirsten Gillibrand said during the Democratic primary, "We need to rejoin our allies in returning to the agreement, provided Iran agrees to comply with the agreement and take steps to reverse its breaches …" Gillibrand said that Iran must "agree" to take those steps, not that it must take them first, presciently anticipating and implicitly rejecting Biden's self-defeating position that Iran must fully return to compliance with the JCPOA before the United States will rejoin.

If Biden just rejoins the JCPOA, all of the provisions of the agreement will be back in force and work exactly as they did before Trump opted out. Iran will be subject to the same IAEA inspections and reports as before. Whether Iran is in compliance or not will be determined by the IAEA, not unilaterally by the United States. That is how the agreement works, as all the signatories agreed: China, France, Germany, Iran, Russia, the United Kingdom, the European Union - and the United States.

So why is Biden not eagerly pocketing this easy first win for his stated commitment to diplomacy? A December 2020 letter supporting the JCPOA, signed by 150 House Democrats, should have reassured Biden that he has overwhelming support to stand up to hawks in both parties.

But instead Biden seems to be listening to opponents of the JCPOA telling him that Trump's withdrawal from the agreement has given him "leverage" to negotiate new concessions from Iran before rejoining. Rather than giving Biden leverage over Iran, which has no reason to make further concessions, this has given opponents of the JCPOA leverage over Biden, turning him into the football, instead of the quarterback, in this diplomatic Super Bowl.

American neocons and hawks, including those inside his own administration, appear to be flexing their muscles to kill Biden's commitment to diplomacy at birth, and his own hawkish foreign policy views make him dangerously susceptible to their arguments. This is also a test of his previously subservient relationship with Israel, whose government vehemently opposes the JCPOA and whose officials have even threatened to launch a military attack on Iran if the U.S. rejoins it, a flagrantly illegal threat that Biden has yet to publicly condemn.

In a more rational world, the call for nuclear disarmament in the Middle East would focus on Israel, not Iran. As Archbishop Desmond Tutu wrote in the Guardian on December 31, 2020, Israel's own possession of dozens - or maybe hundreds - of nuclear weapons is the worst kept secret in the world. Tutu's article was an open letter to Biden, asking him to publicly acknowledge what the whole world already knows and to respond as required under U.S. law to the actual proliferation of nuclear weapons in the Middle East.

Instead of tackling the danger of Israel's real nuclear weapons, successive U.S. administrations have chosen to cry "Wolf!" over non-existent nuclear weapons in Iraq and Iran to justify besieging their governments, imposing deadly sanctions on their people, invading Iraq and threatening Iran. A skeptical world is watching to see whether President Biden has the integrity and political will to break this insidious pattern.

The CIA's Weapons Intelligence, Nonproliferation and Arms Control Center (WINPAC), which stokes Americans' fears of imaginary Iranian nuclear weapons and feeds endless allegations about them to the IAEA, is the same entity that produced the lies that drove America to war on Iraq in 2003. On that occasion, WINPAC's director, Alan Foley, told his staff, "If the president wants to go to war, our job is to find the intelligence to allow him to do so" - even as he privately admitted to his retired CIA colleague Melvin Goodman that U.S. forces searching for WMDs in Iraq would find, "not much, if anything."

What makes Biden's stalling to appease Netanyahu and the neocons diplomatically suicidal at this moment in time is that in November the Iranian parliament passed a law that forces its government to halt nuclear inspections and boost uranium enrichment if U.S. sanctions are not eased by February 21.

To complicate matters further, Iran is holding its own presidential election on June 18, 2021, and election season--when this issue will be hotly debated--begins after the Iranian New Year on March 21. The winner is expected to be a hawkish hardliner. Trump's failed policy, which Biden is now continuing by default, has discredited the diplomatic efforts of President Rouhani and Foreign Minister Zarif, confirming for many Iranians that negotiating with America is a fool's errand.

If Biden does not rejoin the JCPOA soon, time will be too short to restore full compliance by both Iran and the U.S.—including lifting relevant sanctions—before Iran's election. Each day that goes by reduces the time available for Iranians to see benefits from the removal of sanctions, leaving little chance that they will vote for a new government that supports diplomacy with the United States.

The timetable around the JCPOA was known and predictable, so this avoidable crisis seems to be the result of a deliberate decision by Biden to try to appease neocons and warmongers, domestic and foreign, by bullying Iran, a partner in an international agreement he claims to support, to make additional concessions that are not part of the agreement.

During his election campaign, President Biden promised to "elevate diplomacy as the premier tool of our global engagement." If Biden fails this first test of his promised diplomacy, people around the world will conclude that, despite his trademark smile and affable personality, Biden represents no more of a genuine recommitment to American partnership in a cooperative "rules-based world" than Trump or Obama did.

That will confirm the steadily growing international perception that, behind the Republicans' and Democrats' good cop-bad cop routine, the overall direction of U.S. foreign policy remains fundamentally aggressive, coercive and destructive. People and governments around the world will continue to downgrade relations with the United States, as they did under Trump, and even traditional U.S. allies will chart an increasingly independent course in a multipolar world where the U.S. is no longer a reliable partner and certainly not a leader.

So much is hanging in the balance, for the people of Iran suffering and dying under the impact of U.S. sanctions, for Americans yearning for more peaceful relations with our neighbors around the world, and for people everywhere who long for a more humane and equitable international order to confront the massive problems facing us all in this century. Can Biden's America be part of the solution? After only three weeks in office, surely it can't be too late. But the ball is in his court, and the whole world is watching.

Medea Benjamin, co-founder of Global Exchange and CODEPINK: Women for Peace, is the author of the 2018 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" (2016); "Drone Warfare: Killing by Remote Control" (2013); "Don't Be Afraid Gringo: A Honduran Woman Speaks from the Heart" (1989), and (with Jodie Evans) "Stop the Next War Now (Inner Ocean Action Guide)" (2005). Follow her on Twitter: @medeabenjamin

Nicolas J.S. Davies is the author of "Blood On Our Hands: the American Invasion and Destruction of Iraq" (2010). 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" (2012).

The truth about the declining American empire that both Trump and Biden wanted to restore

In 2004, journalist Ron Suskind quoted a Bush White House advisor, reportedly Karl Rove, as boasting, "We're an empire now, and when we act, we create our own reality." He dismissed Suskind's assumption that public policy must be rooted in "the reality-based community."

"We're history's actors," the advisor told him, "…and you, all of you, will be left to just study what we do."

Sixteen years later, the American wars and war crimes launched by the Bush administration have only spread chaos and violence far and wide, and this historic conjunction of criminality and failure has predictably undermined America's international power and authority. Back in the imperial heartland, the political marketing industry that Rove and his colleagues were part of has had more success dividing and ruling the hearts and minds of Americans than of Iraqis, Russians or Chinese.

The irony of the Bush administration's imperial pretensions was that America has been an empire from its very founding, and that a White House staffer's political use of the term "empire" in 2004 was not emblematic of a new and rising empire as he claimed, but of a decadent, declining empire stumbling blindly into an agonizing death spiral.

Americans were not always so ignorant of the imperial nature of their country's ambitions. George Washington described New York as "the seat of an empire," and his military campaign against British forces there as the "pathway to empire." New Yorkers eagerly embraced their state's identity as the Empire State, which is still enshrined in the Empire State Building and on New York State license plates.

The expansion of America's territorial sovereignty over Native American lands, the Louisiana Purchase and the annexation of northern Mexico in the Mexican-American War built an empire that far outstripped the one that George Washington built. But that imperial expansion was more controversial than most Americans realize. Fourteen out of fifty-two U.S. senators voted against the 1848 treaty to annex most of Mexico, without which Americans might still be visiting California, Arizona, New Mexico, Texas, Nevada, Utah and most of Colorado as exotic Mexican travel spots.

In the full flowering of the American empire after the Second World War, its leaders understood the skill and subtlety required to exercise imperial power in a post-colonial world. No country fighting for independence from the U.K. or France was going to welcome imperial invaders from America. So America's leaders developed a system of neocolonialism through which they exercised overarching imperial sovereignty over much of the world, while scrupulously avoiding terms like "empire" or "imperialism" that would undermine their post-colonial credentials.

It was left to critics like President Kwame Nkrumah of Ghana to seriously examine the imperial control that wealthy countries still exercised over nominally independent post-colonial countries like his. In his book, Neo-Colonialism: the Last Stage of Imperialism, Nkrumah condemned neocolonialism as "the worst form of imperialism." "For those who practice it," he wrote, "it means power without responsibility, and for those who suffer from it, it means exploitation without redress."

So post-World War Two Americans grew up in carefully crafted ignorance of the very fact of American empire, and the myths woven to disguise it provide fertile soil for today's political divisions and disintegration. Trump's "Make America Great Again" and Biden's promise to "restore American leadership" are both appeals to nostalgia for the fruits of American empire.

Past blame games over who lost China or Vietnam or Cuba have come home to roost in an argument over who lost America and who can somehow restore its mythical former greatness or leadership. Even as America leads the world in allowing a pandemic to ravage its people and economy, neither party's leaders are ready for a more realistic debate over how to redefine and rebuild America as a post-imperial nation in today's multipolar world.

Every successful empire has expanded, ruled and exploited its far-flung territories through a combination of economic and military power. Even in the American empire's neocolonial phase, the role of the U.S. military and the CIA was to kick open doors through which American businessmen could "follow the flag" to set up shop and develop new markets.

But now U.S. militarism and America's economic interests have diverged. Apart from a few military contractors, American businesses have not followed the flag into the ruins of Iraq or America's other current war-zones in any lasting way. Eighteen years after the U.S. invasion, Iraq's largest trading partner is China, while Afghanistan's is Pakistan, Somalia's is the UAE (United Arab Emirates), and Libya's is the European Union (EU).

Instead of opening doors for American big business or supporting America's diplomatic position in the world, the U.S. war machine has become a bull in the global china shop, wielding purely destructive power to destabilize countries and wreck their economies, closing doors to economic opportunity instead of opening them, diverting resources from real needs at home, and damaging America's international standing instead of enhancing it.

When President Eisenhower warned against the "unwarranted influence" of America's military-industrial complex, he was predicting precisely this kind of dangerous dichotomy between the real economic and social needs of the American people and a war machine that costs more than the next ten militaries in the world put together but cannot win a war or vanquish a virus, let alone reconquer a lost empire.

China and the EU have become the major trading partners of most countries in the world. The United States is still a regional economic power, but even in South America, most countries now trade more with China. America's militarism has accelerated these trends by squandering our resources on weapons and wars, while China and the EU have invested in peaceful economic development and 21st century infrastructure.

For example, China has built the largest high-speed rail network in the world in just 10 years (2008-2018), and Europe has been building and expanding its high-speed network since the 1990s, but high-speed rail is still just on the drawing board in America.

China has lifted 800 million people out of poverty, while America's poverty rate has barely budged in 50 years and child poverty has increased. America still has the weakest social safety net of any developed country and no universal healthcare system, and the inequalities of wealth and power caused by extreme neoliberalism have left half of Americans with little or no savings to live on in retirement or to weather any disruption in their lives.

Our leaders' insistence on siphoning off 66% of U.S. federal discretionary spending to preserve and expand a war machine that has long outlived any useful role in America's declining economic empire is a debilitating waste of resources that jeopardizes our future.

Decades ago Martin Luther King Jr. warned us that "a nation that continues year after year to spend more money on military defense than on programs of social uplift is approaching spiritual death."

As our government debates whether we can "afford" COVID relief, a Green New Deal and universal healthcare, we would be wise to recognize that our only hope of transforming this decadent, declining empire into a dynamic and prosperous post-imperial nation is to rapidly and profoundly shift our national priorities from irrelevant, destructive militarism to the programs of social uplift that Dr. King called for.

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.

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 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.

The neoliberal roots of US bad behavior: Eisenhower's ghost haunts Biden's foreign policy team

In his first words as President-elect Joe Biden's nominee for Secretary of State, Antony Blinken said, "we have to proceed with equal measures of humility and confidence." Many around the world will welcome this promise of humility from the new administration, and Americans should too.

Biden's foreign policy team will also need a special kind of confidence to confront the most serious challenge they face. That will not be a threat from a hostile foreign country, but the controlling and corrupting power of the Military-Industrial Complex, which President Eisenhower warned our grandparents about 60 years ago, but whose "unwarranted influence" has only grown ever since, as Eisenhower warned, and in spite of his warning.

The Covid pandemic is a tragic demonstration of why America's new leaders should listen humbly to our neighbors around the world instead of trying to reassert American "leadership." While the United States compromised with a deadly virus to protect corporate financial interests, abandoning Americans to both the pandemic and its economic effects, other countries put their people's health first and contained, controlled or even eliminated the virus.

Many of those people have since returned to living normal, healthy lives. Biden and Blinken should listen humbly to their leaders and learn from them, instead of continuing to promote the U.S. neoliberal model that is failing us so badly.

As efforts to develop safe and effective vaccines begin to bear fruit, America is doubling down on its mistakes, relying on Big Pharma to produce expensive, profitable vaccines on an America First basis, even as China, Russia, the WHO's Covax program and others are already starting to provide low-cost vaccines wherever they are needed around the world.

Chinese vaccines are already in use in Indonesia, Malaysia and the UAE, and China is making loans to poorer countries that can't afford to pay for them up front. At the recent G20 summit, German Chancellor Angela Merkel warned her Western colleagues that they are being eclipsed by China's vaccine diplomacy.

Russia has orders from 50 countries for 1.2 billion doses of its Sputnik V vaccine. President Putin told the G20 that vaccines should be "common public assets," universally available to rich and poor countries alike, and that Russia will provide them wherever they are needed.

The U.K. and Sweden's Oxford University-AstraZeneca vaccine is another non-profit venture that will cost about $3 per dose, a small fraction of the U.S.'s Pfizer and Moderna products.

From the beginning of the pandemic, it was predictable that U.S. failures and other countries' successes would reshape global leadership. When the world finally recovers from this pandemic, people around the world will thank China, Russia, Cuba and other countries for saving their lives and helping them in their hour of need.

The Biden administration must also help our neighbors to defeat the pandemic, and it must do better than Trump and his corporate mafia in that respect, but it is already too late to speak of American leadership in this context.

The neoliberal roots of U.S. bad behavior

Decades of U.S. bad behavior in other areas have already led to a broader decline in American global leadership. The U.S. refusal to join the Kyoto Protocol or any binding agreement on climate change has led to an otherwise avoidable existential crisis for the entire human race, even as the United States is still producing record amounts of oil and natural gas. Biden's climate czar John Kerry now says that the agreement he negotiated in Paris as Secretary of State "is not enough," but he has only himself and Obama to blame for that.

Obama's policy was to boost fracked natural gas as a "bridge fuel" for U.S. power plants, and to quash any possibility of a binding climate treaty in Copenhagen or Paris. U.S. climate policy, like the U.S. response to Covid, is a corrupt compromise between science and self-serving corporate interests that has predictably proved to be no solution at all. If Biden and Kerry bring more of that kind of American leadership to the Glasgow climate conference in 2021, humanity must reject it as a matter of survival.

America's post-9/11 "Global War on Terror," more accurately a "global war of terror," has fueled war, chaos and terrorism across the world. The absurd notion that widespread U.S military violence could somehow put an end to terrorism quickly devolved into a cynical pretext for "regime change" wars against any country that resisted the imperial dictates of the wannabe "superpower."

Secretary of State Colin Powell privately dubbed his colleagues the "fucking crazies," even as he lied to the UN Security Council and the world to advance their plans for illegal aggression against Iraq. Joe Biden's critical role as Chair of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee was to orchestrate hearings that promoted their lies and excluded dissident voices who would have challenged them.

The resulting spiral of violence has killed millions of people, from 7,037 American troop deaths to five assassinations of Iranian scientists (under Obama and now Trump). Most of the victims have been either innocent civilians or people just trying to defend themselves, their families or their countries from foreign invaders, U.S.-trained death squads or actual CIA-backed terrorists.

Former Nuremberg prosecutor Ben Ferencz told NPR only a week after the crimes of September 11th, "It can never be legitimate to punish people who are not responsible for the wrong done. We must make a distinction between punishing the guilty and punishing others." Neither Afghanistan, Iraq, Somalia, Pakistan, Palestine, Libya, Syria or Yemen was responsible for the crimes of September 11th, and yet U.S. and allied armed forces have filled miles upon miles of graveyards with the bodies of their innocent people.

Like the Covid pandemic and the climate crisis, the unimaginable horror of the "war on terror" is another calamitous case of corrupt U.S. policy-making leading to massive loss of life. The vested interests that dictate and pervert U.S. policy, in particular the supremely powerful Military-Industrial Complex, marginalized the inconvenient truths that none of these countries had attacked or even threatened to attack the United States, and that U.S. and allied attacks on them violated the most fundamental principles of international law.

If Biden and his team genuinely aspire for the United States to play a leading and constructive role in the world, they must find a way to turn the page on this ugly episode in the already bloody history of American foreign policy. Matt Duss, an advisor to Senator Bernie Sanders, has called for a formal commission to investigate how U.S. policymakers so deliberately and systematically violated and undermined the "rules-based international order" that their grandparents so carefully and wisely built after two world wars that killed a hundred million people.

Others have observed that the remedy provided for by that rules-based order would be to prosecute senior U.S. officials. That would probably include Biden and some of his team. Ben Ferencz has noted that the U.S. case for "preemptive" war is the same argument that the German defendants used to justify their crimes of aggression at Nuremberg.

"That argument was considered by three American judges at Nuremberg," Ferencz explained, "and they sentenced Ohlendorf and twelve others to death by hanging. So it's very disappointing to find that my government today is prepared to do something for which we hanged Germans as war criminals."

Time to Break the Cross of Iron

Another critical problem facing the Biden team is the deterioration of U.S. relations with China and Russia. Both countries' military forces are primarily defensive, and therefore cost a small fraction of what the U.S. spends on its global war machine - 9% in the case of Russia, and 36% for China. Russia, of all countries, has sound historical reasons to maintain strong defenses, and does so very cost-effectively.

As former President Carter reminded Trump, China has not been at war since a brief border war with Vietnam in 1979, and has instead focused on economic development and lifted 800 million people out of poverty, while the U.S. has been squandering its wealth on its lost wars. Is it any wonder that China's economy is now healthier and more dynamic than ours?

For the United States to blame Russia and China for America's unprecedented military spending and global militarism is a cynical reversal of cause and effect - as much of a nonsense and an injustice as using the crimes of September 11th as a pretext to attack countries and kill people who had nothing to do with the crimes committed.

So here too, Biden's team face a stark choice between a policy based on objective reality and a deceptive one driven by the capture of U.S. policy by corrupt interests, in this case the most powerful of them all, Eisenhower's infamous Military-Industrial Complex. Biden's officials have spent their careers in a hall of mirrors and revolving doors that conflates and confuses defense with corrupt, self-serving militarism, but our future now depends on rescuing our country from that deal with the devil.

As the saying goes, the only tool the U.S. has invested in is a hammer, so every problem looks like a nail. The U.S. response to every dispute with another country is an expensive new weapons system, another U.S. military intervention, a coup, a covert operation, a proxy war, tighter sanctions or some other form of coercion, all based on the supposed power of the U.S. to impose its will on other countries, but all increasingly ineffective, destructive and impossible to undo once unleashed.

This has led to war without end in Afghanistan and Iraq; it has left Haiti, Honduras and Ukraine destabilized and mired in poverty as the result of U.S.-backed coups; it has destroyed Libya, Syria and Yemen with covert and proxy wars and resulting humanitarian crises; and to U.S. sanctions that affect a third of humanity.

So the first question for the first meeting of Biden's foreign policy team should be whether they can sever their loyalties to the arms manufacturers, corporate-funded think tanks, lobbying and consultant firms, government contractors and corporations they have worked for or partnered with during their careers.

These conflicts of interest amount to a sickness at the roots of the most serious problems facing America and the world, and they will not be resolved without a clean break. Any member of Biden's team who cannot make that commitment and mean it should resign now, before they do any more damage.

Long before his farewell speech in 1961, President Eisenhower made another speech, responding to the death of Joseph Stalin in 1953. He said, "Every gun that is made, every warship launched, every rocket fired signifies, in the final sense, a theft from those who hunger and are not fed, those who are cold and are not clothed...This is not a way of life at all, in any true sense. Under the cloud of threatening war, it is humanity hanging from a cross of iron."

In his first year in office, Eisenhower ended the Korean War and cut military spending by 39% from its wartime peak. Then he resisted pressures to raise it again, despite his failure to end the Cold War.

Today, the Military-Industrial Complex is counting on a reversion to the Cold War against Russia and China as the key to its future power and profits, to keep us hanging from this rusty old cross of iron, squandering America's wealth on trillion-dollar weapons programs as people go hungry, millions of Americans have no healthcare and our climate becomes unlivable.

Are Joe Biden, Tony Blinken and Jake Sullivan the kind of leaders to just say "No" to the Military-Industrial Complex and consign this cross of iron to the junkyard of history, where it belongs? We will find out very soon.

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.

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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