Nicolas J. S. Davies

A voice of reason in an insane world: Why a legendary diplomat resigned from the United Nations

Denis Halliday is an exceptional figure in the world of diplomacy. In 1998, after a 34-year career with the United Nations—including as an Assistant Secretary-General and the UN Humanitarian Coordinator in Iraq—he resigned when the UN Security Council refused to lift sanctions against Iraq.

Halliday saw at first hand the devastating impact of this policy that had led to the deaths of over 500,000 children under the age of five and hundreds of thousands more older children and adults, and he called the sanctions a genocide against the people of Iraq.

Since 1998, Denis has been a powerful voice for peace and for human rights around the world. He sailed in the Freedom Flotilla to Gaza in 2010, when 10 of his companions on a Turkish ship were shot and killed in an attack by the Israeli armed forces.

I interviewed Denis Halliday from his home in Ireland.

Nicolas Davies: So, Denis, twenty years after you resigned from the UN over the sanctions on Iraq, the United States is now imposing similar "maximum pressure" sanctions against Iran, Venezuela, Cuba and North Korea, denying their people access to food and medicines in the midst of a pandemic. What would you like to say to Americans about the real-world impact of these policies?

Denis Halliday: I'd like to begin with explaining that the sanctions imposed by the Security Council against Iraq, led very much by the United States and Britain, were unique in the sense that they were comprehensive. They were open-ended, meaning that they required a Security Council decision to end them, which of course never actually happened - and they followed immediately upon the Gulf War.

The Gulf War, led primarily by the United States but supported by Britain and some others, undertook the bombing of Iraq and targeted civilian infrastructure, which is a violation of the Geneva Conventions, and they took out all electric power networks in the country.

This completely undermined the water treatment and distribution system of Iraq, which depended upon electricity to drive it, and drove people to use contaminated water from the Tigris and the Euphrates. That was the beginning of the death-knell for young children, because mothers were not breast-feeding, they were feeding their children with child formula, but mixing it with foul water from the Tigris and the Euphrates.

That bombing of infrastructure, including communications systems and electric power, wiped out the production of food, horticulture, and all of the other basic necessities of life. They also closed down exports and imports, and they made sure that Iraq was unable to export its oil, which was the main source of its revenue at the time.

In addition to that, they introduced a new weapon called depleted uranium, which was used by the U.S. forces driving the Iraqi Army out of Kuwait. That was used again in southern Iraq in the Basra area, and led to a massive accumulation of nuclear debris which led to leukemia in children, and that took three, four or five years to become evident.

So when I got to Iraq in 1998, the hospitals in Baghdad, and also of course in Basra and other cities, were full of children suffering from leukemia. Meantime adults had gotten their own cancer, mainly not a blood cancer diagnosis. Those children, we reckon perhaps 200,000 children, died of leukemia. At the same time, Washington and London withheld some of the treatment components that leukemia requires, again, it seemed, in a genocidal manner, denying Iraqi children the right to remain alive.

And as you quoted 500,000, that was a statement made by Madeleine Albright, the then American Ambassador to the United Nations who, live on CBS, was asked the question about the loss of 500,000 children, and she said that the loss of 500,000 children was "worth it," in terms of bringing down Saddam Hussein, which did not happen until the military invasion of 2003.

So the point is that the Iraqi sanctions were uniquely punitive and cruel and prolonged and comprehensive. They remained in place no matter how people like myself or others, and not just me alone, but UNICEF and the agencies of the UN system - many states including France, China and Russia - complained bitterly about the consequences on human life and the lives of Iraqi children and adults.

My desire in resigning was to go public, which I did. Within one month, I was in Washington doing my first Congressional briefing on the consequences of these sanctions, driven by Washington and London.

So I think the United States and its populus, who vote these governments in, need to understand that the children and the people of Iraq are just like the children of the United States and England and their people. They have the same dreams, same ambitions of education and employment and housing and vacations and all the things that good people care about. We're all the same people and we cannot sit back and think somehow, "We don't know who they are, they're Afghans, they're Iranians, they're Iraqis. So what? They're dying. Well, we don't know, it's not our problem, this happens in war." I mean, all that sort of rationale as to why this is unimportant.

And I think that aspect of life in the sanctions world continues, whether it's Venezuela, whether it's Cuba, which has been ongoing now for 60 years. People are not aware or don't think in terms of the lives of other human beings identical to ourselves here in Europe or in the United States.

It's a frightening problem, and I don't know how it can be resolved. We now have sanctions on Iran and North Korea. So the difficulty is to bring alive that we kill people with sanctions. They're not a substitute for war - they are a form of warfare.

Nicolas Davies: Thank you, Denis. I think that brings us to another question, because whereas the sanctions on Iraq were approved by the UN Security Council, what we're looking at today in the world is, for the most part, the U.S. using the power of its financial system to impose unilateral sieges on these countries, even as the U.S. is also still waging war in at least half a dozen countries, mostly in the Greater Middle East. Medea Benjamin and I recently documented that the U.S. and its allies have dropped 326,000 bombs and missiles on other countries in all these wars, just since 2001 - that's not counting the First Gulf War.

You worked for the UN and UNDP for 34 years, and the UN was conceived of as a forum and an institution for peace and to confront violations of peace by any countries around the world. But how can the UN address the problem of a powerful, aggressive country like the United States that systematically violates international law and then abuses its veto and diplomatic power to avoid accountability?

Denis Halliday: Yes, when I talk to students, I try to explain that there are two United Nations: there's a United Nations of the Secretariat, led by the Secretary-General and staffed by people like myself and 20,000 or 30,000 more worldwide, through UNDP and the agencies. We operate in every country, and most of it is developmental or humanitarian. It's good work, it has real impact, whether it's feeding Palestinians or it's UNICEF work in Ethiopia. This continues.

Where the UN collapses is in the Security Council, in my view, and that is because, in Yalta in 1945, Roosevelt, Stalin and Churchill, having noted the failure of the League of Nations, decided to set up a United Nations that would have a controlling entity, which they then called the Security Council. And to make sure that worked, in their interests I would say, they established this five-power veto group, and they added France and they added China. And that five is still in place.

That's 1945 and this is 2021, and they're still in power and they're still manipulating the United Nations. And as long as they stay there and they manipulate, I think the UN is doomed. The tragedy is that the five veto powers are the very member states that violate the Charter, violate human rights conventions, and will not allow the application of the ICC to their war crimes and other abuses.

On top of that, they are the countries that manufacture and sell weapons, and we know that weapons of war are possibly the most profitable product you can produce. So their vested interest is control, is the military capacity, is interference. It's a neocolonial endeavor, an empire in reality, to control the world as the way they want to see it. Until that is changed and those five member states agree to dilute their power and play an honest role, I think we're doomed. The UN has no capacity to stop the difficulties we're faced with around the world.

Nicolas Davies: That's a pretty damning prognosis. In this century, we're facing such incredible problems, between climate change and the threat of nuclear war still hanging over all of us, possibly more dangerous than ever before, because of the lack of treaties and the lack of cooperation between the nuclear powers, notably the U.S. and Russia. This is really an existential crisis for humanity.

Now there is also, of course, the UN General Assembly, and they did step up on nuclear weapons with the new Treaty for the Prohibition of Nuclear Weapons (TPNW), which has now officially entered into force. And every year when it meets, the General Assembly regularly and almost unanimously condemns the U.S. sanctions regime against Cuba.

When I wrote my book about the war in Iraq, my final recommendations were that the senior American and British war criminals responsible for the war should be held criminally accountable, and that the U.S. and the U.K. should pay reparations to Iraq for the war. Could the General Assembly possibly be a venue to build support for Iraq to claim reparations from the U.S. and the U.K., or is there another venue where that would be more appropriate?

Denis Halliday: I think you're right on target. The tragedy is that the decisions of the Security Council are binding decisions. Every member state has got to apply and respect those decisions. So, if you violate a sanctions regime imposed by the Council as a member state, you're in trouble. The General Assembly resolutions are not binding.

You've just referred to a very important decision, which is the decision about nuclear weapons. We've had a lot of decisions on banning various types of weapons over the years. Here in Ireland we were involved in anti-personnel mines and other things of that sort, and it was by a large number of member states, but not the guilty parties, not the Americans, not the Russians, not the Chinese, not the British. The ones who control the veto power game are the ones who do not comply. Just like Clinton was one of the proposers, I think, of the ICC [International Criminal Court], but when it came to the end of the day, the United States doesn't accept it has a role vis-a-vis themselves and their war crimes The same is true of other large states that are the guilty parties in those cases.

So I would go back to your suggestion about the General Assembly. It could be enhanced, there's no reason why it couldn't be changed, but it requires tremendous courage on the part of member states. It also requires acceptance by the five veto powers that their day has come to an end, because, in reality, the UN carries very little cachet nowadays to send a UN mission into a country like Myanmar or Afghanistan.

I think we have no power left, we have no influence left, because they know who runs the organization, they know who makes the decisions. It's not the Secretary-General. It's not people like me. We are dictated to by the Security Council. I resigned, effectively, from the Security Council. They were my bosses during that particular period of my career.

I have a lecture I do on reforming the Security Council, making it a North-South representative body, which would find Latin America and Sub-Saharan Africa in situ, and you'd get very different decisions, you'd get the sort of decisions we get in the General Assembly: much more balanced, much more aware of the world and its North and South and all those other variations. But of course, again, we can't reform the Council until the five veto powers agree to that. That is the huge problem.

Nicolas Davies: Yes, in fact, when that structure was announced in 1945 with the Security Council, the five Permanent Members and the veto, Albert Camus, who was the editor of the French Resistance newspaper Combat, wrote a front-page editorial saying this was the end of any idea of international democracy.

So, as with so many other issues, we live in these nominally democratic countries, but the people of a country like the United States are only really told what our leaders want us to know about how the world works. So reform of the Security Council is clearly needed, but it's a massive process of education and democratic reform in countries around the world to actually build enough of a popular movement to demand that kind of change. In the meantime, the problems we're facing are enormous.

Another thing that is very under-reported in the U.S. is that, out of desperation after twenty years of war in Afghanistan, Secretary Blinken has finally asked the UN to lead a peace process for a ceasefire between the U.S.-backed government and the Taliban and a political transition. That could move the conflict into the political realm and end the civil war that resulted from the U.S. invasion and occupation and endless bombing campaign.

So what do you think of that initiative? There is supposed to be a meeting in a couple of weeks in Istanbul, led by an experienced UN negotiator, Jean Arnault, who helped to bring peace to Guatemala at the end of its civil war, and then between Colombia and the FARC. The U.S. specifically asked China, Russia and Iran to be part of this process as well. Both sides in Afghanistan have agreed to come to Istanbul and at least see what they can agree on. So is that a constructive role that the UN can play? Does that offer a chance of peace for the people of Afghanistan?

Denis Halliday: If I were a member of the Taliban and I was asked to negotiate with a government that is only in power because it's supported by the United States, I would question whether it's an even keel. Are we equally powerful, can we talk to each other one-to-one? The answer, I think, is no.

The UN chap, whoever he is, poor man, is going to have the same difficulty. He is representing the United Nations, a Security Council dominated by the United States and others, as the Afghans are perfectly well aware. The Taliban have been fighting for a helluva long time, and making no progress because of the interference of the U.S. troops, which are still on the ground. I just don't think it's an even playing field.

So I'd be very surprised if that works. I absolutely hope it might. I would think, in my view, if you want a lasting relationship within a country, it's got to be negotiated within the country, without military or other interference or fear of further bombing or attacks or all the rest of it. I don't think we have any credibility, as a UN, under those circumstances. It'll be a very tough slog.

Nicolas Davies: Right. The irony is that the United States set aside the UN Charter when it attacked Yugoslavia in 1999 to carve out what is now the semi-recognized country of Kosovo, and then to attack Afghanistan and Iraq. The UN Charter, right at the beginning, at its heart, prohibits the threat or use of force by one country against another. But that is what the U.S. set aside.

Denis Halliday: And then, you have to remember, the U.S. is attacking a fellow member state of the United Nations, without hesitation, with no respect for the Charter. Perhaps people forget that Eleanor Roosevelt drove, and succeeded in establishing, the Declaration of Human Rights, an extraordinary achievement, which is still valid. It's a biblical instrument for many of us who work in the UN.

So the neglect of the Charter and the spirit of the Charter and the wording of the Charter, by the five veto members, perhaps in Afghanistan it was Russia, now it's the United States, the Afghanis have had foreign intervention up to their necks and beyond, and the British have been involved there since the 18th century almost. So they have my deepest sympathy, but I hope this thing can work, let's hope it can.

Nicolas Davies: I brought that up because the U.S., with its dominant military power after the end of the Cold War, made a very conscious choice that instead of living according to the UN Charter, it would live by the sword, by the law of the jungle: "might makes right."

It took those actions because it could, because no other military force was there to stand up against it. At the time of the First Gulf War, a Pentagon consultant told the New York Times that, with the end of the Cold War, the U.S. could finally conduct military operations in the Middle East without worrying about starting World War III. So they took the demise of the Soviet Union as a green light for these systematic, widespread actions that violate the UN Charter.

But now, what is happening in Afghanistan is that the Taliban once again control half the country. We're approaching the spring and the summer when the fighting traditionally gets worse, and so the U.S. is calling in the UN out of desperation because, frankly, without a ceasefire, their government in Kabul is just going to lose more territory. So the U.S. has chosen to live by the sword, and in this situation it's now confronting dying by the sword.

Denis Halliday: What's tragic, Nicolas, is that, in our lifetime, the Afghanis ran their own country. They had a monarchy, they had a parliament - I met and interviewed women ministers from Afghanistan in New York - and they managed it. It was when the Russians interfered, and then the Americans interfered, and then Bin Laden set up his camp there, and that was justification for destroying what was left of Afghanistan.

And then Bush, Cheney and a few of the boys decided, although there was no justification whatsoever, to bomb and destroy Iraq, because they wanted to think that Saddam Hussein was involved with Al Qaeda, which of course was nonsense. They wanted to think he had weapons of mass destruction, which also was nonsense. The UN inspectors said that again and again, but nobody would believe them.

It's deliberate neglect of the one last hope. The League of Nations failed, and the UN was the next best hope and we have deliberately turned our backs upon it, neglected it and distrusted it. When we get a good Secretary General like Hammarskjold, we murder him. He was definitely killed, because he was interfering in the dreams of the British in particular, and perhaps the Belgians, in Katanga. It's a very sad story, and I don't know where we go from here.

Nicolas Davies: Right, well, where we seem to be going from here is to a loss of American power around the world, because the U.S. has so badly abused its power. In the U.S., we keep hearing that this is a Cold War between the U.S. and China, or maybe the U.S., China and Russia, but I think we all hopefully can work for a more multipolar world.

As you say, the UN Security Council needs reform, and hopefully the American people are understanding that we cannot unilaterally rule the world, that the ambition for a U.S. global empire is an incredibly dangerous pipe-dream that has really led us to an impasse.

Denis Halliday: Perhaps the only good thing coming out of Covid-19 is the slow realization that, if everybody doesn't get a vaccine, we fail, because we, the rich and the powerful with the money and the vaccines, will not be safe until we make sure the rest of the world is safe, from Covid and the next one that's coming along the track undoubtedly.

And this implies that if we don't do trade with China or other countries we have reservations about, because we don't like their government, we don't like communism, we don't like socialism, whatever it is, we just have to live with that, because without each other we can't survive. With the climate crisis and all the other issues related to that, we need each other more than ever perhaps, and we need collaboration. It's just basic common sense that we work and live together.

The U.S. has something like 800 military bases around the world, of various sizes. China is certainly surrounded and this is a very dangerous situation, totally unnecessary. And now the rearming with fancy new nuclear weapons when we already have nuclear weapons that are twenty times bigger than the one that destroyed Hiroshima. Why on Earth? It's just irrational nonsense to continue these programs, and it just doesn't work for humanity.

I would hope the U.S. would start perhaps retreating and sorting out its own domestic problems, which are quite substantial. I'm reminded every day when I look at CNN here in my home about the difficulties of race and all the other things that you're well aware of that need to be addressed. Being policeman to the world was a bad decision.

Nicolas Davies: Absolutely. So the political, economic and military system we live under is not only genocidal at this point, but also suicidal. Thank you, Denis, for being a voice of reason in this insane world.

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

Biden officials had a dust-up with a Chinese delegation — but it actually brings a sign of hope

On March 18, the world was treated to the spectacle of U.S. Secretary of State Antony Blinken sternly lecturing senior Chinese officials about the need for China to respect a "rules-based order." The alternative, Blinken warned, is a world in which might makes right, and "that would be a far more violent and unstable world for all of us."

Blinken was clearly speaking from experience. Since the United States dispensed with the UN Charter and the rule of international law to invade Kosovo, Afghanistan and Iraq, and has used military force and unilateral economic sanctions against many other countries, it has indeed made the world more deadly, violent and chaotic.

When the UN Security Council refused to give its blessing to U.S. aggression against Iraq in 2003, President Bush publicly threatened the UN with "irrelevance." He later appointed John Bolton as UN Ambassador, a man who famously once said that, if the UN building in New York "lost 10 stories, it wouldn't make a bit of difference."

But after two decades of unilateral U.S. foreign policy in which the United States has systematically ignored and violated international law, leaving widespread death, violence and chaos in its wake, U.S. foreign policy may finally be coming full circle, at least in the case of Afghanistan.

Secretary Blinken has taken the previously unthinkable step of calling on the United Nations to lead negotiations for a ceasefire and political transition in Afghanistan, relinquishing the U.S.'s monopoly as the sole mediator between the Kabul government and the Taliban.

So, after 20 years of war and lawlessness, is the United States finally ready to give the "rules-based order" a chance to prevail over U.S. unilateralism and "might makes right," instead of just using it as a verbal cudgel to browbeat its enemies?

Biden and Blinken seem to have chosen America's endless war in Afghanistan as a test case, even as they resist rejoining Obama's nuclear agreement with Iran, jealously guard the United States' openly partisan role as the sole mediator between Israel and Palestine, maintain Trump's vicious economic sanctions, and continue America's systematic violations of international law against many other countries.

What's going on in Afghanistan?

In February 2020, the Trump administration signed an agreement with the Taliban to fully withdraw U.S. and NATO troops from Afghanistan by May 1, 2021.

The Taliban had refused to negotiate with the U.S.-backed government in Kabul until the U.S. and NATO withdrawal agreement was signed, but once that was done, the Afghan sides began peace talks in March 2020. Instead of agreeing to a full ceasefire during the talks, as the U.S. government wanted, the Taliban only agreed to a one-week "reduction in violence."

Eleven days later, as fighting continued between the Taliban and the Kabul government, the United States wrongly claimed that the Taliban was violating the agreement it signed with the United States and relaunched its bombing campaign.

Despite the fighting, the Kabul government and the Taliban managed to exchange prisoners and continue negotiations in Qatar, mediated by U.S. envoy Zalmay Khalilzad, who had negotiated the U.S. withdrawal agreement with the Taliban. But the talks made slow progress, and now seem to have reached an impasse.

The coming of spring in Afghanistan usually brings an escalation in the war. Without a new ceasefire, a spring offensive would probably lead to more territorial gains for the Taliban—which already controls at least half of Afghanistan.

This prospect, combined with the May 1st withdrawal deadline for the remaining 3,500 U.S. and 7,000 other NATO troops, prompted Blinken's invitation to the United Nations to lead a more inclusive international peace process that will also involve India, Pakistan and the United States's traditional enemies, China, Russia and, most remarkably, Iran.

This process began with a conference on Afghanistan in Moscow on March 18-19, which brought together a 16-member delegation from the U.S.-backed Afghan government in Kabul and negotiators from the Taliban, along with U.S. envoy Khalilzad and representatives from the other countries.

The Moscow conference laid the groundwork for a larger UN-led conference to be held in Istanbul in April to map out a framework for a ceasefire, a political transition and a power-sharing agreement between the U.S.-backed government and the Taliban.

UN Secretary-General Antonio Guterres has appointed Jean Arnault to lead the negotiations for the UN. Arnault previously negotiated the end to the Guatemalan Civil War in the 1990s and the peace agreement between the government and the FARC in Colombia, and he was the Secretary-General's representative in Bolivia from the 2019 coup until a new election was held in 2020. Arnault also knows Afghanistan, having served in the UN Assistance Mission to Afghanistan from 2002 to 2006.

If the Istanbul conference results in an agreement between the Kabul government and the Taliban, U.S. troops could be home sometime in the coming months.

President Trump—belatedly trying to make good on his promise to end that endless war— deserves credit for beginning a full withdrawal of U.S. troops from Afghanistan. But a withdrawal without a comprehensive peace plan would not have ended the war. The UN-led peace process should give the people of Afghanistan a much better chance of a peaceful future than if U.S. forces left with the two sides still at war, and reduce the chances that the gains made by women over these years will be lost.

It took 17 years of war to bring the United States to the negotiating table and another two-and-a-half years before it was ready to step back and let the UN take the lead in peace negotiations.

For most of this time, the U.S. tried to maintain the illusion that it could eventually defeat the Taliban and "win" the war. But U.S. internal documents published by WikiLeaks and a stream of reports and investigations revealed that U.S. military and political leaders have known for a long time that they could not win. As General Stanley McChrystal put it, the best that U.S. forces could do in Afghanistan was to "muddle along."

What that meant in practice was dropping tens of thousands of bombs, day after day, year after year, and conducting thousands of night raids that, more often than not, killed, maimed or unjustly detained innocent civilians.

The death toll in Afghanistan is unknown. Most U.S. airstrikes and night raids take place in remote, mountainous areas where people have no contact with the UN human rights office in Kabul that investigates reports of civilian casualties.

Fiona Frazer, the UN's human rights chief in Afghanistan, admitted to the BBC in 2019 that "…more civilians are killed or injured in Afghanistan due to armed conflict than anywhere else on Earth….The published figures almost certainly do not reflect the true scale of harm."

No serious mortality study has been conducted since the U.S. invasion in 2001. Initiating a full accounting for the human cost of this war should be an integral part of UN envoy Arnault's job, and we should not be surprised if, like the Truth Commission he oversaw in Guatemala, it reveals a death toll that is ten or twenty times what we have been told.

If Blinken's diplomatic initiative succeeds in breaking this deadly cycle of "muddling along," and brings even relative peace to Afghanistan, that will establish a precedent and an exemplary alternative to the seemingly endless violence and chaos of America's post-9/11 wars in other countries.

The United States has used military force and economic sanctions to destroy, isolate or punish an ever-growing list of countries around the world, but it no longer has the power to defeat, re-stabilize and integrate these countries into its neocolonial empire, as it did at the height of its power after the Second World War. America's defeat in Vietnam was a historical turning point: the end of an age of Western military empires.

All the United States can achieve in the countries it is occupying or besieging today is to keep them in various states of poverty, violence and chaos—shattered fragments of empire adrift in the twenty-first century world.

U.S. military power and economic sanctions can temporarily prevent bombed or impoverished countries from fully recovering their sovereignty or benefiting from Chinese-led development projects like the Belt and Road Initiative, but America's leaders have no alternative development model to offer them.

The people of Iran, Cuba, North Korea and Venezuela have only to look at Afghanistan, Iraq, Haiti, Libya or Somalia to see where the pied piper of American regime change would lead them.

What is this all about?

Humanity faces truly serious challenges in this century, from the mass extinction of the natural world to the destruction of the life-affirming climate that has been the vital backdrop of human history, while nuclear mushroom clouds still threaten us all with civilization-ending destruction.

It is a sign of hope that Biden and Blinken are turning to legitimate, multilateral diplomacy in the case of Afghanistan, even if only because, after 20 years of war, they finally see diplomacy as a last resort.

But peace, diplomacy and international law should not be a last resort, to be tried only when Democrats and Republicans alike are finally forced to admit that no new form of force or coercion will work. Nor should they be a cynical way for American leaders to wash their hands of a thorny problem and offer it as a poisoned chalice for others to drink.

If the UN-led peace process Secretary Blinken has initiated succeeds and U.S. troops finally come home, Americans should not forget about Afghanistan in the coming months and years. We should pay attention to what happens there and learn from it. And we should support generous U.S. contributions to the humanitarian and development aid that the people of Afghanistan will need for many years to come.

This is how the international "rules-based system," which U.S. leaders love to talk about but routinely violate, is supposed to work, with the UN fulfilling its responsibility for peacemaking and individual countries overcoming their differences to support it.

Maybe cooperation over Afghanistan can even be a first step toward broader U.S. cooperation with China, Russia and Iran that will be essential if we are to solve the serious common challenges confronting us all.

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.

These early signs show Biden heading in a deeply flawed direction on foreign policy

The Biden presidency is still in its early days, but it's not too early to point to areas in the foreign policy realm where we, as progressives, have been disappointed--or even infuriated.

There are one or two positive developments, such as the renewal of Obama's New START Treaty with Russia and Secretary of State Blinken's initiative for a UN-led peace process in Afghanistan, where the United States is finally turning to peace as a last resort, after 20 years lost in the graveyard of empires.

By and large though, Biden's foreign policy already seems stuck in the militarist quagmire of the past twenty years, a far cry from his campaign promise to reinvigorate diplomacy as the primary tool of U.S. foreign policy.

In this respect, Biden is following in the footsteps of Obama and Trump, who both promised fresh approaches to foreign policy but for the most part delivered more endless war.

By the end of his second term, Obama did have two significant diplomatic achievements with the signing of the Iran nuclear deal and normalization of relations with Cuba. So progressive Americans who voted for Biden had some grounds to hope that his experience as Obama's vice-president would lead him to quickly restore and build on Obama's achievements with Iran and Cuba as a foundation for the broader diplomacy he promised.

Instead, the Biden administration seems firmly entrenched behind the walls of hostility Trump built between America and our neighbors, from his renewed Cold War against China and Russia to his brutal sanctions against Cuba, Iran, Venezuela, Syria and dozens of countries around the world, and there is still no word on cuts to a military budget that has grown by 15% since FY2015 (inflation-adjusted).

Despite endless Democratic condemnations of Trump, Biden's foreign policy so far shows no substantive change from the policies of the past four years. Here are ten of the lowlights:

1. Failing to quickly rejoin the Iran nuclear agreement. The Biden administration's failure to immediately rejoin the JCPOA, as Bernie Sanders promised to do on his first day as president, has turned an easy win for Biden's promised commitment to diplomacy into an entirely avoidable diplomatic crisis.

Trump's withdrawal from the JCPOA and imposition of brutal "maximum pressure" sanctions on Iran were broadly condemned by Democrats and U.S. allies alike. But now Biden is making new demands on Iran to appease hawks who opposed the agreement all along, risking an outcome in which he will fail to reinstate the JCPOA and Trump's policy will effectively become his policy. The Biden administration should re-enter the deal immediately, without preconditions.

2. U.S. Bombing Wars Rage On - Now In Secret. Also following in Trump's footsteps, Biden has escalated tensions with Iran and Iraq by attacking and killing Iranian-backed Iraqi forces who play a critical role in the war against ISIS in Iraq and Syria. Biden's February 25 U.S. airstrike predictably failed to end rocket attacks on deeply unpopular U.S. bases in Iraq, which the Iraqi National Assembly passed a resolution to close over a year ago.

The U.S. attack in Syria has been condemned as illegal by members of Biden's own party, reinvigorating efforts to repeal the 2001 and 2002 Authorizations for the Use of Military Force that presidents have misused for 20 years. Other airstrikes the Biden administration is conducting in Afghanistan, Iraq and Syria are shrouded in secrecy, since it has not resumed publishing the monthly Airpower Summaries that every other administration has published since 2004, but which Trump discontinued a year ago.

3. Refusing to hold MBS accountable for the murder of Saudi journalist Jamal Khasssoghi. Human rights activists were grateful that President Biden released the intelligence report on the gruesome murder of Washington Post columnist Jamal Khashoggi that confirmed what we already knew: that Saudi Crown Prince Mohammad Bin Salman (MBS) approved the murder. Yet, when it came to holding MBS accountable, Biden choked.

At the very least, the administration should have imposed the same sanctions on MBS, including asset freezes and travel bans, that the U.S. imposed on lower-level figures involved in the murder. Instead, like Trump, Biden is wedded to the Saudi dictatorship and its diabolical Crown Prince.

4. Clinging to Trump's absurdist policy of recognizing Juan Guaidó as President of Venezuela. The Biden administration missed an opportunity to establish a new approach towards Venezuela when it decided to continue to recognize Juan Guaidó as "interim president", ruled out talks with the Maduro government and appears to be freezing out the moderate opposition that participates in elections.

The administration also said it was in "no rush" to lift the Trump sanctions despite a recent study from the Government Accountability Office detailing their negative impact on the economy, and a scathing preliminary report by a UN Special Rapporteur, who noted their "devastating effect on the whole population of Venezuela." The lack of dialogue with all political actors in Venezuela risks entrenching a policy of regime change and economic warfare for years to come, similar to the failed U.S. policy towards Cuba that has lasted for 60 years.

5. Following Trump on Cuba instead of Obama. The Trump administration overturned all the progress towards normal relations achieved by President Obama, sanctioning Cuba's tourism and energy industries, blocking coronavirus aid shipments, restricting remittances to family members, putting Cuba on a list of "state sponsors of terrorism," and sabotaging Cuba's international medical missions, which were a major source of revenue for its health system.

We expected Biden to immediately start unraveling Trump's confrontational policies, but catering to Cuban exiles in Florida for domestic political gain apparently takes precedence over a humane and rational policy towards Cuba, for Biden as for Trump.

Biden should instead start working with the Cuban government to allow the return of diplomats to their respective embassies, lift all restrictions on remittances, make travel easier, and work with the Cuban health system in the fight against COVID-19, among other measures.

6. Ramping up the Cold War with China. Biden seems committed to Trump's self-defeating Cold War and arms race with China, talking tough and ratcheting up tensions that have led to racist hate crimes against East Asian people in the United States.

But it is the United States that is militarily surrounding and threatening China, not the other way round. As former President Jimmy Carter patiently explained to Trump, while the United States has been at war for 20 years, China has instead invested in 21st century infrastructure and in its own people, lifting 800 million of them out of poverty.

The greatest danger of this moment in history, short of all-out nuclear war, is that this aggressive U.S. military posture not only justifies unlimited U.S. military budgets, but will gradually force China to convert its economic success into military power and follow the United States down the tragic path of military imperialism.

7. Failing to lift painful, illegal sanctions during a pandemic. One of the legacies of the Trump administration is the devastating use of U.S. sanctions on countries around the world, including Iran, Venezuela, Cuba, Nicaragua, North Korea and Syria. 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 could easily lift them. Even before taking power, his team announced a thorough review, but, three months later, it has yet to make a move.

Unilateral sanctions that affect entire populations are an illegal 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. They are especially cruel and deadly during a pandemic and the Biden administration should take immediate action by lifting broad sectoral sanctions to ensure every country can adequately respond to the pandemic.

8. Not doing enough to support peace and humanitarian aid for Yemen. Biden appeared to partially fulfill his promise to stop U.S. support for the war in Yemen when he announced that the U.S. would stop selling "offensive" weapons to the Saudis. But he has yet to explain what that means. Which weapons sales has he cancelled?

We think he should stop ALL weapons sales to Saudi Arabia and the UAE, enforcing the Leahy Law that prohibits military assistance to forces that commit gross human rights violations, and the Arms Export Control Act, under which imported U.S. weapons may be used only for legitimate self defense. There should be no exceptions to these U.S. laws for Saudi Arabia, the UAE, Israel, Egypt or other U.S. allies around the world.

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 rebuild its devastated country. A recent donor conference netted just $1.7 billion in pledges, less than half the $3.85 billion needed. Biden should restore and expand USAID funding and U.S. financial support to the UN, WHO and World Food Program relief operations in Yemen. He should also press the Saudis to reopen the air and seaports, and throw U.S. diplomatic weight behind the efforts of U.N. Special Envoy Martin Griffiths to negotiate a ceasefire.

9. Failing to back President Moon Jae-in's diplomacy with North Korea. 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 Kim Jong-un and Moon Jae-in, who is himself the child of North Korean refugees. So far, Biden has continued this policy of Draconian sanctions and threats.

The Biden administration should revive the diplomatic process with confidence-building measures such as opening liaison offices, easing sanctions, facilitating reunions between Korean-American and North Korean families, permitting U.S. humanitarian organizations to resume their work when COVID conditions permit, and halting U.S.-South Korea military exercises and B-2 nuclear bomb flights.

Negotiations must involve concrete commitments to non-aggression from the U.S. side and a commitment to negotiating a peace agreement to formally end the Korean War. This would pave the way for a denuclearized Korean Peninsula and the reconciliation that so many Koreans desire — and deserve.

10. No initiative to reduce U.S. military spending. 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 instead of a post-Cold War "peace dividend," the military-industrial complex exploited the crimes of Sept. 11, 2001 to justify an extraordinary one-sided arms race. Between 2003 and 2011, the U.S. accounted for 45% of global military spending, far outstripping its own peak Cold War military spending.

Now the military-industrial complex is counting on Biden to escalate a renewed Cold War with Russia and China as the only plausible pretext for further record military budgets that are setting the stage for World War III.

Biden must dial back U.S. 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 at least the 10 percent cut that 93 Representatives and 23 Senators already voted for. 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, to free up resources we sorely need to invest in health care, education, clean energy and modern infrastructure.

A Progressive Way Forward

These policies, common to Democratic and Republican administrations, not only inflict pain and suffering on millions of our neighbors in other countries, but also deliberately cause instability that can at any time escalate into war, plunge a formerly functioning state into chaos or spawn a secondary crisis whose human consequences will be even worse than the original one.

All these policies involve deliberate efforts to unilaterally impose the political will of U.S. leaders on other people and countries, by methods that consistently only cause more pain and suffering to the people they claim - or pretend - they want to help.

Biden should jettison the worst of Obama's and Trump's policies, and instead pick the best of them. Trump, recognizing the unpopularity of U.S. military interventions, began the process of bringing U.S. troops home from Afghanistan and Iraq, which Biden should follow through on.

Obama's diplomatic successes with Cuba, Iran and Russia demonstrated that negotiating with U.S. enemies to make peace, improve relations and make the world a safer place is a perfectly viable alternative to trying to force them to do what the United States wants by bombing, starving and besieging their people. This is in fact the core principle of the United Nations Charter, and it should be the core principle of Biden's foreign policy.

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.

Trump and Biden’s secret bombing wars

On February 25th, President Biden ordered U.S. air forces to drop seven 500-pound bombs on Iraqi forces in Syria, reportedly killing 22 people. The U.S. airstrike has predictably failed to halt rocket attacks on deeply unpopular U.S. bases in Iraq, which the Iraqi National Assembly passed a resolution to close over a year ago.

The Western media reported the U.S. airstrike as an isolated and exceptional incident, and there has been significant blowback from the U.S. public, Congress and the world community, condemning the strikes as illegal and a dangerous escalation of yet another Middle East conflict.

But unbeknownst to many Americans, the U.S. military and its allies are engaged in bombing and killing people in other countries on a daily basis. The U.S. and its allies have dropped more than 326,000 bombs and missiles on people in other countries since 2001 (see table below), including over 152,000 in Iraq and Syria.

That's an average of 46 bombs and missiles per day, day in day out, year in year out, for nearly 20 years. In 2019, the last year for which we have fairly complete records, the average was 42 bombs and missiles per day, including 20 per day in Afghanistan alone.

So, if those seven 500-pound bombs were the only bombs the U.S. and its allies dropped on February 25th, it would have been an unusually quiet day for U.S. and allied air forces, and for their enemies and victims on the ground, compared to an average day in 2019 or most of the past 20 years. On the other hand, if the unrelenting U.S. air assault on countries across the Greater Middle East finally began to diminish over the past year, this bombing may have been an unusual spike in violence. But which of these was it, and how would we know?

We don't know, because our government doesn't want us to. From January 2004 until February 2020, the U.S. military kept track of how many bombs and missiles it dropped on Afghanistan, Iraq and Syria, and published those figures in regular, monthly Airpower Summaries, which were readily available to journalists and the public. But in March 2020, the Trump administration abruptly stopped publishing U.S. Airpower Summaries, and the Biden administration has so far not published any either.

As with the human casualties and mass destruction that these hundreds of thousands of airstrikes cause, the U.S. and international media only report on a tiny fraction of them. Without regular U.S. Airpower Summaries, comprehensive databases of airstrikes in other war-zones and serious mortality studies in the countries involved, the American public and the world are left almost completely in the dark about the death and destruction our country's leaders keep wreaking in our name. The disappearance of Airpower Summaries has made it impossible to get a clear picture of the current scale of U.S. airstrikes.

Here are up-to-date figures on U.S. and allied airstrikes, from 2001 to the present, highlighting the secrecy in which they have abruptly been shrouded for the past year:

Numbers of bombs and missiles dropped on other countries by the U.S. & its allies since 2001

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These figures are based on U.S. Airpower Summaries for Afghanistan, Iraq, and Syria; the Bureau of Investigative Journalism's count of drone strikes in Pakistan, Somalia and Yemen; the Yemen Data Project's count of Saudi-led airstrikes in Yemen; the New America Foundation's database of foreign airstrikes in Libya; and other published statistics. Figures for 2021 are only through January.

There are several categories of airstrikes that are not included in this table, meaning that the true numbers of airstrikes are certainly higher. These include:

  • Helicopter strikes: Military Times published an article in February 2017 titled, "The U.S. military's stats on deadly airstrikes are wrong. Thousands have gone unreported." The largest pool of airstrikes not included in U.S. Airpower Summaries are strikes by attack helicopters. The U.S. Army told the authors its helicopters had conducted 456 otherwise unreported airstrikes in Afghanistan in 2016. The authors explained that the non-reporting of helicopter strikes has been consistent throughout the post-9/11 wars, and they still did not know how many actual missiles were fired in those 456 attacks in Afghanistan in the one year they investigated.
  • AC-130 gunships: The airstrike that destroyed the Doctors Without Borders hospital in Kunduz, Afghanistan in 2015 was not conducted with bombs or missiles, but by a Lockheed-Boeing AC-130 gunship. These machines of mass destruction, usually manned by U.S. Air Force special operations forces, are designed to circle a target on the ground, pouring howitzer shells and cannon fire into it, often until it is completely destroyed. The U.S. has used AC-130s in Afghanistan, Iraq, Libya, Somalia, and Syria.
  • Strafing runs: U.S. Airpower Summaries for 2004-2007 included a note that their tally of "strikes with munitions dropped... does not include 20mm and 30mm cannon or rockets." But the 30mm cannons on A-10 Warthogs and other ground attack planes are powerful weapons, originally designed to destroy Soviet tanks. A-10s fire 65 depleted uranium shells per second to blanket an area with deadly and indiscriminate fire, but that does not count as a "weapons release" in U.S. Airpower Summaries.
  • "Counter-insurgency" and "counter-terrorism" operations in other parts of the world. The United States formed a military coalition with 11 West African countries in 2005, and now has a drone base in Niger, but we have not found a database of U.S. and allied air strikes in that region, or in the Philippines, Latin America or elsewhere.

It was clearly no coincidence that Trump stopped publishing Airpower Summaries right after the February 2020 U.S. withdrawal agreement with the Taliban, reinforcing the false impression that the war in Afghanistan was over. In fact, U.S. bombing resumed after only an 11-day pause.

As our table shows, 2018 and 2019 were back-to-back record years for U.S. airstrikes in Afghanistan. But how about 2020? Without the official records, we don't know whether the withdrawal agreement led to a serious reduction in airstrikes or not.

President Biden has foolishly tried to use airstrikes in Syria as "leverage" with Iran, instead of simply rejoining the Iran nuclear agreement as he promised during the election campaign. Biden is likewise trailing along in Trump's footsteps by shrouding U.S. airstrikes in the secrecy that Trump used to obscure his failure to "end the endless wars."

It is entirely possible that the highly publicized February 25th airstrikes, like Trump's April 2017 missile strikes on Syria, were a diversion from much heavier, but largely unreported, U.S. bombing already under way elsewhere, in that case the frightful destruction of Mosul, Iraq's former second city.

The only way that Biden can reassure the American public that he is not using Trump's wall of secrecy to continue America's devastating airwars, notably in Afghanistan, is to end this secrecy now, and resume the publication of complete and accurate U.S. Airpower Summaries.

President Biden cannot restore the world's respect for American leadership, or the American public's support for our foreign policy, by piling more lies, secrets and atrocities on top of those he has inherited. If he keeps trying to do so, he might well find himself following in Trump's footsteps in yet another way: as the failed, one-term president of a destructive and declining empire.

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).

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.

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