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Neoliberalism in Chile and the cost of human life

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Henry Kissinger meeting with Pinochet

Neoliberalism in Chile has a long history of failed promises, repressive policies, and authoritarian ideologies that cost the lives of thousands of Chilean citizens. Chile was praised for its new reforms and adoption of neoliberalism that promised more equality for everyone. In reality, an oppressive regime was born on the back of these promises that terrorized the people of Chile for seventeen years. Neoliberalism was born in Chile in 1973 and it died the same day, when human rights and human dignity were sacrificed in the name of economy and for the ideas of a few people that decided to overlook the terrorizing situation in Chile, just to prove a point about their economic thoughts. There is no miracle in Chile, and the thousands that died and suffered in Chile are the proof.

The Downfall of Salvador Allende

On September 4, 1970, presidential elections were held in Chile. Salvador Allende, the candidate of the Popular Unity coalition won with 36.2% of the votes. Upon assuming the presidency, Allende carried on a socialist platform that aimed to nationalize large-scale businesses in Chile, such as copper mining, telecommunications, and banking. Besides that, Allende wanted to drastically improve the socio-economic situation of the poorest people of Chile by implementing new policies to support socio-economic welfare, provide employment in new public work projects or the newly nationalized industries. Salvador Allende served as the President of Chile from 1970 until the military coup d’etat in 1973. He was the first Marxist elected President in a liberal democracy in Latin America. He was described by his friend Fernando Alegria as a tireless fighter and a bold president that was defeated by a two-headed enemy: The United States of America and local military saboteurs (Alegria, 1994).

The local military saboteurs were under the command of Augusto Pinochet. Augusto Pinochet was the Commander-in-Chief of the Chilean Armed forces. On September 11, 1973, he overthrew the democratically elected President Salvador Allende. The presidential palace was shelled while Allende was in it. It is believed that Salvador Allende committed suicide. Pinochet was the lead plotter of the coup while his position as Commander-in-Chief allowed him to coordinate with both the military and the national police. Following the coup, a military junta, with the help of the U.S was established that exercised both legislative and executive power in the new government of Chile. The constitution and the Congress of the country were suspended, all political parties and activities were banned and a curfew and strict censorship were imposed. Augusto Pinochet self-declared himself as the President of the Republic, becoming de facto dictator of Chile until 1990. The U.S backed military coup and Pinochet’s seventeen-year dictatorship, are seen as aberrations in Chile’s twentieth-century history of multiparty democracy and institutional stability, two parameters that were very unusual in Latin America (Joseph & Grandin, 2010, pp.121-122).

The Implementation of Neoliberalism

The new military junta under the influence of foreign third parties and individuals implemented a new economic liberalization. Chile was the first country where its citizens were forcefully subjected to a new economic system that was called neoliberalism. Neoliberalism was first mentioned by the Austrian-British economist Friedrich Hayek. Hayek’s ideas were divided into two parts. In the first part, Hayek suggested that the concept of free markets responds to the needs of every individual. As a result, markets had to be operated freely, while the government would be limited to allow order to arise spontaneously in society. In the second part, which is depicted in his book The Road to Serfdom (1944), Hayek suggested that central planning of an economy does not respond to the needs of the individual. The two parts are interconnected and result in only one possibility according to Hayek. A totalitarian regime. Hayek believed that the government should have its limitations. He promoted the idea that the central role of the government should be to maintain the rule of law with as little intervention as possible. It must be projected as a civil association that provides a framework for every individual to follow their own projects (Hayek, 1960).

Friedrich Hayek’s remarks and ideas were highly influential for politicians like the President of the United States of America, Ronald Reagan, and the Prime Minister of the United Kingdom, Margaret Thatcher. Thatcher, in particular, based the ideology of the British Conservative Party on the ideas of Friedrich Hayek. She championed the ideas of unfettered free markets, the idea of shrinking the government and cutting taxes alongside state-provided services. However, the ideas of Friedrich Hayek about the implementation of free markets and his opposition towards totalitarian regimes made him a controversial figure. Naomi Klein, a Canadian author, and journalist describes his ideas as a shock doctrine, where people are forced to accept a new reality for their own good either through economic hardship or brutal government policies (Klein, 2007). His free-market ideology is associated directly with the totalitarian regime of Augusto Pinochet, since he was one of the key economic advisors, together with Milton Friedman that was close to Augusto Pinochet. He always thought that no one is qualified to have unlimited power, yet he was standing behind a dictator. While he is championed by many right-wing politicians as a defender of liberty, he is despised by many left-wing politicians who see him as a hypocrite that stood behind a murderous dictator whose forced economic implementations brought misery and pain to thousands of Chilean citizens.

The Involvement of the United States of America

It is important to remember that the situation in Chile did not happen without the help of the U.S. The involvement of the U.S in Chile happened for two reasons. To implement the idea of the domino theory and to protect the interests of U.S companies in Chile. The domino theory was the predominant Cold War theory for the U.S. It suggested that if one country in a region would eventually become communist, then the surrounding countries and regions would follow up in a domino effect. The first time that the domino theory was mentioned was back in 1954 in a press conference when the U.S President Dwight D. Eisenhower referred to communism in Indochina.

“You have broader considerations that might follow what you would call the “falling domino” principle. You have a row of dominoes set up, you knock over the first one, and what will happen to the last one is the certainty that it will go over very quickly. So you could have a beginning of a disintegration that would have the most profound influences”. Dwight D. Eisenhower.

The domino theory was used by various U.S administrations to justify and American intervention around the world. Richard Nixon used the same theory for his foreign policy and to justify his intervention in Chile. In 1977, he defended the U.S actions to destabilize Allende’s Chile. In an interview with British journalist David Frost, Nixon stated that a communist Chile and Cuba would create a “red sandwich” that could entrap Latin America between them (Qureshi, 2010, p.56). After Richard Nixon, Ronald Reagan followed the same rhetoric to justify the situation in Chile while he expanded in Central America and the Caribbean region.

The protection of the interests of U.S companies in Chile was the second reason why the U.S intervened in Chile and why it was supporting the Pinochet regime. Back in 1970, before the presidential elections, neither the Richard Nixon administration, nor the current Chilean government, nor U.S. companies with businesses in Chile such as the Anaconda Copper Mining Company or the International Telephone & Telegraph, wished to see an Allende presidency because of his alleged communist sympathies. Threatened by the nationalized acts of Salvador Allende, the two major U.S companies, the Anaconda Copper Mining Company and the International Telephone & Telegraph expressed their dissatisfaction for the Allende government through the Nixon administration. Henry Kissinger was the national security advisor to Richard Nixon. According to declassified files from the CIA, Kissinger met with high-level officials to discuss the future of Chile that depended on the 1970 elections. The elections represented the potential for important economic relations to collapse or continue. After the complaints of the U.S companies that had economic interests in Chile, Richard Nixon was left with two choices: political maneuvering or brute force. He chose the first option. Based on the declassified notes that were given from Richard Nixon to Richard Helms the director of CIA, there were direct orders to “make the Chilean economy scream” during the Allende presidency by conducting a campaign to create a deep inflation crisis, funding opposition leaders and encouraging the Chilean military to overthrow Allende. In the end, the U.S achieved its goal and Salvador Allende was overthrown and a more American friendly government was installed. From that point, the neoliberal policies were implemented and Chile was used as an experimental country for radical economic reforms.

The Role of the Chicago Boys

These economic reforms were imposed by a group of Chilean economists known as The Chicago Boys. They were all educated at the Department of Economics of the University of Chicago under the guidance of the neoliberal economist Milton Friedman. Friedrich Hayek was also a member of the Chicago Boys helping them implement his neoliberal ideas. After the coup in 1973, many of them returned to Chile and were appointed in high government positions by Augusto Pinochet as economic advisors. They are credited with transforming the economy of Chile into the best performing economies in Latin America and into one of the most business-friendly in the world. However, there is also a lot of criticism against them. Some economists, such as the Indian economist and philosopher Amartya Jumar Sen have argued that their policies did not provide any help to the population of Chile but were intended to serve the interests of U.S companies in Chile and Latina America.

The neoliberal reforms of the Chicago Boys can be divided into two phases. The first phase expanded from 1973 until 1982 and has been described by the author Naomi Klein as the Shock Therapy period. At this phase, most of the radical reforms were implemented. The Chicago Boys adopted a laissez-faire economic system, where transactions between private parties did not have any economic intervention from the state (regulations and subsidies). They promoted the idea of a free, neoliberal market in contrast to the centrally-planned economy and nationalization plans that were advocated by Salvador Allende. As a result, Chile was transformed into a liberal and world-integrated economy. Besides that, businesses were re-privatized, price controls were abolished and the capital flows were deregulated. Their main objective was to lower the inflation rates at the expense of a sharp recession. They met their objective as they managed to lower the inflation rate from 508.1% in 1973, to 20.7% in 1982. The economy expanded for a while from 1977 up until 1980. Milton Friedman described this reorientation of the Chilean economy as the Miracle of Chile in 1982. In an interview back in 2000, Milton Friedman said:

 “The Chilean economy did very well, but more importantly, in the end, the central government, the military junta was replaced by a democratic society. So the really important thing about the Chilean business is that free markets did work their way in bringing about a free society”. Milton Friedman.

However, his remarks regarding the Chilean economy did not represent the reality of a miracle. From 1975 up until 1980, the economic growth rate was below the potential growth rate of Chile (Ffrench-Davis, 2002). In the early 1980s, Latin America was hit with a devastating debt crisis that paralyzed all the Latin American countries. Chile was hit the hardest with a GDP decline by 14% in comparison to other Latin American countries that had a GDP decline by 3.2%. This debt crisis led to a bank run which led to the devastating economic crisis of 1982. It was clear that the economic shock therapy did not work, and the miracle that Friedman was cheering for was not that real after all.

The second phase of the neoliberal reforms is described as Pragmatic Neoliberalism that expanded from 1982 up until the end of the dictatorship in 1990. With the ongoing crisis, the Chicago Boys’ radical economic rhetoric was replaced by a pragmatic approach. The new economists had to apply pragmatic measures to reverse the situation. They socialized two major Chilean banks and seven more that were at the edge of collapse. The Central bank of Chile socialized much of the foreign debt. Many critics of this policy compared these actions with the presidency of Salvador Allende. However, this pragmatic policy brought economic growth, questioning the radical methods of the Chicago Boys. The GDP growth went higher after the 1982 crisis and continued to surpass other economies in Latin America. The Chilean economist Ricardo Ffrench-Davis has a critical evaluation of the situation:

“The unnecessary radicalism of the shock therapy in the 1970s caused mass unemployment, purchasing power losses, extreme inequalities in the distribution of income, and severe socio-economic damage. The 1982 crisis as well as the success of the pragmatic economic policy after 1982, proves that the 1973–1981 radical economic policy of the Chicago boys harmed the Chilean economy” Ricardo Ffrench-Davis.

The Dark Side of Economic Liberalization

The history of neoliberalism in Chile is not just about economic reforms. Unfortunately, it is also a history of state terrorism and human rights violations by the Pinochet regime. The forced economic reforms and the intervention from the U.S allowed Augusto Pinochet to promote his state terrorism towards the people of Chile. According to a 2004 report from the National Commission on Political Imprisonment and Torture or Valech Commission, the number of victims of human rights violations accounts for around 30.000 people that were tortured while at least 2.500 were executed. Also, almost 200.000 people were forced to exile while many people experienced illegal detaining from the regime forces. Prisoners of the regime were exposed to different methods of torture, like electric shocks, waterboarding, beatings, and sexual abuse. The central instrument of terror was the disappearing subversives, where people were disappeared by the Pinochet regime. People that were considered leftists, socialists, or communists were the main target. In addition to the horrors, Pinochet was infamous for detaining people and throwing them out of helicopters. Around 1300 people disappeared, and still even today hundreds of them are yet to be found. The systematic suppression of any political ideology that went against the regime was described by historian Steve J. Stern as political genocide, as a systematic project aiming to destroy an entire way of doing and understanding politics and governance (Stern, 2010). The regime was extremely brutal to leftists and often portrayed them as the enemies of the state. The fake portrayal of leftists as dangerous revolutionaries resulted in the legitimization of the Pinochet regime. For seventeen years, Augusto Pinochet with the support of the U.S managed to use effective brainwashing propaganda to portray leftists as criminals and as the enemies of Chile. Unfortunately, Augusto Pinochet was never formally convicted for his crimes against humanity, as he died in 2006 before he was tried. Today the portraits of the victims of the brutality of Augusto Pinochet and the people that disappeared and still haven’t been found are displayed in the Museum of Memory and Human Rights, in Santiago Chile.

The Long Road of Democracy 

In 1990, when the regime fell and democracy was restored, the people of Chile were promised that this time the economic reforms will benefit the people. The citizens of Chile believed their government and waited patiently for a more equal distribution of the wealth of Chile. Thirty years later, Chile is in flames, and it seems that the neoliberal model has once again failed the people of Chile. On October 18, 2019, the largest and most extensive citizen mobilizations took place in Santiago, the capital of Chile. The mobilization began when the President of Chile Sebastián Piñera, announced that the fare for a metro ticket in Santiago would rise from 800 Chilean Pesos to 830 (USD 1.15). The news hit Chilean people, and they took to the streets to protest against the decision. “This is not just about 30 pesos, it is about the last 30 years,” said an angry protester. Thousands of protests share the same view. For the last thirty years, while Chile’s GDP has grown, making the country the wealthiest in South America, people wonder why the situation in the country remains the same. In a country where the minimum wage of at least 70% of the population barely reaches USD 700 and where it is estimated that almost 36% of the population in the cities lives in poverty, people question their government and the implementation of neoliberal policies. While the wealth is growing for the large corporations and foreign companies with interests in Chile, protesters come to realize that neoliberalism was born and will die in Chile.

The history and the progress of neoliberalism in Chile is a controversial concept. Many economists praise the efforts of the Chicago Boys and follow the same rhetoric as Milton Friedman, calling for a Miracle in Chile. However, thousands of people that suffered under the regime of Augusto Pinochet, people that lost their jobs and their land due to privatization processes, people that could not feed their families, victims of the brutal state terrorism, and families that still have not found their relatives after so many years, strongly disagree with the opinions of a few privileged economists that see people as statistics and not human beings. In reality, there is no miracle in Chile. While the country is wealthy, the people are poor and social unrest is rising in the country. Neoliberalism in Chile was born on a dark October day in 1973, on the back of a ruthless dictator and bureaucratic economists, and it died on a stormy October day in 2020, filled with rage, frustration, and disappointment. The future lies in the hands of the Chilean people.

Bachelor's Degree in International Relations & Political Science. Columnist focusing on Global Affairs

Americas

Witnessing Social Racism And Domestic Terrorism In Democratic America

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With just less than two weeks away from President-elect taking the office, the United States of America witnessed the worst of the worst it could ever do, since its discovery. Anti-democracy moves and violence is what American leadership stood against around the world and in particular in recent times since the Arab Spring, but the same ‘Mini Arab Spring’ was faced by America itself. The brave soldiers of America who took arms and enjoyed Saddam’s palace could not protect its own legislative branch, details about which make the very beginning of the American Constitution. The savior of democracy is struggling democracy at home as white supremacists and Trump supporter militias stormed at the US Capitol. Before having a critical outlook through the lens of Johan Galtung’s triangle of violence, it is potent to dig into what exactly is causing this situation in America. This started as protests at the National Mall which soon after Trump’s incitement turned into riots at the Capitol Building by masses without masks, painted with Republican colors and wrapped in MAGA merchandise. This storm over Congress seats came after months long instigation of Donald Trump’s claims about rigging in elections and his refusal to accept the results and especially when on Wednesday the Congressmen gathered to count the electoral votes and officially declared Biden as the next President of America. Amidst this siege over Capitol, arrests and vandalism of state property; Joe Biden was officially validated as the 46th President of the United States of America.

Apart from what became highlight of that week about Capitol Hill being invaded by pro-Trump supporters, critically analyzing the situation, it is evident enough that MAGA riots and Black Life Matters riots were quite evidently, differently handled by the state forces. This discrepancy in response to BLM can be better explained through Galtung’s 3 sides of violence. Galtung’s triangle shapes around three joints of connections: direct, cultural and structural violence, while the former has its roots in the latter two. Structural violence is defined as the unequal access and advantages to one racial, political, ethnic or religious group than the other in social and political orientations of systems that govern the state. Structural violence or social racism is evident in the varying responses that despite warnings about possible attacks during the electoral vote counts, Police did not seek advance help to prevent it, rather National Guard was deployed an hour after the protestors had already breached the first barricade. While in the case of BLM, the aggression of the Police and National Guard was evident in their gestures. While the anti-racism protests in June last year faced militarized response, none was done with anti-democratic riots.

While social racism is evident in America, it is yet to be witnessed what is to come next. Speaker of the House of Senate, Nancy Pelosi has already indicated removing President Trump from his office through the 25th Constitutional Amendment. Along with this, Joe Biden’s remarks about the situation also have long-term repercussions as well as expectations. Repercussions might come in terms of him calling the protestors as “domestic terrorists”. The FBI defines domestic terrorism as: “Violent, criminal acts committed by individuals and/or groups to further ideological goals stemming from domestic influences, such as those of a political, religious, social, racial, or environmental nature.” America, since more than 2 decades is already fighting its war against terrorism in various segments of the world, the use of this word at home, although might bring support for Biden’s sympathies for BLM and democracy, yet it might have long-term impacts. Mentioning of expectations, Americans at home and abroad, both desire to see actual reforms followed by on ground implementations to counter structural violence. Along with this, Biden shall have to re-construct the de-constructed notion that political violence and threat to democracy is far away from America and is for third world countries. The states upon which America used to show serious concern and used to send arms for their national interests are showing their worry over the situation in America which is even termed as ‘coup’. Having pin-pointed all this, Biden’s era needs a lot of reconstruction before it opts to enter any third world country or show its presence in any new Spring for democracy outside America.

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Joe Biden and his first contradictory foreign policy moves

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Official White House Photo by Lawrence Jackson

Those who thought that the elderly American President, formerly Barack Obama’s vice-President, would step into the international limelight as the wise and moderate statesman he had been during the election campaign have had to revise their judgement.

Just a few weeks after taking office, Joe Biden abruptly brought the United States back onto the Middle East stage with a dual political-military move that has aroused considerable perplexity and protest in the United States and abroad.

As Pentagon spokesman John Kirby pointed out, the first surprise move decided directly by the President was to order an aerial bombardment against two bases of militiamen believed to be close to Hezbollah and Iran, located in Syria near the border with Iraq.

Between 22 and 27 people, whether militiamen or civilians, are reported to have died in the attack, which took place during the night of February 25.

The order to strike the pro-Iranian militias was motivated by Biden’s need to react to an attack in Erbil, in Iraqi Kurdistan, at the beginning of February against a U.S. army logistics base, which resulted in the death of a Filipino employee of the base.

Commenting on the incident, Pentagon spokesman Kirby said: “The airstrikes have destroyed warehouses and buildings used on the border by pro-Iranian militias Kathaib Hezbollah and Kataib Sayyid al Shuhaba and have conveyed the unambiguous message that President Biden will always act to protect American personnel. At the same time, the action is intended to deliberately pursue the goal of de-escalating tension in both eastern Syria and Iraq’.

Apart from the fact that it sounds ambiguous to justify a surprise attack on the territory of a (still) sovereign State like Syria with the need to “reduce tension” in the region, President Biden’s initiative has aroused not a few perplexities also in the United States, in addition to the obvious protests of the government in Damascus.

While many Republican Senators and Congressmen have approved of Biden’s actions because, as Republican Senator Pat Toomey has argued, “Biden has the right to respond with weapons to the recent attacks supported by Iran against American interests”, members of his own party have not hidden their criticism and perplexity because allegedly the President did not respect the exclusive prerogatives of Congress in terms of “war actions”.

Democratic Senator Tim Kane was very harsh and explicit: “an offensive military action without Congressional approval is unconstitutional”.

His colleague from the same party, Chris Murphy, told CNN that “military attacks require Congressional authorization. We must require that this Administration adheres to the same behavioural standards we have required from previous Administrations…

We require that there be always legal justification for every American military initiative, especially in a theatre like Syria, where Congress has not authorised any military initiative”.

With a view to underlining the inconsistency of the White House’s justification that the attacks were to ‘reduce tension’ in the region, Democratic Congressman Ro Khana publicly stepped up criticism by saying, “We need to get out of the Middle East. I spoke out against Trump’s endless war and I will not shut up now that we have a Democratic President”.

As we can see, the criticism levelled at President Biden has been harsh and very explicit, thus marking the premature end of the ‘honeymoon’ between the Presidency and Congress that, in the U.S. tradition, marks the first hundred days of each new Administration.

President Biden’s military show of strength appears to be marked not only by the doubts over constitutionality raised by leading members of his own party, but also by the contradictory nature of the motivations and justifications.

According to the White House, in view of reducing tension in Syria, bombers need to be sent, without prejudice to the need to “convey a threatening signal” to Iran, at the very moment when the President himself is declaring he wants to reopen the “nuclear deal” with Iran, i.e.  the dialogue on the nuclear issue abruptly interrupted by his predecessor.

In short, the new President’s opening moves in the Middle East region do not seem to differ too much from those of his predecessors who, like him, thought that military action – even bloody and brutal – could always be considered a useful option as a substitute for diplomacy.

This military action, however, seems scarcely justifiable in its motivations if it is true that President Biden intends to reduce the tension in relations with Iran, which have become increasingly tense due to initiatives such as those of his predecessor, Donald Trump, who at the beginning of last year ordered the assassination of the highest-ranking member of the Iranian military hierarchy, Qassem Suleimani, who was shot by a drone near Baghdad.

President Biden’s other move that, in a delicate and sensitive theatre such as the Near East, appears at least untimely, was to authorise CIA to declassify the report on the assassination of the Saudi journalist, Jamal Khashoggi, killed in 2018 on the premises of the Saudi Consulate in Turkey.

The CIA report bluntly accuses Crown Prince Mohammed Bin Salman of ordering the murder of the dissident journalist. Its publication, authorised by President Biden, has sparked a storm of controversy inside and outside the United States, thus seriously calling into question the strategic relationship between the United States and Saudi Arabia, which over the years has been painstakingly built with the dual aim of counterbalancing Iran’s presence and influence in the Lebanon, Syria and Iraq, as well as controlling the extremist impulses of rich and dangerous regional partners such as Qatar.

Prince Bin Salman, now firmly established as sole heir to the Saudi throne, is a compulsory counterpart of the United States.

In vain (and recklessly), President Biden has publicly declared his preference for a direct dialogue with King Salman.

The 85-year-old King, however, is not only in poor health conditions, but has also clearly told the Americans that he has the utmost confidence in “his sole and legitimate heir” to whom he has already actually delegated the management of the Kingdom’s affairs.

President Biden’s Administration, and its new Secretary of State, Antony Blinken, have never made a secret of preferring another Crown Prince as a potential counterpart, namely Mohammed Bin Nayef, who is very close to CIA thanks to the good offices of the former Chief of the Saudi intelligence services, Saad Al Jabry. Nevertheless, in the complicated world of the Saudi Court, things do not always proceed in the simple and straightforward way preferred by the Americans.

Mohammed Bin Najef is currently in prison on corruption charges and is therefore definitely out of the race for the throne, while his CIA liaison, Al Jabry, has self-exiled to Canada to escape the ‘persecution’ he believes has been orchestrated by the Saudi courtiers.

If the United States wants to keep on playing a role in the Middle East and possibly exercising a stabilising function in a region which was greatly destabilised by George W. Bush’s unfortunate Iraqi adventure, which effectively handed Iraq over to the Shi’ites close to their Iranian “brothers” and gave Iran the keys to control the Persian Gulf, the President and his Secretary of State will have to rely on a good dose of political realism, leaving out of the dialogue with Saudi Arabia the ethical considerations which, although justified, do not seem appropriate, also because America has never seemed to have had many scruples when it comes to physically eliminating its ‘adversaries’ with very hasty methods, be they an Iranian general, two dozen unidentified Syrian militiamen or their relatives.

In short, the early stages of Biden’s Presidency do not look very promising. Allies and adversaries alike are waiting for the United States to get back on the field in the most sensitive areas with pragmatism and realism, two factors that seem rather lacking in Joe Biden’s preliminary foreign policy moves.

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Biden’s Syria strikes don’t make him a centrist Democrat – they make him a neocon

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Official White House Photo by Adam Schultz

Biden’s Syria strikes last week left many of his supporters, including me, surprised.

The Syria strikes don’t make Biden the centrist Democrat that we knew we were getting – they make him a neocon. 22 Syrians died as a result, as the US forces aimed at Iran-backed militias in Syria in an attempt to take down adversaries – not to disturb an imminent attack on civilians or to stop genocide, for example.

My own initial analysis of Biden’s foreign policy outlook pinned him as a classical Democrat, but his first moves put him further and well beyond the center to the right than what generally defines a classical foreign policy Democrat. 

Humanitarian reasons as a justification for the use of force is what separates hawkish centrist Democrats from the neocons on the right. And that’s not a small difference. For neocons, spreading democracy and regime change suffices. But that’s not the case for Democrats. The Biden Administration knows this very well. That’s why what counts as “humanitarian” in Syria is key for the Biden Administration and that’s why “humanitarian” is getting a very ugly, tortured reading in the first State Department statements. This week the State Department’s Spokesperson Ned Price tweeted that the State Department commemorates the one year anniversary of the death of 33 Turkish soldiers who “lost their lives protecting innocent Syrian civilians in Idlib from the brutality of the Assad regime and its Russian and Iranian backers”.

As a quick refresher, Turkey entered Kurdish northern Syria after Donald Trump gave Turkish leader Erdogan the green light to settle his score with the Kurds who were bravely fighting ISIS in Syria as American allies. That was back in late 2019. Then Erdogan overplayed his hand by entering a completely new Syrian province with no Kurds in order to expand Turkish presence in Syria. At the time, Erdogan turned to his party with the words: “we are now the hosts here”, indicating that Erdogan thought that he was running the show in the newly invaded Syrian province. Russian President Vladimir Putin then taught Erdogan a lesson by striking the Turkish base and killing 33 Turkish soldiers in a preview of what was in store for Turkey if Erdogan forgot who actually calls the shots in Syria. At no point in time, were the Turkish soldiers on a humanitarian mission, as represented by the US. Turkey clearly invaded Kurdish Syria to displace and settle score with the Kurds, flattening and erasing whole villages, and then continued south into uncharted, not Kurdish territories before it got a slap on the wrist by Putin. Erdogan then had to go to Moscow to give explanations and bow to Putin in an attempt to patch things up.

This is why the State Department’s reading of what happened is truly troubling. The State Department not only closed its eyes to Turkish human rights violations but now even tries to represent and commemorate them as humanitarian and good. That is ugly and dangerous. And it’s a blatant lie.

The Biden Administration’s first moves show that Biden is mostly likely forgetting who elected him and why. This is not what the progressive left that put him in office signed up for. One month in is too soon to be already disappointing fans and supporters.

The Biden Administration’s foreign policies will be similar to Trump’s policies but what’s more dangerous is that they will be couched in hypocritical, polished human rights and humanitarian rhetoric lauding big human rights abusers as well-intentioned humanitarians. I don’t know who I prefer then – the straight-forward Trump with whom what you get is what you see in foreign policy and who was easy to criticize because he stated his intentions clearly, or the professionally seasoned and refined Biden who is much better at dressing his true policies in hypocritical narratives that serve as a smokescreen for the slowly crystallizing idea that in foreign policy, Biden is just a more polished Trump.

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