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Is Biden A Cold War Warrior? A Typical US Politician? Both? Or None?

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Official White House Photo by Adam Schultz

Joe Biden entered the White House with two extraordinary qualifications which no other US president could match in the past seventy years: nearly 50 years of experience in government and over a decade on the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, respectively. And yet, with only ten months into office, his critics have already dismissed Biden as one of the most ineffective presidents. Why?  

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In less than one year as president, Joe Biden already enjoys a unique distinction of two outstanding achievements: first, thanks to his Afghanistan folly, he is the first US president with a lowest popularity rating after eight months, both within the Democratic Party and outside of it; second, critics of his foreign policy have dismissed him saying there is no “comprehensive picture of Biden’s priorities in foreign policy, let alone a Biden doctrine or strategy.” How does one explain this? At least some analysts have found an explanation in Sheldon S. Wolin, who is considered one of the most influential political thinkers in the US in the past fifty years. Wilson, a Princeton University politics professor who passed away in 2015, once succinctly characterized the Democrats as Obama’s prospects of being elected as the US president became better in the early spring of 2008: “Should Democrats somehow be elected, they would do nothing to alter significantly the direction of society or substantially reverse the drift rightwards…”

When speaking of the current Democratic president, a US political analyst observed: “Biden is following in Bill Clinton and Barack Obama’s footsteps by providing yet more evidence for Sheldon Wolin’s thesis on the Democrats.” This evaluation of Biden was in reaction to the President’s rapidly declining approval rating – a distinction which only the 46th US president has the distinction to achieve. In the words of a US political analyst, this assessment of Biden was also made possible based on what he promised in 2019 to his Wall Street election investors – “nothing would fundamentally change” – if he became president. 

And candidate Joe Biden stuck to what he promised – not to his voter constituency but to his Wall Street funders – after becoming President Biden. Remember his series of campaign promises? Namely a) to significantly slash college student debt; b) to raise the federal minimum wage; c) to pass a bill called Protect the Right to Organize Act (PRO Act); d) to cut 10% of the military budget; e) to push Medicare for all etc. and so on. All the above and many more campaign promises committed by either Biden himself or the Democrats have in the past months fallen by the wayside. Biden shelved his meagre campaign pledge to get the Congress to cancel $10,000 in college debt per person due to COVID; the federal minimum wage increase was sacrificed to “filibuster”; not only the new administration rejected a cut in military budget, instead an increase in military spending even beyond Trump’s bloating military budget has been proposed; “Medicare for all” too became a casualty of the Biden era within six months of his taking office; and the PRO Act too fell victim to “filibuster” before even the bill arrived in the US Senate. 

Be that as it may, the focus of this write up is on Biden’s foreign and security policies and not domestic policies. Further, since I closely watch US-China relations, in what follows I shall put to scrutiny the US policy towards China under the Biden administration, so far.

Early on in his White House days, I did point out in my column that the Chinese were already calling him a “Cold War warrior.” Simply because to Beijing, as the successor to President Trump, the new US president had decided to “continue to strive hard to push US-China ties further into what you might call a new Cold War or ‘Biden Cold War’.” The latest media revelation confirms Biden’s China-policy is not only continuation but further consolidation of the Trump legacy. Early this month, the Wall Street Journal disclosed “US troops have been stationed in Taiwan for over one year.” Even more shocking (to Beijing) in the report was the claim that the previous administration acknowledged in a recently declassified document “the US administration loosened rules that restricted contacts with Taiwan by US officials.” Significantly, according to the report, the Biden administration has blatantly admitted “areas of continuity” between the two administrations on China policies, such as sending a US delegation to Taiwan in April this year.

Well, it is not without reason some in the West, as also in the US, are arguing that Obama’s “pivot to Asia,” Trump’s “all out anti-China policies,” and the current US administration’s “New Cold War against China” under President Biden have all been driven by the historic decline of US hegemony. However, resorting to populist chauvinism, as President Trump unsuccessfully did and now Biden is pursuing the same, out of fear for the rising China, is certainly not the best US strategy. “If the Sino-American relationship were a hand of poker, Americans would recognize that they have been dealt a good hand and avoid succumbing to fear or belief in the decline of the US,” observed one IR scholar recently. 

Therefore, it is quite surprising the salient manner in which the US military strategists and the mainstream (global) media have in tandem unleashed the “China attacking Taiwan” theory. The latest is an opinion piece in the Financial Times headlined “A US-China clash is not unthinkable.” On October 5, retired US Army Lieutenant Colonel Daniel Davis stated in an op-ed column “the US could stumble into a nuclear war with China over Taiwan.”

It is in this context, one must recall what Joseph Nye reminded us in his syndicated column last week. Invoking the historical metaphor “sleepwalking syndrome” Christopher Clark used in describing WWI, Nye attempted to explain the dangers of deepening US-China rivalry. “In 1914, all the great powers expected a short third Balkan War,” recalling Clark’s metaphor as far more worrisome in the present-day context, Nye reminded us by citing the British historian as if to warn us, “and they sleepwalked into a conflagration.” (Emphasis added) Nye went on to state: “As US President Joe Biden’s administration implements great power competition with China, a successful strategy must prevent sleepwalker syndrome.”   At another level, the deepening social, political and economic crisis has been driving hundreds and thousands of teachers, factory workers, lorry drivers and others in the US to demand the right to unionize, regular work-hours, more wages etc. Is it any wonder therefore that within a few weeks after Joe Biden took office, a Financial Times columnist wrote in his column under the headline “America’s best hope of hanging together is China?” Janan Ganesh, the columnist went on to conclude: “Without an external foe to rail against, the nation turns on itself. For only an external foe can end the age of discord.” To conclude, as Beijing is right in calling Biden the Cold War warrior, Americans are not wrong either in describing Biden’s foreign policy as conventional.

Hemant Adlakha is professor of Chinese, Jawaharlal Nehru University in New Delhi. He is also vice chairperson and an Honorary Fellow, Institute of Chinese Studies (ICS), Delhi.

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U.S. has a vital interest in avoiding going to war for a lie

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Photo: Bundesregierung/Denzel

Last time, it was a U.S. president, George W. Bush, who dishonestly took America into a conflict, but that at least was against a weak Third World nation. The consequences were still disastrous: thousands dead and tens of thousands of wounded Americans and hundreds of thousands dead Iraqi civilians, trillions of dollars wasted, and a Middle East in flames.

But what Zelensky would do is much more serious, writes “The American Conservative”. He called the Poland strike “a really significant escalation” requiring a response, even though the issue would have nothing to do with Ukraine had the missile been launched by Russia.

In this case, entry into the war could trigger a major conventional conflict highlighted by use of tactical nuclear weapons, or even the use of strategic nuclear strikes around the globe, from Russia to Europe to the U.S. That would be a catastrophic result for all concerned, including Ukraine.

But the missile was not from Russia, and the U.S. has a vital interest in avoiding going to war for a lie. Upbraiding Zelensky, as Biden apparently did, isn’t enough.

This isn’t the first unsettling surprise by Ukraine for Washington. While the attack on the Kerch Strait Bridge was legitimate, it could escalate the conflict in dangerous ways for the U.S. So too could strikes in border Russian regions near Belgorod, and the assassination of Daria Dugina, a Russian propagandist, not combatant.

If Ukraine were operating entirely on its own, such actions would be its business. However, it has succeeded beyond any expectation only because of allied, and especially U.S., support for the Ukrainian military.

Washington also should further open diplomatic channels with Moscow, as appears to be happening, at least to some degree, given reports of CIA Director Bill Burns meeting with his Russian counterpart last week. National Security Advisor Jake Sullivan and Defense Secretary Lloyd Austin have also engaged with Russia, but such conversations need to be broadened to discuss possible political accommodations.

The U.S. also needs to address the Europeans, especially its most fervent hawks, who tend to be among the most lightly armed.

For instance, the Baltic states — small nations with minimal armed forces and niggardly defense efforts for governments claiming to be under imminent threat of conquest — are regarded as the most likely to engage in “freelancing,” as when Lithuania sought to block traffic between Kaliningrad and the rest of Russia. Everyone knew who would be ultimately stuck fighting the war that might result if Moscow’s forces had decided to shoot their way through, and it wasn’t Vilnius.

It is easy to sacrifice someone else’s lives and money, which is essentially what most U.S. “allies” believe is their role in both bilateral and multilateral security partnerships. Washington submissively agrees to defend them, as is its duty; they generously agree to be defended, as is their right. That relationship is no longer sustainable.

America’s foreign aid should be tailored to American interests, and Washington should rethink what has become an increasingly dangerous almost “all-in” proxy war against Russia.

The U.S. should scale back military aid to Kiev, and especially Europe.

Operating as Europe’s patsy is a serious problem, even in peace.

The time for the Europeans to take their defense seriously is long overdue. But that will happen only when Washington stops doing everything for them. America’s military remain busy around the world. The Europeans should secure their own continent, relieving the U.S. of at least one needless military responsibility.

Zelensky’s misleading missile gambit reinforces the necessity of a change in course for Washington.

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Thanksgiving, The World Cup and Sports Celebrities

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Forty-six million turkeys surrender their lives so Americans can celebrate Thanksgiving.  It is an occasion where traditionally families gather together for a scrumptious meal of turkey and trimmings, numerous side dishes and pumpkin pie, followed by … college football on TV — that is American football, a game somewhat similar to rugby. 

The holiday is meant to commemorate the first Thanksgiving when the pilgrims who ventured to America gave thanks for a good harvest.  It was a time when a poor harvest could have meant famine in winter.  Never now in our sophisticated world where we import grapes from the southern hemisphere (Chile) for consumption in winter and many fruits are available year round.

This year there is the added entertainment of the soccer World Cup in Qatar, being played out in eight  purpose-built stadiums, seven new and one refurbished.  Most will be converted for other uses after the event, a change from the past.  

The US now has a team that held England, where the game was invented, to a draw.  The favorites remain  the Latin American powerhouses like Brazil and Argentina but the Europeans can on occasion pull off a surprise.

Why certain games are popular in one country and not another is difficult to explain.  India and China, the world’s most populous countries, are absent at the World Cup.  On the other hand, India is a powerhouse in another British game: cricket.  And China remains a top performer at the Olympics.

The crowd turning out for cricket matches, particularly between arch rivals India and Pakistan remain unmatched by other sports played there, even field hockey where the two countries have also been fairly successful. 

Leveraging sports celebrity into a political career is also possible but success on the cricket pitch may not always be transferred to administrative competence.  Imran Khan’s innings as prime minister led to members of his own party defecting, and ended when he lost his parliamentary majority.

Still attracting large crowds of supporters who are entertained at his rallies before he himself appears, he is asking his supporters to march to the capital — echoes of another leader this time in the US, Donald Trump, who has just announced a bid for re-election.

Meanwhile, Imran Khan has been secretly recorded planning illegal tactics and barred from holding political office by the courts in Pakistan.  Exactly how he plans to rule if his party or coalition were to win is not clear — by proxy perhaps.

If all this is not enough, he has become notorious for doing U-turns on policy leaving his party members and supporters scrambling in his wake — a reminder if ever there was of the old Chinese curse:  “May you live in interesting times.”

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Ron Paul: Biden Administration accept that it has a “Zelensky problem”

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Official White House Photo by Lawrence Jackson

Last week the world stood on the very edge of a nuclear war, as Ukraine’s US-funded president, Vladimir Zelensky, urged NATO military action over a missile that landed on Polish soil.”

This is a comment from the prominent American political leader Ronald Ernest Paul was for many years the member of the U.S. House of Representatives from Texas. Three times he sought the Presidency of the United States: once as the Libertarian Party nominee and twice as a candidate for the Republican Party. He continues in his comment:

“But there was a problem. The missile was fired from Ukraine – likely an accident in the fog of war. Was it actually a Russian missile, of course, that might mean World War III.

‘While Zelensky has been treated as a saint by the US media, the Biden Administration, and both parties in Congress, something unprecedented happened this time: the Biden Administration pushed back. According to press reports, several Zelensky calls to Biden or senior Biden Staff went unanswered.

‘The Biden Administration went on to publicly dispute Zelensky’s continued insistence that Russia shot missiles into NATO-Member Poland. After two days of Washington opposition to his claims, Zelensky finally, sort of, backed down.

‘We’ve heard rumors of President Biden’s frustration over Zelensky’s endless begging and ingratitude for the 60 or so billion dollars doled out to him by the US government, but this is the clearest public example of the Biden Administration’s acceptance that it has a “Zelensky problem.”

‘Zelensky must have understood that Washington and Brussels knew it was not a Russian missile.

‘Considering the vast intelligence capabilities of the US in that war zone, it is likely the US government knew in real time that the missiles were not Russian. For Zelensky to claim otherwise seemed almost unhinged. And for what seems like the first time, Washington noticed.

‘As a result, there has been a minor – but hopefully growing – revolt among conservatives in Washington over this dangerous episode. Georgia Rep. Marjorie Taylor-Greene introduced legislation demanding an audit of the tens of billions of dollars shipped to Ukraine – with perhaps $50 billion more in the pipeline.

‘When the Ukraine war hysteria finally dies down – as the Covid hysteria died down before it – it will become obvious to vastly more Americans what an absolute fiasco this whole thing has been,” writes Ron Paul.

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