When Joe Biden was elected United States president in November 2020, he promised a different approach to the foreign affairs policies pursued by his predecessor Donald Trump. Those promises were generally welcomed, although seasoned political watchers urged caution. The new President had a long history of involvement of the United States in foreign wars, and some people were sceptical that the leopard had really changed its spots.
Now, after Biden has been in the office for barely a month, sceptics look like being proven right. The evidence that the new Biden was very much a rerun of the old Biden becomes more apparent by the day in his conduct of foreign affairs.
Before leaving office, Trump had promised the withdrawal of US troops from Afghanistan by May of this year. He was silent on the fate of the US forces that were not part of the formal military establishment, and their numbers have actually increased through 2020. Nonetheless, the announcement was seen as a genuine effort by Trump to reduce US involvement in foreign wars.
That promise has now been abandoned by Biden. His reversal of Trump’s policy of drawing down the US military forces in Afghanistan was hardly surprising. As is typical of the United States mainstream media, the real reasons for the US change of heart remain unmentioned. United States troops are staying in Afghanistan for three principal reasons.
The first reason is to continue supporting the political leadership of the countries Prime Minister, who knows that he was on borrowed time in the eventuality of an actual United States withdrawal. He is really little more than the Mayor of Kabul, with the Taliban in effective control of more than 60% of the countryside. The Taliban for its part has softened its stance towards the education of the female population and they look like being able to retain at least some of the freedoms that group have won over the years of US occupation.
The second reason is Afghanistan’s geography. It shares borders with seven states, none of whom are United States allies and one, China, is perceived by the Biden administration as an unmitigated threat to continued United States hegemony in Asia. This factor is highly unlikely to change, despite the increasingly desperate United States attempts to shore up its position in Asia. Part of that desperation is manifesting itself in the United States’ revived attempts (first under the Obama administration that Biden served as vice president) to create an “Asian NATO”, by fostering an anti-China alliance of the United States, India, Japan and Australia.
That measure is having only limited success. Japan’s trade with China increased by 20% in January over January 2020, and notwithstanding the long and difficult China-Japan relationship, the latter knows which side of the bread is buttered and will ultimately choose economic success over the increasingly dubious advantages of the United States alliance, first imposed in the wake of World War II and remaining very much a case of senior versus junior partner in the succeeding 75 years.
Given a free choice, the polls increasingly suggest that Japan sees its economic future linked to China’s growing strength rather than that of the fading United States. Japan also faces a severe demographic crisis, with there being 500,000 more deaths than births in 2019. For a country historically reluctant to accept immigration as a solution, the demographic outlook remains increasingly serious.
That demography will temper any Japanese ambitions for military interventionism.
The third reason the Biden administration is staying in Afghanistan is the one factor almost never discussed in the mainstream media: the critical role in that country place in the provision of 90% of the world heroin supply, almost 70% of which is exported under CIA control, providing that organisation with a highly lucrative quantum of “off the books” income, as well as enormous power in the exercise of that control.
The second area where the Biden administration is unlikely to change significantly from the Trump administration is over the status of Iran. Biden has made noises about re-joining the JCPOA that the Trump administration abandoned as part of its unqualified attacks upon the Iranian economy. Less well publicised is the fact that the Biden administration is making its re-joining the agreement contingent on policy changes by Iran. The latter country, unsurprisingly, has made clear it has no intention of following any American conditions attached to the latter’s re-entry to the agreement. The main precondition sought by the Americans is for Iran to cease the greater enrichment of its uranium, currently up to 20%.
This ambition has of course triggered Israeli alarm about Iran’s nuclear ambitions. If one was to believe the Israelis, who have been repeating the same mantra for years, Iran is on the verge of producing a nuclear weapon. Not only is there absolutely no evidence of any Iranian ambition to go nuclear armed, such Israeli protestations are never counted with the obvious question: why should Israel retain a monopoly among Middle Eastern countries of being uniquely nuclear armed. It is the West’s refusal to confront that reality that makes all of their statements about Iran so hypocritical.
Iran has no incentive to succumb to United States demands and is highly unlikely to do so. It has in recent years forged ever closer links to both Russia and China, neither of whom share the West’s obsession with Iran’s alleged nuclear ambitions. The three countries recently engaged in their first ever joint naval military exercises. That relationship is expected to grow in future years.
The Iranians are also acutely aware that Biden plans to increase United States military involvement in Iraq, with most of the 10,000 proposed extra troops stationed close to the Iranian border. Again, this is a departure from the Trump administration policy. Although one would never view the United States policy toward Iran as friendly under Trump, it was not accompanied by overt military moves such as those being undertaken by the Biden administration. The United States simply ignored a January 2019 demand by the Iraqi parliament that US troops should leave their country, and there is nothing in the words or actions of the Biden administration to reveal a better acknowledgement of the legitimate demands of the sovereign Iraqi government. The Iraqi experience demonstrates yet again that the hardest thing for a sovereign nation to achieve is the removal of unwelcome, and in this case illegally occupying, United States troops.
If there is one bright spot on this horizon it is the result of the recent Group of Seven nation meeting last week. Biden was singularly unsuccessful in persuading his European counterparts to join his anti-China crusade. Those European nations know better than most which way the Geo-political winds are blowing. They are most assuredly blowing in China’s favour, and that is unlikely to change in the foreseeable future.
The Biden administration is unlikely to meekly accept defeat, and will undoubtably continue its anti-China policies. Therein lies the greatest danger to world peace: the American inability to recognise and accept that its power has radically diminished. The world is tired of US hegemony and the sooner the Americans recognise that fact the better it is for all of us.
James O’Neill, an Australian-based former Barrister at Law, exclusively for the online magazine “New Eastern Outlook”.