Biden vs Trump on Foreign Policy – Medea Benjamin

 

Video Thumbnail  Code Pink's co-founder Medea Benjamin, one of the most relentless activists in the anti-war movement, looks at U.S. foreign policy and assesses the candidates for President of the United States. With Paul Jay on theAnalysis.news podcast. Transcript Paul Jay Hi, I'm Paul Jay, and this is theAn

Code Pink’s co-founder Medea Benjamin, one of the most relentless activists in the anti-war movement, looks at U.S. foreign policy and assesses the candidates for President of the United States. With Paul Jay on theAnalysis.news podcast.

Transcript

Paul Jay

Hi, I’m Paul Jay, and this is theAnalysis.news podcast. Don’t forget: there’s a donate button at the top of the webpage.

There’s been a lot of debate on whether a Biden administration’s foreign policy will be all that much different or all that much better than Trump’s. Well, Biden’s foreign policy is dressed up in talk of a renewed multilateralism and American “leadership.” His thinking is rooted in the Cold War and the need for maintaining America as the global policeman and hegemon. But will Biden at least be less reckless than Trump? How does Trump’s record stack up against Biden’s? Now joining us to discuss this is Medea Benjamin.

She’s the co-founder of the women-led peace group Code Pink and the co-founder of the human rights group Global Exchange. She’s the author of ten books, including Drone Warfare: Killing by Remote Control and Kingdom of the Unjust: Behind the US-Saudi Connection. Her most recent book is Inside Iran: The Real History and Politics of the Islamic Republic of Iran.

Medea and her colleagues, in my estimation, have been maybe the most tireless anti-war organizers and campaigners in the United States for years, no matter which party was in power.

Thanks for joining us, Medea.

Medea Benjamin

Hey, nice to be with you, Paul.

Paul Jay

Why don’t you give me just an overall impression of how you compare a Biden to a Trump foreign policy, and then we’ll kind of dig into some of the bigger issues?

Medea Benjamin

Well, you brought up the term, “reckless,” and I think that’s an important one, which is, Trump did a lot of jumping around and going-by-the-gut kind of thing. Some thought that he was really going to make peace with North Korea and he then backed down. There’re all kinds of pressures on him to not move forward. But he didn’t follow through on that. Talked about getting us out of these wars. But we’re still in them. And he is so abrasive that it was hard to know where he was going with certain things. And certainly, when it comes to being part of the international community of nations, pulling us out of everything from the Paris Accord to the WHO to the UNESCO Human Rights Council, all of that, I mean, that will change when you get to Biden.

But he touts that he didn’t start us in a new war. I wouldn’t really say that, because if you look at things like the terrible, brutal sanctions on countries like Iran and Venezuela, that’s pretty much economic warfare. So, I don’t feel like Trump in any way was a “peace president,” as he likes to put himself forward to be. And as you said, Biden is old school. He’s wouldn’t be all that different from Obama, which really wasn’t all that different from Bush, which wasn’t all that different from Trump. So, there is a continuity of the US as a warlike country that uses militarism way more than diplomacy.

You know, the biggest difference, Paul, in terms of a Biden administration is that we — and I say that of the plurality of people who consider themselves part of a peace movement — would have more ways to pressure Biden administration.

Paul Jay

Let’s go through some of the different sort of areas of the world. And I’m going to kind of do this in order, but in a little way out of order, because, I mean, the biggest question in terms of US foreign policy, obviously, is China. And I would also say the approach towards nuclear weapons.

But let’s start with Iran, because it’s perhaps the most immediate potentially dangerous issue of foreign policy, especially, I think, if there’s another four years of Trump. And that’s probably the one thing that is the most marked difference between Trump and Bush-Cheney versus Obama and Biden, which is the Iran nuclear agreement. So, what’s your assessment of that?

Medea Benjamin

Yes, that is the number one difference that I think would make a huge difference in the Middle East. And Biden himself has talked about going back into the Iran deal. There are questions whether Iran has to go back into compliance first before the US or it would happen somewhat simultaneously. But certainly, there is an expectation that Biden would go back into the Iran deal.

Things have changed, though, in Iran in these intervening four years in that the hardliners in Iran have gotten the upper hand. Rouhani, who is seen as making the deal with the Americans that turned out not to bring any positive consequences for Iran, has lost out in this. The last parliamentary elections in Iran have brought the more conservative people into power. There are going to be presidential elections there, and it’s going to probably be a hardliner as the head of state. And so, it might not be as easy for the US to just go back into the Iran nuclear deal.

So, we’ve lost a lot of momentum in the last four years. Let’s also remember that Trump almost took us into war with Iran at the beginning of last year with the drone strike that killed Soleimani. It did not lead us into war only because of the restraint of the leaders of Iran, but it could have really escalated. So, I think it will hopefully calm things down if Biden does rejoin the Iran nuclear deal.

That deal was always supposed to be step number one. You know, Paul, it wasn’t the end-all. It was supposed to lead to more discussions with Iran on all kinds of issues. And if that could happen, it could really have a positive effect for other areas of the Middle East like Iraq and Syria and Yemen and Lebanon and beyond.

Paul Jay

Yeah, as you say there, the Iranians spent so much time negotiating this deal, restructuring their whole nuclear program. There’s still no evidence was a nuclear weapons program. And I still think there’s not an actual national intelligence estimate that’s ever countered the one from a few years ago which said that, in fact, there was no longer any weapons program. Right?

But, that said, they certainly did restructure and went through all these negotiations, signed the deal, and then it doesn’t mean anything because Trump just backs out of it. As they say — what’s the line? — they don’t have a “reliable partner” to negotiate with here.

Medea Benjamin
[Laughs.] Well, that’s for sure. And those who said don’t trust the devil of the US, we’re right in the end because you can’t trust the US. It wasn’t a treaty because Obama didn’t go back to Congress for that. He didn’t think he had the votes.

Paul Jay

Didn’t have the votes because people like Chuck Schumer in his own party wouldn’t support it.

Medea Benjamin

Well, that’s right. Absolutely. And so, it was just done by executive agreement, which meant that Trump could come in and do what he did: pull us out. But it certainly has made for a very difficult four years for the Iranian people who have been suffering a lot under these sanctions.

Paul Jay

Larry Wilkerson, who lobbied in Congress in favor of the nuclear deal with Iran, said it was very nip-and-tuck whether there were going to be enough votes. And it took Biden’s fighting on the Hill. There were some very significant votes in Congress, both in the House and in the Senate, where the Republicans tried to kill the agreement. Because if they had over 60 votes, they could vote to kill the deal with Iran. Biden lobbied very strongly in favor of the deal, and that means in opposition to people like Chuck Schumer in his own party, as I said, who were against the deal. So, if you’re going to go through positives — because there are certainly quite a few negatives on Biden — that’s maybe one of the most important positives.

Medea Benjamin

Absolutely. I think that’s a very important one. I mean, that was the signature achievement of the Obama administration, and Biden was part of that. I think he would go back into that deal. He certainly saw the benefit of it back then. He’s been talking a little bit harder line these days, but that’s campaigning. So, yes, I think that is the number one positive thing that could come out of a Biden administration foreign policy.

Paul Jay

And given Trump’s approach to Iran, and that of a lot of the people around him, I don’t believe they are going to give up on the idea of at least massive destabilization of Iran, if not still some attempt at regime change. Those two things go together. An Iranian friend of mine said what they really want in Iran is the destruction of the society as they accomplished in Iraq.

OK, so some of the other critical issues in the Middle East: let’s start with Yemen, because that’s a war that’s destroying another society in the Middle East. How do you compare where Biden and Trump are on that?

Medea Benjamin

Well, see, that’s where I think there’s another real positive potential, because in the past couple of years there has been tremendous work from the grassroots that has been forming a coalition from left to right, from Code Pink to the Cato Institute libertarians to even Freedom Works and some of the Koch brothers’ groups to try to stop the US support for the Saudi led war in Yemen. You talked about Larry Wilkerson. He worked very hard on this as well.

We managed several times – actually, four times — to get bills through both the House and the Senate. That wasn’t easy to do. They got to the president’s desk. And what did he do? He vetoed them. Now, I don’t think a Biden administration would use the veto for that. I don’t think Biden would go so far as to say, well, let’s drop the weapons sales to the Saudis, even though he said that Saudi Arabia should be a pariah state. But I do think that he would not block a new bill that went through Congress saying that the US should not be giving the logistical support for or selling the weapons that are used by the Saudis in Yemen.

Paul Jay

Trump, a couple of years before he got elected, was quoted as saying, if you want to know what happened on 9/11, just go talk to the Saudis. But once he got elected, he sure didn’t have any trouble [cozying up to them]. What was that famous picture of touching the globe?

Medea Benjamin

Yes, the orb. And the sword-dancing. And his first voyage outside the US was not to Canada, not to Mexico. It was to Saudi Arabia.

Paul Jay

Not kiss the ring, yeah: kiss the orb.

OK, so with Yemen, there could be a marked difference. 

And I have to say, each one of these things are not just items on a grocery list. So far, talking about Iran and as you mentioned, the economic warfare against Iran, we’re talking hundreds of thousands of lives and people dying. And you have a Covid crisis in Iran at a time where they can’t get ventilators and the sanctions are causing starvation. The same thing: a terribly destructive war in Yemen. So, these differences are just not minor issues.

Medea Benjamin

That’s right. It’s catastrophic in Yemen, especially now with the combination of the war and the pandemic and climate change and hunger. I mean, we’re talking about lots of lives being lost in Yemen. And then the US cutting aid to Yemen as well. And I don’t think Biden would do that. So, between Iran and Yemen, you’re right, there are a lot of lives that could be saved with a new administration.

Paul Jay

All right. So, we will stay roughly in the same area. And, you know, we are going to get to Israel/Palestine. But before we do, Trump has gotten some credit for pulling troops out of Afghanistan and Syria. But let’s start with Afghanistan. What do you make of that? His moves there?

Medea Benjamin

He has been engaging in peace talks now for a year there. The fighting has continued. You know, it’s a catch-22 because the Taliban say, as long as they’re foreign troops, we will keep fighting. And so, then the peace talks do not culminate in a peace agreement.

For a long time, they were just between the Taliban and the US, not between the Taliban and the Afghan government. Now they’re starting with the Afghan government. And progress has been made but it hasn’t been culminated. The troops that the US is withdrawing is a positive step. But there’s still thousands of troops there. And the Democrats step in and say, Oh, you can’t pull out these troops. So, Trump has been stymied in pulling back both in Afghanistan and in Iraq.

But, you know, he says that he’s so great on fulfilling his promises. He promised to end the endless wars and his term is ending without ending the war, either in Afghanistan or in Iraq.

Paul Jay

What do you think Biden would do any differently? 

And let me just say, you know, I made a film in Afghanistan and I’ve followed it since. It’s an incredibly complicated situation because the Americans created the conditions for the disaster in Afghanistan under Jimmy Carter. And then each administration afterward armed the jihadists and created this terrible vacuum after the Soviets left, allowing close to two million people to be killed in a civil war out of which the Taliban arose mostly under the tutelage of the Pakistani Secret Service, the ISI.

So, it’s a crazy, complicated situation because the majority of people, I believe — from having been there and talked to many, many Afghans — they do not want the Taliban back. The only thing that’s happened is they’re just so worn out by endless war that it’s better to have some kind of peace deal than, as I say, a war that just never ends and keeps killing so many people there. Even on the issue of US troops [leaving], there is something to the argument that it creates somewhat of a vacuum. But most of the Afghans I know, progressive Afghans, they do want the US out, but they don’t want it done as part of a deal with the Taliban.

Medea Benjamin

Yeah, you could say that. But the reality is the Taliban are Afghans. They live in Afghanistan. They are Afghans, many of them young people who had no way to earn a living and were offered some money and went to fight. And, you know, the people of Afghanistan have been fighting for decades now. It’s for many men the only thing that they know, the only jobs that they have had. And so, do you just keep perpetuating this forever? The Taliban are not going to go away. They control a lot of Afghanistan and they have nowhere to go. So, you have to make a deal with the Taliban.

Paul Jay

No, the people I am quoting are saying the Afghans should make a deal with the Afghans. The Americans shouldn’t be part of any deal. They should just get out.

Medea Benjamin

Oh, well, right. Yes. But then you said they don’t want the Taliban.

Paul Jay

Yeah, but they want Afghans to settle it. They don’t want the Taliban back in power, but they want Afghans to deal with the Taliban. They don’t want the Americans to broker a situation that gives perhaps at least half the country to the Taliban. They want the Americans just to get out and then the Afghans will have to settle it.

Now, I’m not sure how realistic that position is because the Taliban have such a powerful armed force. And I’m not sure what happens, if it doesn’t just descend into a terrible civil war after that. But the people I have talked to do not want the Americans to broker anything.

Medea Benjamin

Right. And then you asked, well, what would happen with a Biden administration? I think there would be more of the possibility that more troops stay for a longer time with a Biden administration.

Paul Jay

Yeah, more than likely. It’s one of these situations — it was a terrible situation that was created in the first place.

The real answer — we don’t need to get into that in detail now because it’s not what the segment’s about. There needs to be some kind of regional peace conference. It can’t just be up to the Americans what happens there, especially when the Americans created the mess in the first place.

But at any rate, let’s move on. Let’s talk about Israel/Palestine. Do you see any difference between a Biden and Trump administration on Israel Palestine?

Medea Benjamin

Not anything significant. It’s so interesting, Paul. You know, these new “peace deals” that the Trump administration has been making between Israel and the United Arab Emirates and Bahrain and now Sudan. Biden himself has said that those are good. We should talk about why I don’t think they’re good, but I don’t think a Biden administration would necessarily continue on that track of pushing for more of those deals to be made. But certainly, I don’t see a Biden administration using the $3.8 billion that US taxpayers give every year to Israel as a leverage for getting Israel to do anything that would improve the lives of the Palestinians.

I really don’t see him doing anything very different from what the last administrations have been doing. He talks about how what a great friend of Israel he is and that he would not condition the aid, even though other people in the primary races started saying they would condition the aid. He refused to do that. So, I don’t have any positive expectations about Biden and Israel.

Paul Jay

This next question kind of applies to everything, but particularly to Israel and Palestine. Bernie Sanders, a lot of the people associated with him, and the progressive congresspeople on the Hill have taken quite a different attitude towards Israel/Palestine. When it came to negotiating the platform of the Democratic Party, Biden asked Cornel West to make recommendations. Not this election; the previous one with Hillary. They took quite a fairly strong position in terms of Palestine having rights as a people, as a nation. Do you see any of that kind of influence of the Sanders-esque kind of approach being able to have any influence on Biden and US foreign policy?

Medea Benjamin

Potentially. I think there will be efforts within Congress coming from Democrats in Congress to move things up to the White House that would then put Biden in a difficult position. I think there are possibilities there. But Biden has always talked about being best friends with the Israelis, and he certainly has decades of support for the Israelis when he was head of the Foreign Relations Committee in the Senate. So, I don’t think so.

Paul Jay
[Laughs.] And what about the antagonism that developed between Netanyahu and Obama? Was that personal or was it more substantial, and might that spill over to Biden?

Medea Benjamin

You know, I think it was both personal and a bit substantive in that Netanyahu was so brazen with the authorization of new settlements just at the time when he was visiting the US, and things like that. But, you know, in the end, what did that antagonism lead to in terms of any change of US policy? It didn’t lead to anything. So maybe there would be a PA office would open up again in the United States.

Paul Jay

Palestinian Authority.

Medea Benjamin

Some symbolic things like that.

Paul Jay

Hasn’t Trump more or less cut funding to the PA?

Medea Benjamin

Yes, so there could be a restoration of some of the funds.  And Trump cut funding to UNRWA, to the Palestinian refugees. That could be something that would come back.

But, you know, in terms of moving towards something that would actually lead to  lifting of the siege of Gaza, that would lead to Palestinian equal rights — I just don’t see that happening. I see things around the edges, which are important. For example, around the issue of calling out the Israelis for their treatment of juvenile prisoners or maybe pushing for some greater openings when it comes to the aid going to Gaza. And that kind of relief is important. I’m not saying that it’s meaningless.

Paul Jay

But it used to be a sort-of issue for the Americans that to please the Saudis, supposedly, and some of the other Gulf states, they couldn’t be so completely one-sided pro-Israel. But if Trump’s proven anything, it’s actually the other way. He could be completely, historically one-sided pro-Israel and then bring all of these rich Arab states on board. So, there won’t even be any of that kind of pressure, even though it never amounted to that much anyway.

Medea Benjamin

Yeah, I mean, he did want to get the most important of the Arab states, which is the Saudis. And I think if he were to get the Saudis, there would have to be some concession. But hopefully, he’ll be out of the White House and we won’t see that as the route being taken.

Paul Jay

Yeah, I mean, I think the Saudis didn’t play along because it just wouldn’t look good for them domestically. They have to worry about such things. But in reality, there’s all kinds of Saudi-Israeli cooperation anyway.

Medea Benjamin

Well, of course, and that’s true of the Emirates and Bahrain. To call these “peace deals” with countries that they have not been at war with is quite strange. And of course, if you look below the surface, they are weapons deals.

Now, that’s another thing that might be different in a Biden administration, because the issue of the weapons being sold to the Emirates will come up in Congress next year. And they are asking for F-35s as part of the sweetening of their having made the deal with the Israelis. Now the Israelis are saying, well, you know, we always have to have that military edge. And so, you have to sell us — you have to give us –we don’t sell to the Israelis; we give them more sophisticated weapons. And it’s just a new arms race in the Middle East.

And so, if we can build up opposition to the sale of the F-35s to the Emirates in Congress, which we are starting to do, that will reach Biden’s desk and it will be a real showdown to see can we get Biden to not veto that. Meaning, the US would stop the sale to the Emirates, not agree to more weapons and weapons giveaways to Israel. And that would be positive as well.

Medea Benjamin

Let’s talk about Iraq. Now, of course, this is the biggest strike against Biden, that he voted for the resolution that enabled the invasion of Iraq. He claims he didn’t really get that it would necessarily lead to the invasion. But he also said it was a mistake that he voted for it. Certainly, there were lots of other people — Bernie Sanders, but also many others — who understood that resolution would enable the war and opposed it. But Biden went along with it, I suppose, mostly out of his own political opportunism. There was a lot of pressure to support the war, and he did. And then later he says he’s wrong.

I think it’s a lie of Trump to say he was against the war. If you go back to what he was saying at the time, he was more or less for it. He wasn’t perhaps as gung-ho as some others, but he certainly never came out against it. And then later, after he was inaugurated, one of his first visits was to make up with the CIA. He went to CIA headquarters in early 2017. And he said something very interesting there, which was, I never thought we should have let go of the oil. His big critique of the Iraq war was the United States didn’t grab the oil. And then he says to them, you may have a chance to do it again. It sounded serious. That actually could be some other attempt to grab Iraqi oil.

Now, that hasn’t happened. But in the second term, especially if they get very provocative with Iran or actually start some kind of fight with Iran, then who knows what the hell Trump does in Iraq? But what’s your assessment of this whole thing in terms of Biden and Trump on Iraq?

Medea Benjamin

Well, I do think that Trump would like to get out of Iraq. He has certainly talked about it a lot. And he has faced the same kind of opposition he faced in trying to get out of Syria or get troops out of Afghanistan. After the Iraqi parliament voted that the US should leave, it would have been a good time to say, OK, we’re leaving. Instead, he will end his term with thousands of US troops still in Iraq and not having completed that promise either.

I think when the Iraqi parliament said, we want you out, that probably made him feel like, oh, well, now we’re not going to leave. And certainly, the comments around “Now, we’ll take the oil” are not something that the Iraqis take very kindly to. But whatever Trump says, just like any other leader, we can’t listen to. We have to look at what he’s done, and he hasn’t fulfilled that promise.

Paul Jay

Yeah, I’m not so sure he wants to get out of Iraq because of the strategy on Iran. The only reason he might want to get US troops out of Iraq is so they’re not such an easy target that that if they do start a provocation from the sea and from the air, maybe they don’t want American troops within missile range.

Medea Benjamin

Right. They don’t want them on the ground. In fact, they’ve consolidated so much in Iraq and closed a number of the bases to not have so many US soldiers being sitting ducks there. But I don’t think that Trump wants a ground war. He wants an air war.

Paul Jay

Let’s go to the biggest question facing US foreign policy, and that’s China. I see now on the Code Pink website, there’s a petition addressed to Kamala Harris that China is not our enemy. Why Harris? And then talk a bit about Biden versus Trump vis a vis China?

Medea Benjamin

Well, she has Asian-American roots. We are just so disgusted about the way that Trump and Biden in their macho threats against China: Biden calling the head of China a thug; Trump, of course, being just horrendous with his “China flu” and “Kung flu,” and trade war with China and China, China, China. Both of them are terrible on this.

So, we thought, why not appeal to a woman in a critical position, somebody who has Asian roots and somebody who understands that this kind of rhetoric has repercussions at home against the Asian-American community? So, that was the reasoning behind appealing to Kamala.

Paul Jay

So, let’s dig into Biden and Trump. Trump, obviously, has been as aggressive in his rhetoric towards China. I guess, as possible. It’s racist. He blames Covid on China, and goes on and on.

But Biden has chimed in. And do you think Biden has chimed in because he just wants to take that card away from Trump in the election campaign? Or does this reflect a broader consensus, that the rival rivalry with China is going to heat up?

I know when we looked into Biden’s climate plan on his website, there’s a very interesting section dealing with how to end fossil fuel subsidies. He says that he wants to end fossil fuel subsidies in the United States, but he’s going to use pressure to force China to end fossil fuel subsidies — coal and elsewise. And then he specifically goes after this Belt-and-Road initiative of China. He suggests that alternative funding should be offered to the countries that have signed on to the Belt and Road initiative in order to break these countries away from China. And he links this to the issue of fossil fuel subsidies. I don’t quite get what the heck the connection is.

But it seems just rhetoric coming from Biden is much deeper than just trying to outshout Trump.

Medea Benjamin

Yes, I agree. I think that Biden really believes that the US should regain its role at the head of the table, meaning, its role in leadership of the entire world and sees China as a rival. We know that it was under the Obama administration that the pivot to Asia really began. And I think Biden follows along that line. He thinks that the US should strengthen its military forces in the region, should continue on these military exercises that are a threat to China, and should be pushing back on China as a superpower.

So, I don’t think it’s just rhetoric. I think it’s for real. And I think that we will see under a Biden administration this kind of beefing up of the US forces in the region and a new level of military buildup, which will be just what the military-industrial complex loves: a new war, and a war with a major power that will justify the staggering Pentagon budget.

Paul Jay

Well, I’m not sure they want a new war with China, but they sure want at good, old almost-war.

Medea Benjamin

Yes, a new threat, a cold war that continues to allow for the call of, “Oh, my goodness! China has increased its budget for its military. It’s gotten advanced in its weapons, so we have to get more advanced weapons.” And of course, this justifies this nuclear modernization. So, I think Biden is all-in when it comes to seeing China as a threat.

Paul Jay

Which is so crazy, especially when it comes to the issue of climate, because if there isn’t collaboration and international agreements, most importantly including China and the United States, on climate issues, we’re kind of screwed. Because one of the things that happens is China doesn’t take more action because the US doesn’t; the US uses China not acting as an excuse [not to act].

I mean, this is this is existential for human life as we know it. This antagonistic rhetoric coming from Biden and Trump, but Biden as well — after this kind of talk, how do you go and start negotiating climate agreements?

Medea Benjamin

Well, I mean, on the other hand — and this has been thrown back in his face during this campaign — he has said that a rising China is a positive development, that we have to cooperate. They’ll be areas of competition, but we do have to cooperate. And there is a strong climate movement in the United States that can force that kind of cooperation on the climate. Then we have the issue of the pandemic and the need to cooperate when it comes to the vaccine. I think there will be pressure to do that as well. So, there will be counter-pressures and hopefully that can help in terms of cooperation on the climate.

Paul Jay

And I guess that’s a thread that will run through every issue we talk about. At least in theory — and I do believe it to be true to a certain extent — there is a possibility of pressuring the Biden administration. On these kinds of issues, the progressive left has zero chance of influencing much of what Trump does.

Medea Benjamin

Well, yes. You know, during these four years, every time we do an alert, we say, well, who should we address it to? And, you know, it’s oftentimes an issue that is decided in the White House. And yet we start laughing if we say, well, you know, address it to Trump. You know, that’s just a joke. So, to have a chance to fight the Biden administration would be a very positive thing, whether it’s on China or — we haven’t talked about Latin America at all. And I think there’s going to be big movements in Latin America.

Paul Jay

We’re going to get to it but I want to do one more Middle East issue first. I think it’s important to clear up the real history on the Libya issue because Trump tries to posture and say that he was against the Libyan war. And it’s simply not true.

There’s video of Trump at the time not only not opposing the invasion of Libya, but calling on the United States to take all the troops from the Middle East and send them into Libya to overthrow Gaddafi. So, the idea that somehow Trump took a non-interventionist position on Libya simply isn’t true.

On the other hand, one of the things to Biden’s credit, if the reports are true, is that it’s been reported Biden opposed the war in Libya and had a fight with Hillary Clinton. And Obama came down on Clinton’s side, but Biden was against that intervention. Is that what you’ve heard?

Medea Benjamin

It is. On the other hand, we didn’t hear Biden… I guess, you know, foreign policy has come up so little in this election season. It comes up so little in the debates. But, you know, it would be nice to hear Biden talk about how miserably that invasion turned out and how we have to stop those kinds of interventions because they are worse for people than a leader that might not have been the greatest, but certainly it wasn’t the US’s job to overthrow them.

Paul Jay

Well, the next two big areas of the world I want to talk about are both areas about which I have the lowest expectation for anything good coming out of the Biden administration. But maybe I’m wrong.

Let’s start with Russia. The Democratic Party has so much invested not just in recent rhetoric but from the end of World War Two that I can’t see them being reasonable at all. Frankly, I know, in fact, Trump has actually increased sanctions on Russia and has militarily strengthened neighboring states. He has not been as pro-Russia as he’s accused of being. On the other hand, it’s actually, I think, to his merit that he tried to lower the rhetoric and the level of intensity of the rivalry with Russia. What do you think?

Medea Benjamin

I absolutely agree with you. I hate what the Democrats have been doing when it comes to Russia. And it’s not just been Biden. It’s been the whole — well, many people within the Democratic Party. Even progressives in the Democratic Party have been just denouncing Trump for not coming down harder on Russia. And this issue of Russian interference in our elections. I still don’t know how much is real and how much is hype, but whatever it is, I don’t think it’s anything that has a real impact on our elections. And it’s certainly not something that the US doesn’t do all over the world. So, I think the Democrats have backed themselves into a corner when it comes with Russia, and it’s going to be very hard for Biden to get beyond that.

Paul Jay

Yeah, I’ve been saying all along about this Russiagate business, as it’s called, that — I’ve been taking a somewhat similar position in the sense that I have no idea what’s real or what isn’t real, but I don’t care because whatever they did, even if the Russians did everything they’re accused of — which I highly doubt but let’s say they did — it’s nothing compared with the American oligarchy does to undermine American democracy. I mean, it doesn’t even come close to the funding issues —

Medea Benjamin

And what we do to undermine democracy around the world.

Paul Jay

Well, nevermind. Let’s forget that because, you know, that’s like shooting fish in a barrel to go after that one. Knowing what they do to American democracy, the Russians can’t come close to what the American oligarchy does. It’s just ridiculous. 

But just for a minute: the progressives in the Democratic Party and around it that bought into this anti-Russian fervor about election meddling — is it because they really believe that it’s such a threat or it’s just a partisan weapon they can use because they hate Trump so much?

Medea Benjamin

I don’t know. But it’s seeped down into a large chunk of the American public. And I think it’s very dangerous. The whole anti-Russia sentiment, this feeling that, yes, don’t look at our own oligarchy, about what they do to our democracy. Let’s look at the Russians. I don’t know, which is the answer to your question. 

I just know that there are consequences that are very dangerous. I go to a lot of protests and in Washington, DC, and it just amazes me to see people who are progressive on so many issues were out in front of the White House protesting Russia and Russian interference in our elections, and that Trump was Putin’s puppet, although they use worse terms than that. You don’t know the reasons why the people on the top do it, but you can see the effects that it has.

Paul Jay

Well, people on the top, I get. I mean, people who need what we were talking about earlier, to keep defending the basic raison d’être for having such a massive military-industrial complex. And there’s real competition with the Russians in different areas but very significantly in arms sales. So, really serious competition takes place globally. I mean, I get why sections of the elites for partisan advantage and so on, and so on, I get that.

But for progressives to buy into this stuff? It’s very dangerous to invoke the demons of the Cold War and use them because you think it gives you some temporary political advantage. It will come back to bite you. You can’t unleash idiocy and McCarthyite fervor thinking it’s OK because you’re using it against Trump, ignoring that someday it may help give some moral and ideological support for some real provocation against Russia. And in saying that, I’m no big defender of Putin, I’m no big defender of the Russian oligarchy. You know, he’s an authoritarian. It’s not very democratic in Russia, to say the least. And I think Putin does nurture the far-right in Europe.

But let’s talk about that stuff, not interfering in a US election, which is just to feed into the narrative of this Cold War nonsense.

Medea Benjamin

Right. And this also feeds into the issue around NATO. The Democrats and Biden in his campaign are trying to say that they would be more pro-NATO than Trump has been. Trump certainly had his moment when he talked about NATO being obsolete, his moment of clarity. But then he turned to saying, no, we want to strengthen NATO, NATO is great, the only thing that should happen is that the Europeans should pay more for their military and our military. And then the Biden campaign came back and said, no, we’re the ones who would really strengthen NATO and Trump wants to take troops out of Germany because he has a beef with Angela Merkel. We want to stop them from taking those troops out.

And so, along with the Russia threat narrative comes the need to pour more money into NATO, strengthen NATO, make sure US troops continue to be stationed around Russia’s border. And so, once again, we have that feeding of the militarism.

Paul Jay

And it’s gotta be for making money. What is NATO supposed to do? In a million years, the Russians are not marching into Europe. What would they do with it when they got there?

Medea Benjamin
[Laughs.]
Paul Jay

You can’t occupy these kinds of countries. I mean, it’s insane. As if it wouldn’t get nuclear pretty quickly. But let’s say you march in and you’re successful. Then what do you do? They couldn’t even hold on to Eastern Europe, never mind Western Europe. I mean, the thing is just nuts.

Medea Benjamin

Yeah. But as you know, these military expenditures have a life of their own. When you have thousands and thousands of US troops in places like Germany, then the towns around that depend on the US troops for their income and they want to keep that going. The contractors who build those facilities and maintain them want to keep that going. And it really becomes not about any kind of protection anymore, any strategic end. It’s just about keeping what is there, there. And, as you said, it’s about making money.

Paul Jay

And they are concerned about the extent Europe becomes increasingly dependent on Russian energy exports. But so what? What does NATO do about that?

Medea Benjamin

NATO is not going to do anything about that.

Paul Jay

What are they going to do? Go blow up pipelines or something? I mean, the whole thing is — I can’t see what else it is about other than money-making.

But that’s true about most of military policy. Daniel Ellsberg makes the point that there’s absolutely no military rationale for ICBMs, intercontinental ballistic missiles, because all the major powers know where the other ones have them. They actually are just targets. The real deterrent is missiles based on submarines because they’re not so easy to keep track of or to counteract. But ICBMs are very profitable, so they keep building new ICBMs. And this new nuclear expansion-modernization you’re talking about, I think Obama started it. A trillion dollars, I think it is, over thirty years. But most of that money is going to be spent over the first ten years. There’s a whole new whack of ICBMs.

Actually, let’s talk a little bit about the difference between Biden and Trump on nuclear weapons. What’s your take on that?

Medea Benjamin

The Biden administration would be more likely to go back into some of these deals that the Trump administration has pulled out of. Things like the Space Force that the Trump administration has started: I don’t know if Biden sees that as ridiculous as so many people in the military do. So, I think there are positive things. They would be very much like the Obama era, which, as you said, you got the negotiations during the Obama era around the modernization of nuclear weapons. So, it’s not like we would be going back on that.

Paul Jay

Well, actually, let me let me say another thing to Biden’s credit. (I find it amazing that I’m in a position of having to defend Biden after so many years of opposing him on so many questions.) [Laughter.]

Medea Benjamin

It’s all relative. We know, Paul.

Paul Jay

This one’s even less than all relative. Kagan, or something like that, wrote a book on nuclear weapons policy, and he reports that Biden was very much opposed to this expansion of the nuclear weapons program, that Obama did it because he wanted the Republicans to cooperate on the New Strategic Arms Reduction Treaty. The Republicans were saying, we’re only going to cooperate on the treaty if you do this massive modernization of nuclear weapons.

And the report is that Biden told Obama they’re never going to live up to this. You don’t need to make this deal because they’re never going to go along with you anyway, and we shouldn’t be doing this. So, if that’s true — and I asked Wilkerson this as well, and he says he’s heard it is true; I mean, this kind of argument between Biden and Obama doesn’t go public — then that’s actually not a bad sign for Biden. Now, that said, I agree with you, he’s never going to reverse that kind of commitment.

Medea Benjamin

Well, and the other thing that’s happened in the intervening time is that there is now a UN ban on nuclear weapons, a U.N. nuclear-ban treaty that just went into effect this week when Honduras became the fiftieth nation to ratify it. And that gives a lot of momentum in the United States from the grassroots to be pushing for the US to join that. Now, you might laugh at that at this point, but I think it’s a goal that we have to have. And I would rather be pushing that under a Biden administration than under a Trump one.

Paul Jay

Well, I wouldn’t laugh at it. People that listen to The Analysis know I’ve mentioned this before. I’m working on a documentary based on Daniel Ellsberg’s book The Doomsday Machine, and I’m getting into this topic somewhat. Most of the people that know military affairs, that know nuclear issues, that really pay attention to this, they don’t think it’s a question of if there’s going to be an accidental nuclear war or maybe something conventional that spirals out of control. They think it’s only a question of when, especially on the accidental side. You know, it could be tomorrow. This is not an abstraction, and the extent to which I think many of us — and I include myself until I started talking to Ellsberg. You know, we’re not pandemic deniers and we’re not climate-crisis deniers, but many of us are nuclear-war deniers. We don’t take in how serious this threat is.

Medea Benjamin

Well, yes. And when I said, don’t laugh about it, I meant because of the massive money that is made in the development and modernization of nuclear weapons and the fact that there is this thirty-year, trillion-dollar allocation — to go against that, and to get the US to sign a ban on nuclear weapons, is going against major forces. The big weapons-makers are the same ones, whether it’s nuclear weapons or non-nuclear weapons, and they have tremendous influence in our government.

Paul Jay

Ellsberg argues, well, a ban would be good. But we shouldn’t argue for or make that the main issue right now. He just thinks it’s so unwinnable. But there should be a massive reduction. Like, massive. You know, the actual number of nuclear weapons that are needed to be a deterrent is probably fewer than twenty. And we’re talking thousands now in the US and in Russia. China, from what I’ve been told by people who know these things, have limited theirs to probably around two hundred, but apparently now they’re talking about a big expansion of their nuclear weapons program partly because of how unhinged Trump has been and how much more threatened they feel by something crazy happening. So, this really does need to get way more on everybody’s front burner, if you will, the issue of nuclear.

But we’re kind of running out of time. So, before we do, let’s talk about Latin America. Do you see a difference there? The socialists have come back to power in Bolivia. Trump was unsuccessful even with Elliott Abrams, the Darth Vader of Latin America, in bringing down the Venezuelan government — yet. But do you see a difference with Biden? His rhetoric has not been certainly any better.

Medea Benjamin

Well, I think Biden would not put the military option on the table when it comes to Venezuela. It’s going to be hard to get him to lift some of those sanctions because he’s gotten in bed with a lot of the Venezuelan-Americans and the Cuban-Americans in Florida. I do think we would have more luck on Cuba because that’s reverting back to the Obama years and the success there, in terms of reestablishing relations with Cuba. So, I think that could happen.

I think there’s going to be more changes in Latin America. We have elections coming up in Ecuador and just a great victory in Chile on rewriting their constitution. Perhaps we are on the verge of another so-called “pink tide” of progressive governments coming to power. I think that it’s better to have a Biden administration in there than a Trump administration because [with Trump] you get the “evils,” like Elliott Abrams.

And we circle back, Paul, to where we began and what we have mentioned several times in this conversation: we need to have more of a movement in the United States that pushes for change of US foreign policy. When it comes to Latin America, we’re trying to build momentum for a new good-neighbor policy based on non-intervention and respect for sovereignty. And I think that we will have a better chance of building something like that up or getting some effective changes in US policy under Biden administration.

Paul Jay

Yeah, and it all I think does come down to what you just said, which is, is there going to be a real movement both on domestic issues and foreign policy issues? There really needs to be a popular front and a real, serious mass movement.

Medea Benjamin

And when it comes to that, I mean, there are some positive developments in terms of uniting groups that work on individual countries in Latin America. And then there are all the immigration issues that affect all of Central America and Mexico. We have made some good gains in the last couple of years of uniting domestic and international issues when it comes to things like defund the police/defund the Pentagon or the questions around climate change at home, which can’t be separated from climate issues internationally, or the connection between racism at home and racism in US policies overseas.

So, we do have, I think, the beginnings of a positive way to build up a movement that’s not just considered “people who work on peace issues,” but who work on these social justice and climate issues as well.

Paul Jay

All right. Thanks very much for joining us, Medea.

Medea Benjamin

Nice to be on with you, Paul,

Paul Jay

And thank you for joining us on theAnalysis.news podcast. And again, don’t forget, there’s a donate button at the top of the webpage.

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