Especially on China and Latin America, Biden and Trump overlap quite a bit. However, the major difference lies in Iran policy: Trump supports economic war against Iran; Biden supports the nuclear deal. Trump has been more, not less, aggressive than Obama-Biden. Abby Martin joins Paul Jay on theAnalysis.news podcast.
Hi, I’m Paul Jay. Welcome to theAnalysis.news podcast. Please don’t forget there’s a donate button at the top of the webpage. So this is part two of my conversation with independent and fearless journalist Abby Martin. She’s the host and co-creator, with her partner Mike Prysner, of the Empire Files, and she’s also the co-creator of Media Roots Radio. And thanks for joining us again, Abby.
Thanks for having me.
So we’re going to talk about foreign policy, Biden, Trump, Empire.
So what’s your take? There’s been a lot of conversation that the foreign policy traditionally of the Democrats and the Republicans, and specifically with Biden and Trump, haven’t been really all that different. What’s your take?
Sure. We talked in the previous segment about, you know, the clear differences in domestic policy. When it comes to foreign policy, of course, it’s a lot more murky, right? And in fact, there are few substantial differences between the two parties. They agree on a lot, especially when it comes to the Democrats kind of voting to support these out of control military budgets that continue to increase year after year.
I think that first, it’s important to state that there are a lot more people outside of the United States than inside of the United States who are impacted by the decisions of the American president. Of course, those people can’t vote in our elections. And I’m talking about the tens of millions that live subjugated by US finance capital, and also US militarism, imperialism. And this includes multiple levels of war, including information wars to delegitimize these countries democratic processes, sanctions, of course, that have increased catastrophically under Trump to the point where you look at that CEPR (Center for Economic and Policy Research) study that said tens of thousands of Venezuelans have died in the last couple of years under Trump because of his sanctions on the country.
Or you can look at, of course, just outright bombing special operations and drone strikes, and under Trump, they have increased dramatically as well. So, you know, the previous segment we were talking about kind of cutting through the con-artistry of Trump. One thing that he’s been able to do is convince large swathes of his base that he’s actually anti-war, maybe just randomly he’ll tweet “end the endless wars,” or he’ll give some speech talking about how he’s not liked by the military-industrial complex because they just want him to make money and he fights them because he’s an independent thinker and all this, and people are like, “oh my God, Trump is anti-empire! Trump’s fighting back against the MIC!” And it’s like really? Because he picked the top three defense contractors to actually run the top three Pentagon policy positions. So I don’t know how that plays out, but it seems like there’s this, again, sect of the kind of alternative media who has not focused on actually Trump’s actions, and kind of fall prey to his rhetoric, and use it to dig on the Democratic Party. And they’re like, “oh my God, Trump’s actually fighting you from the left on war and all this stuff,” and it’s like, no, look at his actions over the last four years, he has increased militarism, increased drone strikes, increased bombings. Every single place that the US military is present. On a rhetoric level, yeah, rhetorically speaking, yeah, it is easy to dunk on someone like Biden because you see at the last debate, for instance, Biden actually did harp on him from the right, you know, actually said he wasn’t tough enough on countries like North Korea and China.
And it’s just absolutely absurd, Paul, because you have these kinds of dueling narratives with the two camps. For instance, when I was in Arizona recently, I saw an ad, a Biden ad actually, calling Trump a China puppet.
I mean, can you imagine how absurd, off the rails that you need to be to actually claim that Trump is a China puppet when he’s been blaming this deadly virus on China, and trying to kind of get these, quote-unquote, weapons inspectors similar to the Iraq war days, WMD inspectors, to go into the Wuhan lab and prove that the virus did not come from there. So it’s all very absurd, and I have been focusing from Empire Files on debunking this notion.
As we’ve mentioned before, we’ve kind of lost the plot on focusing on what Trump’s actually doing, especially in the foreign policy realm. I have heard virtually no one addressing what his actions have been, and that’s why I’ve been focused on that Paul. And, you know, of course, when-
Yeah, yeah, no, that’s great. That’s great. I think a lot of people have not. And that’s really detrimental, especially people who consider themselves anti-imperialist, and who are trying to get masses organizing in the streets, to kind of fall prey to con-artists rhetoric is really disconcerting. But I mean look, none of this is really addressed when you’re looking at the dog and pony show of electoralism, and of course, the corporate media doesn’t address it, they’re subsidized by the very corporations that profit off war. But it’s important to look at look at this issue through the lens of the US empire, right? I mean, we live in a global military empire that subjugates millions of people. And we’re talking about eight hundred bases across the planet that house military installations in nearly 70 countries. So this is a disease. The fact that Americans think that this is necessary, the fact that they call us Empire Babies, that we have this syndrome where we actually think that this is the right thing to do, right? That we’re the moral arbiter, and we’re righteous enough to do this around the world. It’s the Sam Harris syndrome, where we have good intentions, therefore, everything that happens with our good intentions is justified and necessary. So it’s something that’s really problematic, the fact that this is kind of swept under the rug every election cycle, and the fact that two parties largely agree on maintaining the US empire.
When Trump, a few days after he was inaugurated, he went to visit the CIA. Because of the supposed Russian intervention in the election, and the CIA saying it was so, there was all this tension with the CIA, so he went to go make up. And in the talk he gave, and anybody can find it, just Google “Trump at CIA in January of 2017,” and he told the CIA “you no longer will have to fight with the kind of restraint you had on you.”
Now, it’s kind of interesting to think of the Obama years as restraint, but I guess everything’s relative. And he said you won’t have to anymore. And then he said with Iraq, he said the real problem is we should never have given up the oil, we should have taken the oil. And then he had a really interesting line where he says, “you may have another chance.” So this guy is not, as you say, he’s actually unleashed the security services, in terms of foreign policy, to fight without restraint.
And as you say, the evidence of drone strikes, and bombings, and killings in Afghanistan, and so on, support that. But yeah, but let’s go through some of the main areas, and see where there are differences and where there aren’t.
Because again, this is all about two candidates, two parties that in the majority of their parties, and you have got the left in the Democratic Party, you do have some libertarians in the Republican Party that are somewhat anti-interventionist, but on the whole, the leadership of the parties believes in empire. They believe in US hegemony, whether it’s, you know, because they think the forces of socialism should be crushed, or they just think it’s good for business and whatever, it amounts to the same overall arching policy.
I think there are some differences, and the differences matter. Well, let’s start in one area where I’m not sure there’s much difference, but let’s start with Israel-Palestine. Do you see any difference there?
Yeah, and I wanted to piggyback on what you just said by saying, yeah, Rand Paul has been a pretty sycophantic bootlicker to Donald Trump, in fact, that the GOP gave that speech saying, “oh, Trump is anti-war.” And you see him continue to belabor the point that Trump hasn’t started any new wars.
Well, there’s not many more countries to start wars with, like, how low is our bar? But I would say Justin Amash is one of the only true libertarians in Congress who continues to call Trump’s bluff on this. In fact, I saw him tweeting the other day that, how is it that people continue to fall for Trump’s rhetoric when Trump has actually more troops stationed than when he took office in all of these countries?
So I don’t remember people praising Obama for removing tens of thousands of troops from Iraq, so why is it that Trump can say he’s removing troops when he really is not, or instead pivoting them around, like when he said he’s removing them from Germany when really stationed them elsewhere, or Syria to station them back in Iraq? How is that something that we should be praising? It’s just surreal. So let’s start in Israel-Palestine. I mean, look, it’s a no brainer to say that Trump has been the best friend to Israel, Netanyahu said himself, Netanyahu being a rabid right-wing, representing the most right-wing in Israel. You had him actually campaigning on Trump’s friendship and alliance with him for his reelection. Giant banners unfurled all across Israeli cities with Trump and Netanyahu shaking hands, of course, the Golan Heights and all of these other settlements that Trump has applauded Jared Kushner, his personal profiteering with his family, on Israeli settlements, these absurd, fraudulent peace processes that are essentially just pro-corporate business dealings that subjugate Palestinians even further.
I would say the main difference is the UNRWA (The United Nations Relief and Works Agency for Palestine Refugees in the Near East) funding of refugees. I mean, Trump just completely abolished that, left hundreds of thousands of Palestinians without access to things that were very basic things that they needed. Life-saving medicines, or medical equipment, and things like that, I mean, when you just pull the rug out from UNRWA funding, that is not a joking matter, that is life and death for a lot of people. And of course, Trump’s moving of the embassy. This is something that was rhetorically endorsed by almost every president that precipitated Trump. But the fact that he actually went through with it was crazy.
And that really did, Paul, spark off the great march of return, which I ended up making an entire documentary film about, “Gaza Fights for Freedom.” This was what the organizers said themselves, Ahmed Abu Artema, he said that the great march of return was sparked because the embassy was moved. And this was such a symbolic blow to the plight of Palestinians and Palestinian sovereignty that this is why they amassed tens of thousands of people to go to the border in peaceful protests, and were gunned down by Israeli snipers.
So there is a lot of differences, although overall, Joe Biden is a staunch Zionist, he’s said many times that he doesn’t have to be Jewish to be a proud Zionist, I mean, he has a 100% rating by AIPAC. There will be no policy change on Palestine. He will not move the embassy back. And so kind of similarly to other regions of the world, where is his perspective on undoing the damage Trump has done?
So I don’t see much difference there, and in fact, you can go on, and on, and on. Even looking at Kamala Harris, I would say Kamala and Biden were two of the worst when it comes to Israel-Palestine in the entire field of the Democratic primary. Kamala actually compared Israeli rights and the Israeli extremist struggle to the civil rights struggle, to Selma in the United States. She actually said Israel is foundational to who I am. So there’s a lot of problematic things there with both candidates.
But, you know, unless you’re talking about someone like Bernie Sanders, I would say it’s really hard to parse out the differences between any of those people.
Yeah, I’d agree with all that. I don’t have much to add, except maybe that Bernie Sanders and his allies at least could get a little bit into the ear of the Biden administration on this issue. Whether that’d actually have much effect, I don’t know. You know, when Hillary had won the nomination, he appointed Cornel West to the platform committee and was able to, in the platform committee at least, actually get through some kind of recognition of Palestinian rights.
Are they going to be able to really have much influence there? I don’t know. The big problem there is that it’s all driven by US strategic interests, not whether Biden wants to be a Zionist, or Kamala Harris is married to a Jewish guy. The strategic interests of the United States are to have pro-American, fascist Arab regimes, and a pro-American Israeli regime was certainly, in terms of the Palestinians, fascist, and somebody once called Israel like a landlocked aircraft carrier for the United States.
So that’s not going to change except, maybe Biden and if Netanyahu is able to hang on, and I don’t know how likely that is, but maybe he’ll have a personal fight with Biden the way he had with Obama, which I don’t know if that amounted to anything policy-wise. Anyway, not much difference there, let’s move on. Well, we’re in the region, so let’s, I guess, stay in the region, I guess Iran is the big question, so what about Iran?
Right. We touched upon this in part one. I think that this is the biggest difference of all. You have Trump surrounding himself, as you mentioned, he told the Pentagon, take the gloves off, let’s get that out of the way. And there’s a severe lack of transparency when it comes to even accounting for the militarism Trump is unleashing around the world.
The people Trump has hand-picked to surround himself with, Mike Pompeo, all of these people who have bloodlust, who actually believe in impending Armageddon, so I don’t know how much they actually care about the future of humanity or the world.
They want war with Iran. Look at John Bolton. He even wrote that op-ed, the case for war with Iran. People actually point to his firing of John Bolton saying, oh, John Bolton was the one steering Trump foreign policy. No, Trump actually said John Bolton didn’t go far enough, and that’s why he let him go. He actually credits John Bolton as not being militaristic enough, imagine that. When it comes to Iran, Trump’s sanctions have been absolutely debilitating, catastrophic, 800 alone on Iran.
I can’t even fathom what that’s doing in terms of, you know, in the midst of a global pandemic, it seems pretty dire. And then, of course, the sanctions on the rest of the world. But those 800 that he put on Iran after they were all lifted and the nuclear deal was in effect, it’s been horrible Paul, and of course, the assassination, the war crime of General Soleimani, was an act of war. The only reason that we are not in a full-blown war with Iran right now is because Iran did not retaliate.
And I think there’s no question that was meant to be a provocation. So Iran would retaliate so they would have an excuse for war. Yeah, they didn’t get what they wanted.
And people have the audacity to credit Trump for not bringing us into war, like he assassinated a high ranking general to bait him, and to goad Iran into war, how dare you give Trump credit for that?
So absolutely. Biden, I would hope to God that he would reinstall the nuclear deal. At this point. Iran is so beaten down, I’m sure that they want the nuclear deal to be renegotiated, but God, how much more are they going to take?
Well, I’m actually hearing from people that know domestic Iranian politics that Trump’s policies have so strengthened the right-wing hardliners in Iran, and they’re arguing now there’s no point to a new deal because you can’t trust the Americans to keep it, because look what happened as soon as Trump came to power.
So it’s made the situation so dangerous there may not be another deal, which makes this, as I say, who knows where the hell this all leads.
All right, let’s go, Trump gets some credit for supposedly withdrawing troops from Afghanistan.
Sure. So Afghanistan, Iraq, and Syria all kind of fit together. We know that apparently, Mattis was the one who talked Trump out of outright wanting to assassinate Assad. Trump again pontificates about removing the troops, ending these endless wars. We know that, in fact, he doubled initially when he got into office the amount of troops in Syria, Iraq, and Afghanistan. Over the course of the last four years, he’s moved some troops around Syria. He’s openly boasted about protecting the oil there.
Iraq is still full thronged. I mean, we haven’t really seen a withdrawal of troops there. He claims to have defeated ISIS. I don’t really know what’s going on on the ground. All I know is that we’re still at war in Iraq. When it comes to Afghanistan, I just did a piece on Empire Files that I encourage everyone to check out. I think that obviously, the reason that we’ve been there for almost two decades is because we want to install some sort of neo-colony.
We want to install some sort of mining operation or, you know, to make it worth it, right? What have we been there for the last two decades for if we’re not going to get anything out of it? At this point, Trump is taking credit for the peace negotiations. In fact, this was started covertly under the Obama administration. And, you know, it’s this whole kind of farce where the peace negotiations are hinged on impossible benchmarks that include the permanent presence of the US military, either bases or special operations.
In terms of Biden, he has also said that he wants to keep thousands of special forces on the ground in Afghanistan. You’ve had Kamala Harris criticizing Trump for policy by tweet saying she would listen to the generals on the ground. I truthfully don’t see much difference in terms of Afghanistan, and I think that both parties would essentially continue to leave thousands of troops to try to secure some sort of US presence to get what we eventually want to get.
Yeah, I agree with that, I guess people who follow my site know I made a film in Afghanistan, “Return to Kandahar,” which people can see on my website.
The only thing I’d add is that if Trump actually would, in a second term, withdraw most troops, certainly not all, and if Biden does something similar, the reason they’re going to do it is they know that the Afghan Taliban is controlled mostly by the Pakistani ISI in alliance with Saudi Arabia.
So they know what they’re really doing is turning the policing control of Afghanistan over to the Saudis and the Pakistanis, and which will then allow United States to do mining and whatever.
I suppose part of the deal will be that they won’t allow another terrorist threat directly against the United States to come from Afghanistan, although who knows? Because the Pakistani ISI has been so, I mean, so many members of the Pakistani ISI are actually members of al-Qaida, so who knows where that actually leads.
But I don’t give any great credit to Trump, or even if Biden were to withdraw a lot of troops. They do it because, as I say, they know the Saudis are going to wind up more or less running the show there. So let’s leave the Middle East, I know we’re kind of jumping around, but I think we’re hitting some of the biggest points. Let’s go to the big one that’s going to shape the rest of this century, and that’s China. What’s your take, Biden, Trump, on China?
Yeah, and I want to add really quickly that I forgot to talk about Trump’s bombing. Record levels in Afghanistan, right? He increased drone strikes, 400% in the first year, doubled civilian casualties. Actually, US troops dying is also at an all-time high in Afghanistan.
And so, this is a bloodbath. And we can’t forget about the largest non-nuclear bomb that was dropped, the MOAB, the mother of all bombs, kind of a play on Mecca, right? The mother of all cities. Really disgusting. So that is also Trump’s legacy in Afghanistan that we can’t forget.
That bomb was very important because it was the signal that we’re now going to fight without restraint, and the numbers you cite are the result.
Absolutely. Briefly on China, economics is not my strong point, so I don’t know much about, I’m sure the trade war has been pretty disastrous, and probably backfired in terms of what Trump has been trying to do. As I mentioned before, and I think in the first episode, this fear-mongering and relentless obsession about China unleashing this weapon on us, and how we need to retaliate against China coming from the Trump administration has been extremely dangerous. You see rhetoric that mirrors the lead up to the Iraq war in terms of these think tanks that are influencing Trump.
Tom Cotton’s involved, Steve Bannon’s involved, other PNAC (Project for the New American Century) signatories like Frank Gaffney, the crazy bat-shit outliers of PNAC are involved. And they are all influencing Trump, and kind of resurrecting this notion that we need to go into Wuhan and inspect the lab, and if we don’t, what are they trying to hide? So dangerous things all around. As I mentioned, Biden is not much better. We know that China’s the big policy pivot. What is Biden going to do? I think that we’d see the same kind of maneuvering in terms of war games in the South China Sea. I don’t think that would end the provocations going on, the information war going on. But it is far more dangerous when you have an administration, again, that is obsessed with this anti-communist war, right? And of course, that includes the CCP, and I think Trump’s rhetoric and policies are dangerous on that front. But again, I feel like when you see Biden having ads calling Trump a China puppet, what does that really mean?
Is he posturing that he will crack down more on China? I don’t know what the hell he’s talking about or what his move is, but I fear not much different in terms of policy-wise. But definitely, when it comes to the rhetoric, I think Trump is more dangerous on China.
There is a systemic rivalry, you know, big capitalist powers, imperialist powers, especially one that has a global empire. Inevitably, if you’re going to be the global hegemon, you can’t have regional powers. You can’t certainly have a contending global power. China is this weird hybrid of state capitalism, as some people say, I don’t know. Some people think it’s some hybrid of some form of state socialism with capitalism.
I haven’t made up my mind which one to call it, although when you’ve got so many billionaires in the Communist Party, it makes me wonder just what class is in power. So, I don’t see that it’s the working class, which means that this rivalry is real.
So far, I think China has had on the whole, fairly restrained, domestically focused, except for commercial relationships. They need raw materials, they want markets, and so on. I don’t see China positioning itself to be a global military rival of the United States, at least not yet. So whichever party is in power, this rivalry is not going away as long as the United States has so much of its economic and political interests rooted in empire. So it isn’t going to go away, but that doesn’t mean there aren’t differences, again, between the two.
In my article, I said, I think the biggest difference in relationship to China is I think Trump will one be more reckless, but two, if you look into what Steve Bannon said, and for quite a while, Steve Bannon was the national security adviser, and you don’t make a guy like that national security adviser unless you kind of agree with him. We know that Trump’s biggest backer that really made him president was this billionaire, Robert Mercer. And this is a guy who not only helped fund Trump, and owned Breitbart, and hired Steve Bannon and Kellyanne Conway, and created the team that elected Trump, but Mercer is the one that funded the John Bolton super-PAC.
So Mercer’s connected to Bolton. Of course, we know Sheldon Adelson is there, and Adelson is the guy who said the United States should blow up an atomic bomb in the Iranian desert to show the Iranians what’s possible. And in terms of China, Bannon has said that there’s going to be blood, and he’s actually advocated a military conflict in the South China Sea to prove to the Chinese that the Americans are serious.
You’ve got a guy who’s not part of the Trump camp, Richard Haass, who runs the magazine Foreign Affairs, who’s calling for both administrations, but I think he’s more directing this towards Trump, and Haass was an adviser to George Bush, that the United States should take a hard position on Taiwan, because right now it’s ambiguous. If the Chinese were to use actual military to take over Taiwan, there’s not an overt statement by the United States that the United States will intervene, and Haass wants that.
So there’s a lot of forces rallying for a more aggressive posture towards China, because obviously, China is the only country that could be a global rival.
But if you look at Bannon statements and Bannon’s very close to Opus Dei, the very far-right wing Catholics, you have these Protestant evangelicals, some of whom would welcome Armageddon, as you said. So, the possibility at least that they would be reckless enough to start a provocation in the South China Sea is far more serious than what the Democrats, because I don’t see why Biden would be any different in positioning than Obama, which is yeah, you try to encircle China, you try to maintain American military superiority, especially in nuclear, but I don’t see them starting something crazy because there’s too much American corporate interest tied up in the Chinese economy.
So, there I think there’s a significant difference of approach in that. I think Trump has also, as you said, he has so much rhetorically invested in telling his own base of support how big an enemy China is, and how tough he is, that every so often he’s going to have to do something to prove it. And in a second term, he kind of has got nothing to lose. So that’s another reason why I said this could be more dangerous.
All right, let’s move on. Let’s go to Latin America. What do you make there?
So Latin America, I would say, has the least amount of difference sans Cuba. Obviously, we know that Obama normalized relations with Cuba, and that was a huge move. That was a very, very good thing for Cuba, despite the fact that there’s been a 50-year embargo that’s still restricting quite a bit of things to get to the Cuban people, I think that Biden would probably do the same thing, which would be very, very good, right. So open back up relations with Cuba. Trump, of course, has been absolutely abysmal on Latin America, again, gravitating this whole anti-communist revival of the Monroe Doctrine for the entirety of Latin America, where slamming sanctions across Nicaragua, Cuba, and Venezuela, Venezuela to genocidal levels where you have tens of thousands of people perishing.
And, of course, the attempted coup attempts, the multiple coup attempts against Nicolas Maduro, the outright assassination attempts, and also lately the bounty that’s on the head of Maduro. So this is absolutely outrageous, what Trump has done in Venezuela, and it’s just absolutely insane, the troika of tyranny, pivoting from the axis of evil to now saying we’re focusing on the troika of tyranny in Latin America, it’s disgusting. But then again, Paul, when you look at what Joe Biden has done, not only pandering to the right-wing in Florida, and these exiles from Cuba and Venezuela, he’s also tweeted his support, as well as other Democratic people have tweeted their support, like Chris Murphy, oddly enough, in support of Juan Guaidó and Trump’s failed coup attempt.
So I think that this is a point where you would see a lot of similarities in terms of the Biden administration pursuing what they consider a more coherent policy to overthrow Nicolas Maduro. And that really scares me. That really scares me that these people have the arrogance that they actually think that they’re going to go in and uproot the people’s movement in the Bolivarian revolution and reverse everything that’s happened. And the bloodletting that could take place there is pretty monumental as well. So it’s really disgusting, and I think that this is a place where we see a lot of similarities as opposed to differences. And, of course, the coup. I remind people that a lot of the coup plotters were traced back from the Bolivian coup. Luckily, of course, the MAS just won in the recent election, which was a huge feat in opposition to US imperialism. But we did see that that coup traced back to the US government and Trump administration.
So this is another thing that that happened under Trump that I don’t see many differences between the Biden administration. I think that they would have probably legitimized the right-wing and gone full-fledged in the information war to discredit Evo Morales and the like. So other than Cuba, I don’t see much of a difference there, other than, of course, this full-throttled war against communism maybe, that we saw with this troika of tyranny talk and, you know, the naked aggression, and the bellicose rhetoric that we see with the Trump administration.
But I do think that it’s going to be that humanitarianism that we see with neoliberalism of helping democracy, quote-unquote, and the USAID, and the NGO funding of opposition movements on the ground. So kind of not as naked in terms of the US having a hand in it, but in fact, we will have a hand in whatever happens, and I think a lot will be moved in Latin America, sadly, under Biden.
Yeah, I agree with that.
I think the only difference will be maybe the far fascist right in Latin America are more emboldened by Trump.
But that said, the Biden forces hate the Latin American left, and hate socialism in Latin America, and will do whatever they can to undermine and weaken it. So maybe a slight difference of a degree, but not very much. Mostly the same approach. I know you got to run.
So I hope we can pick up our conversations again soon. Thanks very much for joining us, Abby.
Thanks so much for having me, Paul, was great.
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