Trump, Biden and War

President Trump based his 2016 campaign on stopping wars, and he pledged at least not to start a new one in contrast to the Obama administration which had launched a series of them, large and small. He kept his word, but in place of the direct killing of war, he substituted the indirect killing of economic sanctions, applied abundantly to countries, companies and individuals that had offended.

These sanctions tend to hurt people but to spare rulers who are well insulated against them. Thus, policies seldom change under economic pressure, and a public may even rally in defense of its leader against foreign interference. As it’s said, carrots should accompany sticks in foreign policy, but so far we see mainly the sticks of sanctions.

A number one target is Iran, which is no threat to the U.S. but is a force in the region and an enemy of Israel. Thus, the purpose of sanctions seems rather nebulous. It’s not entirely clear what Iran must do to lift them. The sanctions on Syria that have led to intense suffering appear to be payback for its ruler Bashar al-Assad remaining in power despite U.S. efforts to remove him. Russia, which came to his defense, is also under U.S. sanctions.

Trump recently vetoed a Congressional resolution to stop U.S. support of Saudi Arabia’s war on neighboring Yemen. Yet his backers insist he means what he says, and in his second term he will end the wars. That means confronting an establishment quite solidly opposed to him and also, as he admits, his own White House staff. The neocons among them, especially Secretary of State Mike Pompeo, are intent on war with Iran. Yet he appointed them. Others are available who could carry out his wishes as chief executive.

As a sign of the times, some neocons have jumped ship and joined the Biden campaign. That seems counter-intuitive since as Vice President Biden urged a rather peaceful course on Obama. He wanted to pare down the U.S commitment to Afghanistan and opposed the mindless Libya war. Among Obama advisers on foreign policy, he was considered the most realistic. But is the Biden of those years the less certain, more isolated Biden of today? That can be determined by serious press scrutiny and debates with Trump.

If elected, Biden would be caught between an increasingly divided Democratic Party. A sizable peace movement is growing within, illustrated by the recent primary victory of African American Jamaal Bowman over Eliot Engel, highest ranking Democrat on the House foreign relations committee. U.S Senator Bernie Sanders, runner up to the Presidential nomination, clearly identifies with peace and has a substantial following that will have influence in a Biden administration.

Off setting this is the arrival of a dozen new Democratic House members from defense and intelligence agencies who are more militantly inclined and can swell the ranks of the neocons. Then, too, the party fears being labeled soft on national security, thus providing ammunition to the Republicans. So it seems that no matter who wins in November, war may not be endangered.