Many expected President Joe Biden’s departure from the brutish approach of his predecessor to change. In fact, the Biden administration made changes in the first weeks of its presidency. In Secretary of State Antony Blinken’s first press briefing, the State Department announced that it was reviewing weapons sales to Saudi Arabia and the United Arab Emirates (UAE) — which have led the catastrophic war on Yemen with essential U.S. partnership.
A week later, Biden declared in his first foreign policy address as president that “We are ending all American support for offensive operations in the war in Yemen, including relevant arms sales.”
Regarding its practices at the border, Biden administration officials promised a shift away from Trump’s practices of separating families and caging children, calling them a “moral failing.” He said that the new White House would “deal with immigration comprehensively, fairly, and humanely.”
We are witnessing the final part of a trajectory as 2021 draws to a close. However, it is settling into a familiar, dangerous militarism.
These arrangements are available as Saudi Arabia is escalatingIts devastating bombing of Yemen. In November, Saudi forces carried out the largest number of air strikes since Trump’s last year in office.
These bookends — Biden’s early announcement of an end to U.S. support for the war in Yemen and his subsequent robust material support of that war — capture the set of practices that the Biden White House is settling into, not only in Yemen, but also in the realm of war and imperialism more broadly.
Consider the White House’s approval of a $23 billion weapons saleThe U.A.E. provides the Emirates with F-35 fighter jets and attack drones. The arrangement was negotiated under the Trump administration as the prize for the U.A.E.’s role in leading the normalization of diplomatic relations between Israel and itself, Bahrain, Morocco and Sudan, despite Israel’s deepening violence against Palestinians.
The Biden administration embraced the normalization agreements, along with Trump’s other actions meant to consolidate U.S. support and extend legitimacy to Israel in a time when Palestinian protest presents a steady challenge to Israeli apartheid, and global Palestine solidarity campaigns have gained more traction than ever.
Trump fulfilled longstanding wishes of the Israeli right wing, including moving the U.S. embassy to Jerusalem from Tel Aviv, declaring the legality of Israeli settlements in the occupied Palestinian West Bank — which are considered unambiguously illegal according to international law — and endorsing the Israeli occupation of the Syrian Golan Heights. The crudeness with which Trump performed these acts — framing them nakedly as pandering to right-wing evangelical Christian voters, and declaring himself the “King of Israel” — may contrast with Biden’s rhetoric. Yet when it comes to concrete action, Biden has accepted and continued along his predecessor’s path.
This continuity is also painfully evident regarding Biden’s actions toward migrants — many of whom have been displaced due to U.S. imperialist policies. For example, in the face of severe social, political and economic crises in Central America — which are driven by decades of Washington-directed economic policies and brutal repression carried out by U.S.-armed regimes in Honduras, Guatemala and El Salvador — Kamala Harris, in Guatemala City on her first overseas tour as vice president, presented the U.S.’s policy in succinct cruelty: “Do not come.”
Migrants are subject to a host of forces once they enter the country. These forces can detain and incarcerate migrants and prevent them from entering the United States.
Biden has maintained the use of Title 42 — a statute that allows the federal government special powers in public health emergencies — to deny migrants, including asylum seekers, access at the U.S.-Mexico border, in violation of international law. Biden is thus continuing Trump’s use of the measure, which was invoked when the COVID-19 pandemic began. Scholars and public health professionals have argued that the measure cannot justify itself in the name of public safety and have not supported it. calledUpon the administration to cease it.
Biden has also reopened some of the most notorious detention sites highlighted in the Trump era, including Florida’s Homestead Shelter for Unaccompanied Children. The numbers of people in detention by Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) have swelled to 22,000 under Biden — marking a 56 percent increaseSince the day that the new president assumed office.
Biden’s most dramatic and revealing act at the border this year was his handling of the arrival of thousands of primarily Haitian asylum seekers at Del Rio, Texas, in September. The U.S. government and its officers engaged in racist violence against the Haitians, treating them as a criminal threat to be contained and not as vulnerable people who have the right to seek asylum and refuge. Biden deported the group of thousands to Haiti in an operation that revealed the logistical capacity at his disposal — which could, of course, instead be used to welcome people and support their survival.
Finally, the Biden administration has resumed Trump’s infamous “Remain in Mexico” policy, which forces people seeking asylum at the U.S.-Mexico Border to apply in Mexico and wait there while their applications are processed. The policy goes against U.S. law, which guarantees people the right to apply for asylum inside the U.S. — regardless of how they entered. Biden initially opposed this program and suspended it in February. Despite rulings by the Fifth Circuit Court of Appeals, and the Supreme Court, the White House negotiated a revised policy with Mexico and began to administer it. The program — which made tens of thousands of asylum seekers vulnerable to kidnapping, assault and other hazards in Mexico under Trump — is now Biden’s.
Biden did fulfill his promise to withdraw U.S. soldiers from Afghanistan. This was a long-overdue and necessary action for a war which was unjust from its inception. However, it was done with such carelessness for Afghans that it sparked an even greater humanitarian crisis. U.S. forces even killed several Afghans — including seven children in a single family — in the chaotic withdrawal of ground troops. While State Department officials failed Afghans made suddenly vulnerable by the haphazard withdrawal — with no plan to evacuate the many who sought exit — the Pentagon secured its ability to continue carrying out air missions in Afghanistan through its bases in the region and by positioning an aircraft carrier in the Arabian Sea weeks in advance.
Despite these blatant violations of state violence, grassroots pressure has clearly had an impact on U.S. foreign policy.
Biden’s rhetorical vows to end U.S. involvement in the war in Yemen, for example, empty as they were, were responses in significant part to a years-long, consistent and vocal challenge of U.S. support for the war. This has been led by Yemeni activists in the U.S., journalists, and UN and other aid workers in Yemen calling attention to the catastrophic humanitarian crisis there and the U.S.’s central role. Biden, a White House official, has continued to support activism. hunger strikeActivists in the Yemeni Liberation Movement led the group earlier this year.
In 2021, the U.S. supported Israel was under increasing pressure, especially after its attack on Gaza and the repression of Palestinians living in Jerusalem during Ramadan. The ice cream company Ben and Jerry’s could no longer reconcile its progressive brand with doing business in Israel’s illegal settlements in the occupied territories, and announced the end of its operations there. Although it was ultimately approved, the additional $1 billion Congress approved for Israel to replenish its missiles following the attack was more controversial than any other funding proposal for Israel in U.S history.
These formidable challenges to U.S. aid for Israeli apartheid are the result of many years of Palestine solidarity organizing as well as an increased anti-racist consciousness in U.S., driven by years Black-led resistance to violence and other forms racist.
On the subject of popular resistance, it is important to remember that the greatest moments of setback for Trump’s anti-immigrant agenda came when people mobilized en masse. This happened in response to the anti-Muslim travel ban, when thousands took to airports to express solidarity with those targeted — and then again in rallies across the country in response to the separation of families and cruel detention of children at the border. These protests temporarily disrupted the policies.
As we begin a new year we are challenged to create movements with the capacity to sustain solidarity with those affected and displaced due to U.S. policies. Mass mobilization is needed to end the violence that the U.S. supports and perpetrates around the world and its borders.