#1403 The American Empire Gets a Reboot (Foreign Policy Under Biden) (Transcript)

Air Date 3/9/2021

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JAY TOMLINSON - HOST, BEST OF THE LEFT: [00:00:00] Welcome to this episode of the award-winning Best of the Left podcast, in which we shall learn about the current goings on around the world regarding our foreign policy under the new, but not so new feeling leadership of Joe Biden. Clips today are from World-class, Democracy Now!, the Empire Files, the Empire has No Clothes, Fresh Air, The Majority Report, Worldly and the Bunker.

Biden Administration Should Strike a Deal with Iran - World Class - Air Date 2-18-21

MICHAEL McFAUL: [00:00:26] So, we have a new administration, and we have an old Iran. [laughs] We have an old, familiar problem with respect to Iran. Tell me about the interplay about what is going on inside Iran, perspectives on the idea that there might be a nuclear deal between the United States and again with Iran, and how should the Biden administration approach joining or not joining the old Iran nuclear deal that President Obama originally signed into?

ABBAS MELANI: [00:00:55] You know, I think the fact that you had the two earlier discussions on China and Russia and now on Iran underscores the fact that I really think these three issues are interconnected. You cannot solve them unilaterally, and you need to understand them as a package of a problem, because Iran very clearly is trying to use the China card. It is very much trying to use the Russia card who created a wedge with Europe and created a wedge between Europe and the United States and to give itself a much easier chance to negotiate this. I think the Iranian domestic situation is in a truly [inaudible] composite crisis because the economy is very much in shambles because of corruption, because of incompetence and because of sanctions, because of extreme sanctions that have been put on the regime. They have simply augmented the problems that existed, structural problems that existed.

There is no easy path to the salvation of the economy on the horizon. There is also a remarkable level of tension within the regime between the reformists who are increasingly marginalized and the IRGC, the revolutionary guards, who are openly angling to take over the government as the next president. The last elections were probably, in terms of the parliament in Iran, were probably the most dismal in terms of the public participation. There's a question of succession, who should succeed Khamenei. That was an open warfare in a sense about this . . .

MICHAEL McFAUL: [00:02:35] Just to remind everybody, he's the Supreme Leader, right? 

ABBAS MELANI: [00:02:38] He is the Supreme Leader and he has been [inaudible crosstalk] for 33, Ali Khamenei. And there are two candidatesvying, I think, for his succession. One is his son Mojtaba  that is becoming increasingly assertive in the public domain. He was very much someone in the shadow. And then there's a gentleman called Raisi who is the head of the Judiciary, and he clearly is behaving as if he is the next anointed Supreme Leader.

Khamenei is clearly sick. There is open talk about his disease. And in one sense, in terms of us Iran relations, if he does pass from the scene, that might be an opening because he has been singularly intransigently anti-American from the days he was a minor cleric to his entire 42-year career. 

MICHAEL McFAUL: [00:03:27] Well, let's dig deeper, both domestically and you mentioned the China and Russia cards. I want to come back to that, but let's dig first deeper domestically. So, tell us a little more about the economic crisis. It's worse than ever before. And if so, What does that mean in terms of regime, stability or instability? 

ABBAS MELANI: [00:03:46] I think the economy is the worst that I have certainly seen it. It is far worse than it was, for example, during the war with Iraq. I lived in Iran at the time. I think the economy right now, their revenue has literally gone from maybe a hundred billion dollars to maybe $20 billion? Their ability to sell oil has gone to less than $2 billion. 

Literally the last year, there has been a massive flight of capital through corruption. The regime itself talks about $20 billion having left the country over the last year alone. There's unemployment, double digit. Inflation, double digit. There is no possibility of bringing in foreign investment in the energy sector that they desperately need. Tourism is non-existent. There are strikes, labor strikes, labor strife over the country. And adding all to all of these, is the problem of corona. Iran probably has, next to the United States and a couple of other countries, probably the worst record in coping with corona in terms of the number of deaths, the number of people who have it and Khamenei, the Supreme Leader, decided three weeks ago unilaterally that Iran is not going to import any vaccines from Europe. And the only vaccine that they're going to be purchasing is Sputnik. 

MICHAEL McFAUL: [00:05:09] Is that right? Well, wow. I did not know that.

ABBAS MELANI: [00:05:12] I mean,  with no expertise, and the equivalent of Iran's scientific community all came out against them ,virtually all, but that's the nature of authoritarian regimes. What Mr. Putin says goes in Russia; what Mr. Khamenei says goes in Iran, right? 

MICHAEL McFAUL: [00:05:32] So, that would make me think that they would be desperate to do a deal with the Biden administration because of sanctions, but my guess is it's more complicated than that. Tell me how you think that domestic political situation affects their calculus about reentering into a negotiation with the Biden administration.

ABBAS MELANI: [00:05:53] To me, it was very clear from the moment that the elections were called in favor of the Biden administration and long before the ex-president accepted it, the Iranian regime accepted the results and began to behave as if there will be a Biden administration. And they were hoping for a quick turnaround. And a quick end to the sanctions, right? They were under this illusion that Biden is going to come in and overnight is going to overturn the sanction regime and open the floodgates to funds. And I never thought this would happen. I never thought this would be a wise policy for the United States, even a possible policy for the United States. 

And because of the way they have behaved on the nuclear deal in the past, the minute they thought they would be negotiating with the Biden administration for a nuclear deal, they began to create realities underground. They began to expedite enrichment; they began to add new centrifuges. They just did something that Europe announced it's a dangerous breach of their agreement. They created metal uranium that has no peaceful purpose. These are very much in line with the way they have done it in the past. They created reality on the ground and then they negotiate. I think they overplayed their hand. I think they have clearly overplayed their hand.

They are desperate for a deal. But they want a bigger deal and more release of funds than I think the Biden administration is willing or capable or should let them have. 

Biden "Illegally" Bombs Iranian-Backed Militias in Syria, Jeopardizing Nuclear Talks with Tehran - Democracy Now! - Air Date 3-1-21

AMY GOODMAN - HOST, DEMOCRACY NOW!: [00:07:31] Can you respond to the attack, The US bombing of Syria?

TRITA PARSI: [00:07:37] Yes the Biden administration, I think president Biden himself specifically, felt strongly that because of the attacks in Iraq earlier, that a response was warranted. But what I think many people are fearing is that very quickly the Biden administration is falling into the same old patterns of before, of responding to this and that without having a clear strategy that actually would extract us from these various conflicts and actually pave the way for much more productive diplomacy.

The idea that this actually would help us with the diplomacy with Iran, for instance, seems really difficult to understand, mindful of the fact that we are now in a situation in which the Iranians have rejected the offer from the Europeans to come to the talks precisely because of these attacks, because other measures that have been done, which means that these first two months of the Biden administration, that could have been used for really productively laying the groundwork for new talks, seem to instead have been used to just fall into the old patterns. And this is quite concerning, because, at the end of the day, reviving the JCPOA is another promise that the Biden administration gave during the campaign and said that it would pursue diligently.

AMY GOODMAN - HOST, DEMOCRACY NOW!: [00:08:51] Were you surprised by these attacks? And explain exactly where they took place in Syria.

TRITA PARSI: [00:08:57] Took place in eastern part of Syria. These are various groups that the Biden administration describes as pro-Iranian, certainly seem to have a degree of support from Iran, whether they’re under the command of Iran is not as clear. And at the end of the day, you know, the fact that this was said the same day as the Biden administration decided not to pursue sanctions on MBS, again, seems to suggest that the Biden administration is more concerned at this point of making sure that it doesn’t upset certain allies in the region, doesn’t pay a political cost at home for pursuing compromise with Iran over the nuclear issue, which I think sends a very, very concerning message. Because, at the end of the day, in order for the JCPOA to be revived, both the Iranians and the US side have to give compromises, and they’re going to have to pay a political price at home. The Obama administration did so. The Rouhani government did so. There is no escaping from that. But if at already this stage we’re signaling that we’re not ready to do so and we’re too concerned about those political costs, that really sets a question mark as to whether the political will exists for seeing these negotiations on the nuclear program come to completion.

AMY GOODMAN - HOST, DEMOCRACY NOW!: [00:10:14] Congressmember Ro Khanna, your response to the bombing of Syria?

REP. RO KHANNA: [00:10:18] Well, this is not an ambiguous case. The administration’s actions are clearly illegal under the United States’ law and under international law. We do not have any authorization of military force to go into Syria. In fact, President Obama tried and then backed off in getting that authorization. We do not have any authorization of military force to attack Iran. The idea that this was an imminent attack on US self-defense is simply not borne out by the facts. And under international law, for self-defense, we have to go to the United Nations. The administration did not do that. So, my concern is that this president ran on ending endless wars, ran on respecting the United States’ and international law, and these actions clearly violate both.

AMY GOODMAN - HOST, DEMOCRACY NOW!: [00:11:10] So, Trita Parsi, if you could talk about the European Union, Iran rejecting an offer by the EU to hold direct talks with the US on the nuclear deal after the US attack on eastern Syria? The significance of this?

TRITA PARSI: [00:11:31] It’s a very unfortunate decision by the Iranians. I mean, I think it would have much better if they accepted this invitation, but at the same time, it is not a surprising decision. In fact, one of President Biden’s own senior officials, Wendy Sherman, who is now going to be confirmed next week or having hearings to become the Deputy Secretary, said — she was a lead negotiator under Obama for the nuclear deal — said, in 2019, that the idea that the Iranians would come to the table and talk to the United States without some sanctions relief, meaning that the United States would continue to violate the JCPOA and yet the Iranians would come, was extremely unlikely. It’s not clear to me why the Biden administration has chosen a strategy that some of its own senior officials earlier on had deemed to be extremely unlikely to succeed.

So it’s not surprising. It’s very negative. And now we’re in a worse situation. There’s going to be a fight potentially today at the IAEA Board of Governors about whether to censure Iran for some of its reductions of obligations under the JCPOA, while the United States continues to completely disregard all of its obligations.

So, these are all the type of wrong measures and steps that should be taken at this stage of diplomacy. At this stage, there should be goodwill measures, there should be positive signals of intent, in order to create the best possible circumstances for diplomacy to start. Now we’re having the opposite.

AMY GOODMAN - HOST, DEMOCRACY NOW!: [00:12:53] Can you explain, Trita, Iran’s demand that the US end sanctions before returning to negotiations? Explain what the US sanctions against Iran are and how they’re affecting the people there.

TRITA PARSI: [00:13:10] Well, the Iranians have now suffered tremendously under sanctions that President Trump put in place in 2018 and 2019 and onwards. These have been devastating to the Iranian economy. In fact, President Trump intensified those once COVID broke out, seeing the pandemic as a way to further enhance the impact of sanctions. And this means including blocking Iran’s ability to get IMF loans for the purpose of fighting the virus. So, the Iranians have suffered tremendously under these sanctions for the last couple of years.

I think part of the reason why they’re fearful of going to the table without getting some indication — not all sanctions need to be lifted, from their perspective, but some indication that the US is going to lift sanctions, is that, otherwise, they fear that the talks may not succeed, they will get blamed for the breakdown of talks, they will be seen as being at fault, even though the United States, under Biden, has not changed Trump’s position of maximum pressure. So the US doesn’t even come back into the deal but manages to shift the blame onto the Iranians. I think this is part of their fear.

I think, at the same time, demanding that all sanctions be lifted, which they did earlier on, is completely unrealistic. What is happening right now is that the Iranian demand is that the US side promises that once the US is inside of the deal, it will lift sanctions. But it’s also very difficult to see how the US could reject that, mindful of the fact that once it is inside the deal, it has to lift the sanctions; otherwise, it will be in complete violation of the deal.

Biden's First Act Of War Hits 3 Countries - Empire Files - Air Date 3-3-21

ABBY MARTIN - HOST, EMPIRE FILES: [00:14:43] After being in office for barely one month, Biden has authorized his first military strike. In one fell swoop, he managed to attack three countries at once: Syria, Iraq, and Iran, risking a larger war with all of them. 

On February 25th, US war planes bombed the Syrian town of Al-Bukamal, killing as many as 22 people.

The attack was illegal under international law and under US law by carrying out acts of war without congressional approval. While not targeting Syrian forces, the raid violated Syria's sovereignty by carrying out a strike on its soil without knowledge or approval by the country's government.

Tensions are already high with Syria because of draconian US sanctions and repeated military strikes by Israel against the Syrian state, which it would not do without approval by the US. 

In addition to an act of aggression against Syria, Biden claims the target of the raid was an Iran-backed militia. The phrase "Iran-backed militia" is imperialist code for Iraqi militants that oppose the ongoing US occupation of their country. The corporate media uncritically repeated "Iran-backed militia" with no evidence. Even the Pentagon's most loyal stenographer, the New York Times, had to admit, quote, "little is known about the group, including whether it is backed by Iran."

Although no evidence exists to link this group to Iran, Biden said the airstrikes were intended to send a message to Iran that, quote, "you cannot act with impunity. Be careful." 

It's disgusting that Biden thinks the best way to communicate with Iran is blowing up human beings. And what impunity is even talking about? Trump is the one who shredded the nuclear deal and slapped hundreds of sanctions on the country. And after all that Iran is still willing to talk. Biden claims this act of war is justified punishment for Iran being responsible somehow for a minor rocket attack in Iraq, by Iraquis. Again, the US manages to take away all the agency of Iraqis who are angry at the US for still being there after killing 1 million people and destroying the entire country.

I'd say it's the United States which bears responsibility for the inevitable attacks on its bases. Bombing Iraqis anywhere creates the potential for further escalation of anti-US attacks in Iraq. If Biden's policy is going to be launching a major retaliation anytime Iraqis attack an American base, which will likely only increase in response to Biden's aggression, before we know it, we'll be back in a full-scale war in Iraq. And considering the US was defeated by the Iraqi resistance not too long ago, risking a reboot of that war seems like a terrible idea.

Hmm, perhaps the best idea would be to stop the US occupation of Iraq! Because it seems obvious that as long as US forces are there, they will be targeted. 

Also this most recent strike is way too similar to the events that began last year's war escalation with Iran. In January, 2020, Iraqi resistance groups launched rockets at US bases in their country. When one of these rockets killed a US private mercenary, just like the one last month, the Pentagon responded by bombing five separate locations in Iraq and Syria that killed dozens of people. This prompted Iraqi protesters to besiege the US embassy. And in retaliation, Trump ordered the assassination of top Iranian general Qasem Soleimani, a horrific war crime that was carried out in broad daylight as Soleimani was coming to Iraq for peace negotiations. Trump belligerently brought us to the precipice of war, but Iran's calculated response opened the door for deescalation. 

This is why Biden's actions are so dangerous.

The situation is so fraught and unpredictable, events could quickly spiral out of control. Ludicrously, the Pentagon claims the intention of Biden's strike was to de- escalate tensions. See, this is the doublespeak of the US empire: when we bomb it's for peace. And when it comes to so-called enemy States like Iran or Syria, the political and media establishment instantly become one voice to advocate for it.

Today, aside from a few dissenters in Congress, there is a bipartisan chorus defending Biden's actions. It was all done in self-defense, they say. The imperial hubris of the United States is grotesque and shameful. Bombing any country it wants with total impunity, killing anyone anywhere with zero consequences, lashing out abroad while leaving its people to rot in the streets at home, and then having the sheer audacity to claim moral authority to do it all over again.

Whither the Antiwar Left - Empire Has No Clothes - Air Date 2-25-21

MATT PURPLE - HOST, EMPIRE HAS NO CLOTHES: [00:19:45] Afghanistan, America's oldest war, not America's longest running war, and possibly slated now to go on even longer, depending on what the Biden administration chooses to do. Joe Biden right now, the way things stand, the troops are going to be out of the country by May 1st. That is the withdrawal deadline. That is what we are moving towards. The problem is the Taliban is not abiding by the terms of the ceasefire. They are continuing to wage war across the country. They've spread closer to Kandahar, a very important provincial capital. They've moved closer to it than they have in a decade. And there's a general sense of despair that's taken over Afghanistan analysts because it appears now that no matter what the United States does, no matter what decision Joe Biden makes, the Taliban are going to end up, if not in complete control of the country, then certainly in a very strong position. 

It's a troubling situation given that it puts us not that far removed from where we were in 2001, when we launched the war in the first place, except of course, hundreds of thousands of people have died since then. So very keen here to see what Joe Biden ends up doing on Afghanistan.  Dan, where do you see this going? 

DANIEL LARISON - HOST, EMPIRE HAS NO CLOTHES: [00:20:55] So it, it seems to me that it's going to be one of these issues where Biden is trying to slow walk the decision-making when he doesn't really have the time to do that. We're seeing this on some other issues as well, we may be able to talk about that in a minute,  but on this the deadline is quite hard and fast. May 1st is the deadline that we've committed to for getting everybody out, getting all US forces out of Afghanistan, and so there's really no, as far as I can see, there's not a good argument for delaying that departure because keeping them there will simply make them targets of new Taliban attacks.

And then the fact that the Taliban is in such a strong position is a reflection of how badly the war has gone for us. The fact that the Afghan government can't actually defeat them in the field, and that if we continue to throw people into that conflict, it's not going to change anything. We weren't able to defeat them when we had over a hundred thousand troops, we're not going to be able to, we're certainly not going to be able to defeat them now. And so the resistance that we're seeing popping up all over the place from the foreign policy establishment and from some parts of the media is based on the fact that nobody wants to admit that we lost, and we lost a long time ago.

And so I think the best thing that Biden can do is to face up to that, to acknowledge it, and to tell the public that staying in Afghanistan any longer doesn't serve the national interest. It's not going to fix anything in Afghanistan if we stay longer and we're simply delaying the inevitable, which is unfortunately going to be a Taliban victory or at least a partial victory on their part.

KELLEY VLAHOS - HOST, EMPIRE HAS NO CLOTHES: [00:22:35] Yeah, I think that the important thing to remember about this May 1 deadline looming and some of the politics around it is that the Afghan Study Group that was congressionally mandated to recommend how to move forward to Congress and the President have offered a proposal in which the White House negotiates an extension of that May 1 deadline with the Taliban. The idea of being that they wouldn't unilaterally abrogate the deadline on May 1st, but work out something with the Taliban to say, "okay, we're already behind on the timetable that was outlined under the US Taliban agreement, so give us six months and then we can get this thing back on track and then we will leave by the end of the year." And that seems to be the sort of establishment Afghan Study Group recommendation that the Biden team appears to be leaning towards. 

The only problem is that, first of all, they'd have to get the Taliban to agree. There's some belief that they could get some pressure on the Taliban from international partners, whether it be Russia, European partners, even Iran, to agree, and that would give the question, the ask, a little heft. That's just a few months away. The ability for the US to get some sort of approval from the Taliban at this point, with the Taliban, having the leverage over us, is pretty slim. And so they would end up probably unilaterally abrogating that May 1 deadline anyway, which would most likely end in an escalation of violence in the conditions on the ground, which would lead the Biden administration and all their friends in Washington to say, "see, things are so bad on the ground here, we can't possibly leave." So this is a real dangerous trajectory I think we're on, and all the indications from the mainstream chatterati, the blob, so to speak, weighing in on this over the last two weeks, is that the Biden should stay, that she should leave some force there indefinitely. This isn't good for us. 

MATT PURPLE - HOST, EMPIRE HAS NO CLOTHES: [00:24:55] No, and I think the Taliban may come back to the negotiating table, and we can certainly beat them in an air war, we can beat them in a ground war if we need to. Here's the problem, is we've been trying to do that for so long, and right now the Taliban is in an extraordinarily good position, as I was saying during the intro. You don't fight in Afghanistan during the winter, everybody knows that, but once that snow thaws, once it gets warmer, once the spring comes, they're going to be back at it again. They're going to launch another offensive and they're probably going to push even deeper into Afghanistan, given how weak the army has proven, given how frankly weak the government there has always been. 

I mean, we created an extraordinarily flimsy government, it's been a corrupt government as it's been shown time and time again. We created, essentially, an opium den and it's been rich for something like the Taliban. And look, what I'm struck by is that this was mopped up essentially by the end of 2001, right? You guys remember J. Cofer black went in there and the CIA went in there, and the Taliban and Al Qaeda were driven out pretty quickly, and Osama bin Ladin fled to Tora Bora, and the Taliban, what was left of it, fled to Pakistan and that was thought to be the end of the actual war phase. And what we've been litigating for two decades ever since is the aftermath, is the peace and keeping it that way. And meanwhile, Pakistan has only gotten more unstable, to the point that last year Afghanistan was thinking about closing the border with Pakistan, not the other way around, they were worried about Pakistan de-stabilizing them, and things have only gotten worse in terms of the Taliban pushing in now.

I just think it's a striking indictment on our entire policy over there. The fact that after all this time, after all these lives that have been lost, after the countless money that we've spent over there, the facilities that we've tried to build only for them to fall apart, this is where we are. We could very much, regardless of what we do, regardless of whether we stay for another 50 years, we could end up with the Taliban back in control of Afghanistan. And that isn't just, we went about this in slightly the wrong way. That isn't just, we need to tinker here and there, this is what the hawks always claim about Iraq. "Well, the occupation was flawed, but if we hadn't de-Ba'athified the entire country or something, it might've still worked out." No, this is a policy wide indictment. This is a damning of our entire war on terrorism. And it's depressing for those of us who lived through 9-11, for whom Afghanistan was maybe the one "just" war that we launched afterwards, it's depressing to see us in this position.

What's Next For The War In Afghanistan - NPR Fresh Air - Air Date 3-4-21

TERRY GROSS - HOST, FRESH AIR: [00:27:24] So, let's start with the deal that Trump negotiated with the Taliban. Can you describe the deal to us?

DEXTER FILKINS: [00:27:31] The deal itself is simple, but it sets off this cascade of other things which are not so simple. But the deal basically says the Taliban won't kill any Americans, and we won't attack the Taliban. And if all goes well and the Taliban agree not to support any kind of terrorism against the United States or not to allow terrorists in the country or any kind of bases, the United States will leave and go to zero and take out all of its forces by May 1st. And so at the present moment today, the US has about 2,500 troops there, and then there's about 5,000 other NATO, European troops who were there but who were waiting on the US to make a decision. So, there's about 7,500 troops in the country right now. 

TERRY GROSS - HOST, FRESH AIR: [00:28:19] So NATO's decision isn't totally contingent on whether we pull out by May 1st.

DEXTER FILKINS: [00:28:25] It's not, but they're all watching. I think it's pretty fair to say that if the US doesn't stay then the Europeans aren't going to stay. And so I think whatever Biden decides effectively is gonna decide the future of the Western effort in that country.

TERRY GROSS - HOST, FRESH AIR: [00:28:41] Trump had way has a way of defying norms, breaking conventions. Did he define worms and conventions when he, when his administration negotiated this deal? 

DEXTER FILKINS: [00:28:52] They did. They did. For sure. The first, the most obvious thing about this agreement is that the Afghan government was left out of it. And the reasons for that are complicated, but essentially, the US was negotiating with the Taliban about whether or not to remove their troops, not with the Afghan government, which is hosting the troops. And of course, the Taliban, the guys they're sitting across from at the table, these guys were deemed terrorists, and these are the guys that gave sanctuary to Osama bin Laden before the 9/11 attacks. And so, these are people that we didn't even acknowledge. We didn't acknowledge their legitimacy and were actively trying to kill them. And now we're sitting across the table from them. And the other thing that was very, pretty unconventional about the way that this negotiation happened was the US diplomats are trying to negotiate a kind of a schedule for a withdrawal. And, there's a certain amount of bluffing involved which is if we don't get the deal we want we're not going to pull out. But while they were doing that over the course of 2019 and early 2020, President Trump was just unilaterally announcing these troop withdrawals. "I'm going to pull everybody out" or "I'm going to, we're going to go down to, we're going to go down to 7,000 troops starting now." And he didn't consult anybody and didn't even necessarily tell his negotiators that he was doing that. So, he was like literally taking their sticks away from them at the table as they were doing this.

And so the whole thing was unconventional but there's an agreement. It was signed in February of last year, February, 2020. And it says that the United States will pull out all of its forces by May 1st. What's remarkable about it is that since February, 2020, no American soldiers have been killed in Afghanistan. The Taliban have in fact held to their word. 

TERRY GROSS - HOST, FRESH AIR: [00:30:41] Okay. But in a way it's a very narrow agreement. It's between the Taliban and the US. The Afghan government was not included in it. The agreement  says the Taliban won't kill Americans. Done. But the Taliban are stepping up their killings of Afghans.  They're increasing their power; they're encroaching on cities. There's been more and more targeted murders of women, of journalists, of educated people who were considered like the educated elite, of people who have spoken out against the Taliban in the past. They're not acquiescing to anything except, okay, we're not going to kill you guys. We're gonna kill the Afghans. But that's not part of the deal. 

DEXTER FILKINS: [00:31:23] It's not part of the deal, and it's a terrible situation. It's a terrible situation. And it's difficult not to conclude when you stand back and look at it that the real purpose of this agreement, and I think President Trump even said this, was just get out. The US is going to get out and leave the Afghan government and the Taliban to each other which I think almost certainly means a lot more violence and probably something like civil war. But  that's the kind of subtext for all this.

So the Taliban, the leaders are sitting at the table, and they're negotiating with the Afghan government right now about some kind of peace deal, cease fire, some kind of interim government,the thing that's supposed to end the war. But at the same time they're doing that, they've launched this very aggressive assassination campaign which is basically targeting the elites and the educated classes, the people -- and the women. The people who have benefited most are the people who have really stepped to the fore since 9/11, it's the 9/11 generation the post-2001 generation, which basically the United States has enabled. And so, it's educated people, it's women's rights activists, it's people with master's degrees and PhDs, and they're targeting them: judges, lawyers, journalists, aid workers, one after the other. 

So, I think we're at pretty close to 500 assassinations since the peace agreement was signed. And just yesterday, for instance, in Jalalabad, which is a city east of Kabul, three women journalists were killed, were murdered. Three young women. And that, to me, that's emblematic. These are women in a country that i doesn't really recognize, fully recognize, women's rights, and they're out there, and they're risking their lives, and they're fighting the good fight, and three of them just got killed almost certainly by the Taliban. So, that's what's happening. So, I think if we stand back and we look at these negotiations, these peace talks, we think, okay, it's a race. Are they going to make a deal? Or is  the Afghan state going to collapse first before this Taliban onslaught? And that's what's so disturbing about the whole thing.

Can Joe Biden Save Yemen - Empire Has No Clothes - Air Date 2-11-21

MATT PURPLE - HOST, EMPIRE HAS NO CLOTHES: [00:33:29] We rarely ever talk about anything good on this show. It's almost always doom and gloom. The opportunity to get through Wars and genocides and the whole thing. But this time we may have something that may be positive. President Joe Biden has announced that he intends to yank all, as he put it, quote, "all American support for offensive operations in the war on Yemen, including relevant arm sales." So that isn't just a disincentive to the Saudis who have been bombing Yemen since the Obama administration to stop doing so. That isn't just a verbal condemnation. That's what we on this podcast have been calling for really since the beginning, and that is a total end to all support, a clear signal from America that this kind of behavior is no longer going to be accepted. It comes after years of a brutal conflict that have killed over a hundred thousand people. There's been a cholera epidemic in Yemen. There's been a famine of the civilian population.

There has been absolutely brutalized largely by the Saudi and UAE efforts at bombing the country to try to drive back the Houthi rebels, which have had untold civilian casualties and have created untold horrors. So finally we're getting out and Biden is also delisting. The Houthi rebels as a terrorist organization, which would have blackballed them another sign that he doesn't intend toside with the Saudis anymore, another sign that he just wants to get out.

So it certainly seems like good news. Anyway Dan, you can sometimes be a little gloomier than I am. Do you have a way to put a negative spin 


MATT PURPLE - HOST, EMPIRE HAS NO CLOTHES: [00:34:54] this? Try as I might. I don't think so, because I think this is exactly, pretty much exactly what I've been calling for for a long time.

That's what I was hoping the Biden administration would do on coming into office. And there were some strong indications that is what they were going to do. The thing that has actually surprised me a little bit is how quickly they did it, because they probably could of gotten away with dragging their feet a bit more on both of these decisions. And the fact that they did it, they did both of them within the first three weeks of Biden taking office, is a very encouraging sign that they're not only serious about ending our involvement in the war, but that they're actually interested in trying to bring the entire war to a close. And paired with or in connection with those other announcements, they also announced that there is going to be a new US special envoy for Yemen, Tim Lenderking, who has significant experience in the region. And that also signals that their determination to try to actually get a ceasefire and not just wash our hands of it, but to actually try to establish some measure of peace for the entire country.

So these are very good decisions. I think I joked on Twitter that it's a bit disorienting to have good foreign policy decisions from the government day after day. Because it is so unusual, and especially with respect to Yemen it is. We haven't seen anything like this, obviously in almost six years.

So they're very good steps in the right direction. And I'm hoping that Biden will follow up on those with more sustained effort to try to pressure the Saudis and the UAE to end their campaign. 

KELLEY VLAHOS - HOST, EMPIRE HAS NO CLOTHES: [00:36:23] The one thing that troubled me about the announcement regarding. ending US assistance for Yemen was that Biden immediately followed that up with somewhat of a caveat saying that the US will continue to defend Saudi Arabia against Iranian attacks on its interest, its sovereignty and its people and territory.

And so that leaves two questions. One, we might be ending US assistance for offensive operations in Yemen, but continue US assistance or weapons sales to Saudi Arabia for everything else. And if that everything else includes protecting itself from Iranian attacks, does that mean Iranian-backed Houthis attacking Saudi Arabia in Yemen? I know that sounds complicated, but what I'm trying to say here is how is the Biden administration parsing out this end of assistance, yet continuing assistance to Saudi Arabia. Will we be continuing to sell weapons to Saudi that will continue to be used against civilians in Yemen, for example. Where is the line drawn? He wasn't very clear about that. And to me, that just signals that he is under a certain amount of pressure to be tough on Iran. And there are people within his administration and Congress and in interest groups that are fluttering around that want him to continue to see Iran as the major threat in the middle East. And so he had to add that to his foreign policy speech, which is concerning to me because it shows it in amount of pressure that he's under to continue to rattle the sabers, but also arm Saudi Arabia, UAE, and other Gulf States. And these weapons, as we know, are being used against civilians in places like Yemen.

So it's not all clear to me how this war will end if we continue to sell arms to these people and not turn the spigot off completely. 

Did Jen Psaki Just Confirm That Biden's Afraid of MBS - The Majority Report with Sam Seder - Air Date 3-4-21

EMMA VIGLAND - HOST, THE MAJORITY REPORT: [00:38:47] The Biden administration is taking a lot of heat, and I think rightly so, for their backing off of holding the Saudi Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman accountable for his orchestrating of the murder of Jamal Khashoggi. And Jen Psaki is on her heels trying to defend this, a position that's clearly meant to appease the leaders of Saudi Arabia and maintain that relationship based on arms sales and of course that sweet oil. Here's Jen Psaki yesterday, I believe.

REPORTER: [00:39:22] In fact, on Saudi Arabia during the campaign, obviously former Vice President Joe Biden was very well aware of the history of the US government in terms of who they sanctioned and who they haven't. But yet he said we're going to make them pay the price and make them the pariah that they are. How does this come anywhere close to his pledge to Americans in November of 2019 at that debate? 

JEN PSAKI: [00:39:45] First, the President has been clear to his team and he has been clear publicly that the relationship is not going to look like what it's looked like in the past. And even before the release of the report on Friday, we had taken actions as an administration to make that clear through diplomatic conversations to our partners and allies in the region and through our actions. And that includes a change in how we are communicating with the Saudis, counterpart to counterpart, going back to that appropriate line of communication. It includes not holding back and raising concerns about human rights abuses. We did see last month that Saudi Arabia did release two dual national prisoners and women's rights activists. It includes pulling back from our support from the war in Yemen. But it's important to also note that there are areas where we have an important relationship with Saudi Arabia: intelligence sharing, also helping defend against the threats and the rocket attacks that they are  getting from bad actors right at their doorstep, and global diplomacy requires holding countries accountable when needed but also acting in the national interest of the United States. And that's exactly what the President is trying to do. 

EMMA VIGLAND - HOST, THE MAJORITY REPORT: [00:40:52] Know that she said holding countries accountable there, right? Know that she also said pulling back in our support for the war on Yemen. So, when she mentions that the United States is still going to be providing support for rocket attacks along the Saudi border, what that means is we are still supporting the war in Yemen. And notice also -- I may have said this out loud already, but I want to reiterate the point -- holding countries accountable. So, not holding an individual accountable, not sanctioning MBS for the fact that he hired a gang of his buddies basically to murder and dismember a United States resident, a columnist for the Washington Post, not holding him accountable at all. And then this, like, liberals, be real here. If Trump had done this, that every network would be criticizing him to the nines every single day, and they should. And we should be doing the same for Joe Biden, especially because he said his stance on foreign policy in Saudi Arabia would be markedly different,  and it's just not. 

NOMIKI KONST: [00:41:56] And that he'd hold them accountable. Not just this; journalists should be speaking out. This is such an egregious example of our . . . That's what I'm finding with all of these decisions in the last like month is Biden is revealing himself without the cover of a Republican Senate --  which I'm still not convinced he wanted to win in Georgia -- without the cover of a Republican Senate, he's revealing himself in every single way. And also as in a moment of crisis, people are just more conscious of these decisions that used to happen behind closed doors were too complicated for folks to really wrap their heads around. But this was such an egregious situation, a disgusting example of how we are completely beholden to certain foreign interests and then match that with say the Neera Tanden nomination. I think that this is just a blatant example of how the Biden administration is not understanding all eyes are open now. It's not just the it's Democrats. It's the world. It's journalists. I don't know. I don't know what to say at this point. 

EMMA VIGLAND - HOST, THE MAJORITY REPORT: [00:42:56] Luckily look, you mentioned journalists speaking out. Of course they should do that more, and our frustration with the media 

NOMIKI KONST: [00:43:01] now 

Well, it was against one of their own, it was a Washington Post reporter!

EMMA VIGLAND - HOST, THE MAJORITY REPORT: [00:43:04] The Washington Post did write an op-ed about this. I believe their opinion. Oh, here we go. What happened? I believe that they did speak out against that. So it's one of their own, right. But all media organizations should be speaking out against this and let's be real. We have seen a more conciliatory attitude by the media towards Joe Biden because he's brought things back to status quo, and yeah the best he's doing is hold the line and although yes, 

NOMIKI KONST: [00:43:29] definitely the, like the lines change. You can't go back to Obama post-Trump. You can't! It's  . . .You might've been able to get away with that - he did get away with that -- before Trump, but now its like the trenches were gushing with blood. Everybody sees what's going on and listen, like, Jeff Bezos  should speak out. It's his paper. 

EMMA VIGLAND - HOST, THE MAJORITY REPORT: [00:43:47] Yeah. And look, and I said, look, the $1.9 trillion stimulus is a very good bill. Let's be real. And they did learn a lesson in that area. But in terms of foreign policy, Tony Blinken and Joe Biden, and then the entire foreign policy oper apparatus has done nothing of substance, including  their stance on the embassy remaining in Jerusalem,in Israel, including what we're seeing in Saudi Arabia. And as I mentioned, these semantics points about defending Saudi Arabia's borders and then ostensibly ending support for the war in Yemen are very key. We pointed this out when they initially made the announcement, how precise this language was, and you're seeing why that precision was so important because we are still supporting that genocide in some ways.

NOMIKI KONST: [00:44:33] And the strikes. Not consulting with Congress fully. Basically issuing a memo. It's . . . 

EMMA VIGLAND - HOST, THE MAJORITY REPORT: [00:44:39] And  just another statistic I heard this morning. It blows my mind. I think 50% of Yemenis are experiencing hunger right now, 50% of Yemenis are experiencing hunger right now! And this is in large part due to what we have done and the support that we provided through throughout the region, support for Saudi Arabia as a nation state right now in any fashion is supporting genocide. So, while we may have pushed back and pulled back some of our arms and some of our arm sales that are specifically going for those purposes, even support for Saudi Arabia in terms of defense is still buttressing this effort in other ways. And so let's be real; the changes from how Donald Trump treated Saudi Arabia and Mohammed bin Salman, and how Joe Biden is currently treating them and Tony Blinken in that administration, it's been negligible. It's not been enough at this point. And the backlash that they're receiving about this MBS decision or lack of decision is indicative of that. 

The future of the US-Saudi relationship (ft. Sen. Chris Murphy) - Worldly - Air Date 3-4-21

JENNIFER WILLIAMS: [00:45:41] So you argue that the first step in this new strategy should be for the US disengage from what you say, the GCC proxy wars with Iran, and you say specifically in Yemen, in Iraq, Lebanon, and Syria. So I wanted to dig into that a little bit because when we look at it a little closer, Yemen in particular is really one of the places where the US was actually involved in supporting specifically a GCC proxy war with Iran, but there's no proxy war in Lebanon that US forces are engaged in. The US troop presence in Iraq is mostly meant to counter ISIS, it's a counter ISIS mission. Same thing with Syria. And the Biden administration has just now ended offensive support for the Saudi led war in Yemen.

So I wanted to get your thoughts on where you actually see the problematic US involvement in proxy wars today right now and going forward. 

SEN. CHRIS MURPHY: [00:46:35] Sure. Well, listen, I make the argument in this piece that we've got to rightsize the relationship of for today. Back in the 1970s and 1980s, the United States was essentially running on oil that came from the Gulf, that is simply not the case today. We import less oil today than we create domestically and of the oil that we import a really small share of that comes from the Gulf. And so we created the security guarantee for Gulf countries 40 years ago when, if the Gulf was under attack, then the US economy would go into lockdown. That just isn't the case today. We import more oil from Mexico than we import from Saudi Arabia. And so I think it's important to understand that context when I make the argument that we don't need to be as engaged in these proxy wars. 

The reason that we are engaged in proxy wars, very often, is to support GCC countries, that's why we were involved in the Saudi side of the Yemen war. And so the proxy wars I'm talking about are both hot wars and cold wars. The hot wars are Yemen and Syria, and to an extent Libya which is not the same proxy war, Iran against the Sunni nations in Libya, it's much more confusing. An example of a cold war would be either Lebanon or Iraq, which is both hot and cold at times. And to me, A, it just doesn't matter as much as people would think, to the United States, whether one side or the other ultimately wins the contest for regional hegemony in the middle East, the Turks or the Saudis or the Iranians. I'm not saying it doesn't matter, it just doesn't matter as much as it did 40 years ago. 

But second, we have all sorts of experience since the Iraq War about the efficacy of US military involvement in the region. And what we have found is that our presence there often draws extremists into the region, often becomes recruiting material for groups like Al Qaeda and ISIS. And so the deeper we're involved in these proxy wars I think the longer they sometimes last. Because US presence is escalatory not de-escalatory and, again, I'm just not sure that we have the interests we used to have when it comes to whether the Saudis or the Iranians win. 

JENNIFER WILLIAMS: [00:49:03] Sure. So, and in particular, when it comes to Syria and Iraq, as I said, a lot of that is mostly just focused on the counter ISIS mission, is that something that you still think the US should be actively engaged in, or do you think that the Biden administration or future administrations, do you think we should pull back on that in particular or reduce troop levels? How do you see that kind of conflict? 

SEN. CHRIS MURPHY: [00:49:23] Well, listen, I think we still have to be involved in the fight against ISIS, and part of my argument is that we should get out of Yemen because ISIS has been getting stronger over the years as the Yemen Civil War has persisted, and so I think that our actions we're taking in the region that is frankly expanding the efforts of ISIS or aiding their recruitment efforts, I think inside Syria our actions by and large extended that civil war, which again gave operating space to ISIS.

So, I think if we are taking the fight directly to ISIS, I think that's a worthy endeavor. I don't think it's actually presently authorized by Congress, so I don't think the administration can pursue those efforts without coming to Congress and getting an updated war authorization. It's all the other fights that we've been involved in, against Bashar al-Assad, against the Houthis, that I don't believe our in US national security interests, I don't believe are authorized by Congress, and I would argue that the Biden administration should look to end. 

Biden Sells Missiles to Fascists + US Base Destroys Ancient Coral Reef - Empire Files - Air Date 2-19-21

ABBY MARTIN - HOST, EMPIRE FILES: [00:50:24] The Biden administration has approved its first arms sale to a foreign government: the right wing regime of Chile. On February 5th, the State Department gave the green light to the sale of 16 advanced missiles to the Chilean military, as well as supporting equipment, spares and training, for $85 million. This is yet another indication that Biden intends to continue the Trump administration's policy of supporting the far right in Latin America to prevent the return of the progressive and socialist "pink tide" governments that swept the region during the early two thousands.

The president of Chile, Sebastian Pinera, has an approval rating in the single digits, after using deadly force in a failed attempt to suppress an uprising against rampant inequality that broke out in October, 2019. The Pinera government deployed the army to crush the protests, alleged to have killed or disappeared dozens of protesters, as well as severely injuring hundreds more. Pinera's family is one of the richest in the country. They were key political and economic players during the fascist military regime of Augusto Pinochet, installed by the CIA in 1973. This arms sale comes during a crucial moment for Chile: a constituent assembly to rewrite the dictatorship-era constitution, a key victory of the uprising, will take place in April. A presidential election to replace Pinera will happen later this year. And the communist party's candidate is currently in first place in opinion polls. 

Biden's arming to the teeth of this relic of fascism, today employing similar repression, is truly disturbing. 

And another new arms deal approved by Biden on February 16th, $200 million worth of missiles were sold to the Egyptian regime to, quote, "support the foreign policy and national security of the United States."

In another example of the sheer hypocrisy of the US empire's claim that its foreign policy is guided by the defense of human rights, the state department's own report in 2019 stated Egypt was committing, quote, "unlawful or arbitrary killings, including extra judicial killings by the government, forced disappearance, torture, arbitrary detention, harsh and life-threatening prison conditions, political prisoners, the worst forms of restrictions on free expression, the press and the internet, including arrests or prosecutions against journalists, substantial interference with the rights of peaceful assembly and freedom of association, restrictions on political participation, violence involving religious minorities, violence targeting LGBT persons, use of the law to arbitrarily arrest and prosecute LGBT persons, and forced or compulsory child labor." But all of that is okay, according to Washington, so long as they, quote, "support the foreign policy of the United States."

Can Biden remake Trump's Middle East - The Bunker - Air Date 11-25-20

AURTHER SNELL  - HOST, THE BUNKER: [00:53:24] What do you think are going to be the big issues in the Middle East in 2021 that people should be watching out for?

MICHAEL STEPHENS: [00:53:30] Well, I think Iran has got to be central here. How the Biden administration reengages with Iran will set the tone for the next four years, and whether that means that the US is just going to have to manage bad relations with allies and partners or whether it can start to build consensus slowly but surely around some kind of regional compact that makes the region a little bit more secure. From there, all else flows. And I'll tell you why I think that's important. Because if you look at what Biden officials have been saying, it's very clear that they're going to have to fit in all this Middle East activity at a time in which they are reprioritizing the European security sphere to do with Russia and their traditional NATO posture and swinging towards containment of China. How do you then get enough hours in a day where as an administration you can have a very serious and sustained policy in the Middle East while at the same time you're sitting there and saying you know what? We've actually got bigger issues elsewhere that we need to focus on.

Inevitably, the Middle East always draws the US back in, whether it likes it or not. But the point is they need to be able to dedicate the resources, and they need to do it multilaterally. Again, I bring up the Europeans. I think that's very important. There does actually need to be some buy-in from Russia and China here.

The P5 powers all need to come to some consensus about what sort of Iran they want to see in terms of its nuclear enrichment levels, in terms of its activities in the region and its diplomatic links, whether it can be slowly engaged with economically or not, and then how we ameliorate some of the anger that would come from some of these states.

The second issue is, I'm afraid to say, I don't think that ISIS and Al-Qaeda have gone away. Everybody seems to forget that Syria is still going as a war. Al-Qaeda have a deep foothold in northwestern Syria. That means that we've got to engage the Turks on a counterterrorism level, even if we don't like them.

And then the Eastern Mediterranean is really bubbling. There's a lot of competition now between Turkey and Egypt. Israel has got caught in the middle there. And then that has spread into Libya ,and Libya again is one of the sort of hot houses of instability that just seems to keep going and going. And I don't even know how many militias are operating in Libya anymore and how many factions and how many external players now; I think there's something like 15 major countries involved in Libya. And that would really be beneficial for everybody if we could bring that to a close. 

What I would also like to see, this is just a personal thing, but I think we'd really need to get moving on this is climate change policy in the region. And there's a couple of reasons why I think this is important, and why I think that the Biden administration putting climate change at the front and center of its mission would really help. There are a lots of people in the Middle East who live very close to the sea in terms of being less than one or two meters above sea level. For example, in the Nile Delta, you have, I think, 7 million people who could be underwater within 10 years. 


MICHAEL STEPHENS: [00:56:25] That is replicated in many areas across the region where you have critical national infrastructure, oil facilities in the Gulf, for example. The temperatures in Israel, for example, are now averaging over 37 degrees C in the summertime. The Israelis did some really interesting calculations about tourism, and what they worked out was when the temperature goes above 37 degrees, tourists begin to say, Ooh, no, that's a bit, that's a bit hot. I want to go to somebody [sic] else. I want a warm summer, but I don't want a boiling hot summer. So, they've already seen some of the potential economic backlashes here. The summers are getting longer and drier, and they're getting less rain in the rainy seasons which is causing population movements in poor countries. If you link this to the problem of immigration or migration into Europe, you can quite clearly see the linkages and where the problems are that has led to a rise of far-right militancy in Europe, as we all know, and there's been associated security issues, as we've seen the French have just been dealing with those.

So, my view is, okay, whilst there a lot of greenwashing and nice talk from countries in the region, they're actually not getting going fast enough. I don't think they really need to because actually to quote  the phrase, the train is leaving the station. And there's another aspect to this which is that the economies in the Gulf have been smashed by the coronavirus. Continuously low oil prices are making it very difficult for them to get their economies going. They need to get on with diversifying. Again, Arthur, you and I've been dealing with this for years. They talk and talk about diversifying. Now is the time to start diversifying; no more talk because if you don't, then you're going to be left behind as the world starts to reclaim its sort of normal speed from the coronavirus, but in a different direction.

So I would really like to see that 2021 being the year in which we really started to engage in that conversation. 


JAY TOMLINSON - HOST, BEST OF THE LEFT: [00:58:14] We've just heard of clips today starting with World-class explaining the current state of Iran. Democracy Now! discussed the bombing of Syria. The Empire Files looked specifically at the destabilizing effects of bombing Syria. The Empire Has No Clothes lamented at the state of the Afghanistan war from the now-aged antiwar movement perspective. Fresh Air discussed the negotiations with the Taliban that happened under Trump. The Empire Has No Clothes also looked at the hopeful news about reducing the war in Yemen, and The Majority Report criticized Biden and the media for not holding Mohammed bin Salman accountable for the murder of Jamal Khashoggi.

That's what everyone heard but members also heard a bonus clips from Worldly speaking with Senator Chris Murphy about the future of Saudi Arabia and America's proxy wars. The Empire Files looked at two arms sales made under Biden to authoritarian groups from South America to Egypt. And the Bunker looked at the future of the Middle East in a more holistic way, even remembering to account for the economic and emigration impacts of climate change. For non-members, those bonus clips are linked in the show notes and are part of the transcript for today's episode so you can still find them if you make the effort. But to hear that and all of our bonus content delivered seamlessly into your podcast feed, sign up to support the show at bestoftheleft.com/support  or request a financial hardship membership because we don't make a lack of funds a barrier to hearing more information. Every request is granted no questions asked. And now we'll hear briefly from you.

Introduction to our caste system - Roy from Washington State

VOICEMAILER: ROY FROM WASHINGTON STATE: [00:59:57] Hi, Jay. My name is Roy calling from rural Washington state. I just finished listening to episode 1402 Racism or Classism. It was eyeopening and made perfect sense that we have a caste system. You wove the episodes of the different speakers together in one of the best ways I've heard in years of listening to you.

Thank you so much and keep up the great work.

Final comments on Biden attempting to talk about Afghanistan and China

JAY TOMLINSON - HOST, BEST OF THE LEFT: [01:00:31] Thanks to all of those who called in to the voicemail line or wrote in their messages to be played as a VoicedMails. If you'd like to leave a comment or a question of your own to be played on the show, you can record a message at (202) 999-3991 or write me a message to [email protected].

Thanks to Roy for his kind words and to Erin our researcher for her efforts on helping to pull that show together on caste and the invention of race. I agree, I think it was a pretty good show. So what I have for you today is, first of all, some classic Biden. Just as part of the research that we were doing for the show, Deon came across this clip, and it's just worth remembering who we're dealing with. Joe Biden, he's been there, but he's been the sort of in the background. And he's done a lot of things and said a lot of things in such a way that it's possible to have never known he said these things, or it's possible to have known about it, but he said so many things that you forgotten. So Deon came across this clip from just over 10 years ago, which is worth remembering. 

REPORTER: [01:01:41] Do you have faith in president Karzai? 

PRESIDENT JOE BIDEN: [01:01:44] Look, I've known president Karzai for a long, long time. Uh, I think he's in a very difficult position. I have, uh, you know, you, we could argue that there could be a stronger leader and, but you deal with the hand you're dealt, as the old saying goes. And we are all on the same page now for the first time. The American military, the American civilians, the administration, the Congress, NATO, our allies, the Afghanis, that here's the deal, you got to step up your governance capability, we're going to help train your folks. You got to step up. We cannot want peace and security more than you want it, in your villages and in your homes. We're going to help train you, in the meantime we said, — and a lot of our critics say you shouldn't set a deadline to get out of it. The reason we needed to do that as the same reason we did an Afghanistan. We had to say, look, you got to step up, man. Let me tell you we're going to— daddy's going to start to take the training wheels off in October, I mean, in, uh, next July, so you better practice, ridin.

JAY TOMLINSON - HOST, BEST OF THE LEFT: [01:02:44] I know. I know. If you're like me, you started hearing that clip and you're like, okay, I mean, this is some classic stuff. And then you get to that last line or two, and the bile comes up in your mouth a little bit. It is so gross.  We've been talking this last week about old school racism and old school depictions in Dr. Seuss books, and in the bonus show we did, we touched on that as well, but we also brought in a discussion about the artist Herge, who did the Tintin comics, which Americans know about, but they're more popular elsewhere in Europe and elsewhere. And some of those old school comics of Tintin are just the worst kind of colonialist propaganda. So much so that the artist sort of didn't realize what he was doing and felt bad for it later. 

But that's the level of grossness. That a hundred years ago, an artist did a colonizer's depiction of the Congo and for Joe Biden to refer to the relationship between America and Afghanistan as "daddy's going to take the training wheels off". We just haven't come that far. We might as well be walking around in our khaki adventuring ensemble and treating the natives as lazy, pathetic subhumans who we need to try to civilize. I mean, it is just not that big of a difference when you hear Joe Biden talk that way. Hopefully he's made a little progress in the last 10 years, but it's hard to say if he's made progress in his actual thinking or if he just doesn't save those sorts of things out loud anymore. 

Okay, next up I'm going to take on the monumental task of trying to interpret Joe Biden for you. I'm not looking forward to it, but as we're doing the research for this episode, I wanted to know what was up with the Uyghurs in China, and have we said anything? Have we done anything? What's what's Joe Biden's take on the Uyghurs recently? And a news story came up from a couple of weeks ago that was only being covered in the right-wing media about Joe Biden and his position on the Uyghurs. So we just went straight to the source. We found what he said about it, and it's not pretty, but not for the reasons you're fearing. It's not that what he said was particularly terrible, it's just that he doesn't speak very well, to the point that he needs an interpreter. So let's have a listen to this and I'll take a stab at it.

ANDERSON COOPER: [01:05:33] You just talked to China's president. 

PRESIDENT JOE BIDEN: [01:05:35] Yes, for two hours. 

ANDERSON COOPER: [01:05:36] What about the The Uyghurs? What about the human rights abuses? 

PRESIDENT JOE BIDEN: [01:05:39] We must speak up for human rights, it's who we are. We can't, well, my comment to him was, and I know him well and he knows me well, we [had a] two hour conversation. 

ANDERSON COOPER: [01:05:50] You talked about this too? 

PRESIDENT JOE BIDEN: [01:05:51] I talked about this too, and that's not so much refugee, but I talked about it, I said, look, you know, Chinese leaders, if you know anything about Chinese history, it has always been the time when China has been victimized by the outer world is when they haven't been unified at home. So the central, vastly overstated, the central principle of Xi Jinping is that there must be a united, tightly controlled China. And he uses his rationale for the things he does based on that. 

I point out to him, no American president can be sustained as a president if he doesn't reflect the values of the United States. And so the idea, I'm not going to speak out against what he's doing in Hong Kong, what he's doing with the Uyghurs in western mountains of China and Taiwan, trying to end the One-China policy by making it forceful. I said, and by the way, he said he, he gets it. 

JAY TOMLINSON - HOST, BEST OF THE LEFT: [01:06:51] So I'm going to mercifully pause it here, because this is a good enough point to stop and reflect on what we just heard and understand that what is being reported in the right-wing press, and also just tweeted about by people who are watching, who are expressing things like, "wait a second, what did he just say? Did he say he's not going to criticize China about the Uyghurs? That it's just a cultural difference?" or maybe he gets to that in a moment. And that is not my interpretation, but I do understand why people are coming to that interpretation. I think that in the right-wing media, they are giving it the least generous possible interpretation in order to come to that conclusion. But he clearly is not speaking very well on this subject, even though what he does say indicates that he knows a lot about it. 

Here's my take. He starts off by speaking forcefully about how we must speak up for human rights. He says that's who we are and goes on from there. And what I think he should have done was just speak up for human rights. But what he did was told the story about how he spoke with the president of China about what he was going to say about the Uyghurs and human rights, which is a big difference. People may want to criticize what I'm saying as bending over backwards to give Joe Biden the biggest benefit of the doubt possible, and I'm going to preemptively disagree with that criticism, should it come, because, first of all, I think that my interpretation is the fairest interpretation. It goes along with his administration stated policy, the stated policies of the Secretary of State, everything he said in the past. And it doesn't seem that he's giving an indication that he's changing any of that. He just does such a bad job of framing it, that he opens the door to misinterpretation or in all likelihood, in many cases, willful misinterpretation. 

But it's not all roses, I actually have an extremely critical perspective on this. I think that what he is saying is that we must stand up for human rights and that, to what I'm going to do, and that's what our administration is going to do, et cetera, but when he tells this story about speaking with the Chinese president about why China does what they do, and they have the One-China policy, and it's because of this cultural history of theirs about when they are attacked from the outside or when they're vulnerable from the outside, it's because they have internal conflicts. And so they have a policy to try to unify the country through cultural genocide and brainwashing. No big deal right? 

And so he's explaining their perspective, but then he says, but look, I'm the President of America and we have a different cultural history, and it's because of our different cultural history that I have to be critical of this. That's where it gets gross. So people are interpreting that as he's excusing what China is doing, because it's just a cultural difference. But I think its sort of weirder than that. It's not that he's excusing what China's doing, he's explaining that his criticism is practically performative. That it was discussed ahead of time with the Chinese president. He explained to the Chinese president that look as the President of America, I have to be critical of you on this subject. And he finishes that clip by saying, "and, you know, eh, eh, eh, he gets it." The president of China gets it. So they've come to this leader's agreement. You're going to do your cultural genocide and I'm going to criticize you for it, but you see it as worthwhile to do that in the face of my criticism and I'm not going to go to war with you over this issue, so I'm going to do my duty and criticize you. You're going to do what you feel is right and ignore me, and we can all just roll along. And that is, in effect, the American policy on cultural genocide against the Uyghurs in China.

So the framing of the critics that I have seen seemed to be willfully misinterpreting what Biden is saying and framing it as though he does not criticize them. He's decided that it is not to be criticized because of his terrible framing and phrasing of what he was trying to say. Reading deeply between the lines in a way that I do think is genuinely fair, but necessary to read between the lines because of how poorly he is speaking, which is actually another topic to be touched on. Can we all agree that it is not a good thing that the president of the United States cannot speak clearly enough so that it is not open for interpretation whether or not he is in favor or opposed to cultural genocide. It's just not a good thing that he's not that clear. So, having had to read between the lines, I conclude that he does think that it's terrible, what China is doing. He does think that it's cultural genocide. He is critical of it, but then, because he's Joe Biden, he doesn't just say the things he's supposed to say, he tells the whole story behind it. And the story behind it is what we should really be focusing on, which is that it has been agreed upon that we will criticize and you will ignore, and that's the end of the story. Now, just to finish off here's the rest of that clip. 

PRESIDENT JOE BIDEN: [01:12:43] I said, and by the way, he said he, he gets it.  Culturally, there are different norms that each country and their leaders are expected to follow. But my point was that when I came back from meeting with him and traveling 17,000 miles with him, when I was vice president, he was the vice president. That's how I got to know him so well at the request of president Hu, not a joke, his predecessor, President Hu. 

JAY TOMLINSON - HOST, BEST OF THE LEFT: [01:13:09] Can you believe he felt the need to make an Abbott and Costello reference while discussing cultural genocide in China? 

PRESIDENT JOE BIDEN: [01:13:19] And president Obama wanted us to get to know one another because he was going to be the president. And I came back and said, they're going to end their one child policy, because they're so xenophobic they won't let anybody else in, and more people are retired than working. How can they sustain economic growth when more people are retired? 

ANDERSON COOPER: [01:13:40] When you talk to him though about human rights abuses, is that just, is that as far as it goes in terms of the US or is there any actual repercussions for China?

PRESIDENT JOE BIDEN: [01:13:48] Well, there will be repercussions for China and he knows that. What I'm doing is making clear that we, in fact, are going to continue to reassert our role as spokespersons for human rights at the UN and other agencies that have an impact on their attitudes. China is trying very hard to become the world leader. And to get that moniker and to be able to do that, they have to gain the confidence of other countries. And as long as they're engaged in activity that is contrary to basic human rights, it's going to be hard for them to do that. But it's much more complicated than that, I shouldn't to try to talk China policy in 10 minutes on television.

JAY TOMLINSON - HOST, BEST OF THE LEFT: [01:14:29] So, there's our guy, steward of the American empire, if there ever was one. I think it's the role he's been practicing for, for decades. 

Keep the comments coming in at (202) 999-3991 or by emailing me to [email protected]. That is going to be it for today. Thanks to everyone for listening. Thanks to Deon Clark and Erin Clayton for their research work for the show. Thanks to the Monosyllabic Transcriptionists Trio, Ben, Dan, and Ken for their volunteer work, helping put our transcripts together. Thanks to Amanda Hoffman for all of her work on our social media outlets, activism, segments, and so on and so on. And thanks of course, to those who sign up to become members or purchasing gift memberships for the show at bestoftheleft.com/support as that is absolutely how the program survives. And everyone can earn rewards and support the show just by telling everyone you know about it by using our Refer-o-Matic system at bestoftheleft.com/refer. 

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  • Jay Tomlinson
    published this page in Transcripts 2021-03-09 22:20:02 -0500
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