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OpEdNews Op Eds    H2'ed 12/19/20

The Democratic Party and the War Machine - Vijay Prashad

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The roots of the Democratic Party's foreign policy are found in WWII, the atomic bombing of Japan and militarization during the Cold War. Biden supported the Iraq War but fought for the nuclear agreement with Iran. What should we expect from his administration? Vijay Prashad joins Paul Jay on podcast.


Paul Jay

Hi, I'm Paul Jay. Welcome to podcast.

When President-elect Joe Biden becomes commander-in-chief of the most powerful war machine in human history, it's not clear which Joe Biden we will be getting. Will we get the Biden who supported the Iraq War and comes out of a foreign policy tradition of Truman and Kennedy, Cold Warriors who massively built out the military-industrial complex. Truman, who directed the fascist and racist Air Force General Curtis LeMay to drop atomic bombs on Japan and later directed LeMay to kill millions of Koreans. Kennedy, who started the process that led to the Vietnam War and brought the world to the edge of nuclear annihilation in a pointless confrontation with the Soviet Union. A Cold War that was used to justify the greatest investment in military spending outside of a major war. Or will we get the Biden that fought for the Iran nuclear agreement, who apparently opposed a trillion-dollar investment in modernizing the American nuclear weapons arsenal, and was reported to be against the invasion of Libya. When it comes to rivalry with China, when we get beyond the inflammatory rhetoric, will Biden work with China to deal with climate and a host of other issues, or will he try to show how strong he is and please the China hawks who want him to contain China and weaken its global economic influence?

Well, to better understand what we might expect from the Biden administration, let's start by taking a look at the roots of the Democratic Party's foreign policy. Joining me to do that is Vijay Prashad. Vijay is a historian, journalist, and commentator. He is the executive director of the Tricontinental Institute for Social Research and the chief editor of Leftword Books. His latest book is Washington Bullets: A History of the CIA, Coups, and Assassinations. Thanks very much for joining us, Vijay.

Vijay Prashad

Thanks, Paul. Always great to be with you.

Paul Jay

Thank you. So, to understand the roots of how the Democratic Party pursues war and foreign policy, why don't we start with Roosevelt, who in 1939 or so denounced the bombing of civilians in Europe as barbaric, and then he joined in. He ordered American planes to join in the firebombing of Dresden and burning alive hundreds of thousands of civilians in Japan. Roosevelt, who continued developing the nuclear bomb even after it was clear Hitler was not developing one. So, if you think that's a good place to start understanding how the Democratic Party thinks about foreign policy, why don't you pick it up from there?

Vijay Prashad

Well, you know, Paul, it's good that you start with Franklin Delano Roosevelt, because by all accounts, he is the gold standard of American liberalism, or at least Democratic-Party liberalism. And yet, if you look at FDR and then jump forward some decades to the next great shining star of Democratic Party liberalism, that's John F. Kennedy, both FDR and John F. Kennedy oscillate between this hesitancy to use the full force of the United States and to use charm, a "charm offensive."

You may remember FDR started the Good Neighbor policy with the Latin American countries or the Caribbean countries. John F. Kennedy as well, you know, famously, after Nixon's quite catastrophic journey around South America, John F. Kennedy with Jacqueline Onassis (well, at the time, Jacqueline Kennedy) was very much on the side of believing that diplomacy, charm, using American values, you know, "the city on the hill," and so on, was going to win the day for the United States. There was always that one side of Democratic Party liberalism.

But it was a very fragile side because it would snap to the other side, go in the other direction, rather quickly. And so, you get the other side, which is the full force of US military power to be used when appropriate and not necessarily to be used "homeopathically," but to be used "allopathically" in all its force. You know, you see this with John F. Kennedy because Kennedy comes to power - you know, great charm and so on. And then what do you see with the Dulles brothers? They attempt to overthrow the government in Cuba. That's very famous, the Bay of Pigs invasion. But it's not just the Bay of Pigs. It's a range of different invasions by the Marines, including in Thailand, a little-known invasion by the US Marines into Thailand. You know, you see this use of US power, I would say, without much hesitancy. So, with Democratic Party liberalism, you oscillate, as I said, between on the one side, this public charm and on the other side, ruthless power.

I recently read Barack Obama's new memoir, Promised Land. And I mean, I'm not recommending it because I found it evasive, I found it untrue in many parts, and I also found it to be, in a way, self-aggrandizing, which is not something that you expect to see in such a long book. I mean, frankly, I read Kissinger's books and he is less self-aggrandizing than Barack Obama is in this particular book. But let's leave that aside.

He describes a scene in the book which I think captures this oscillation between great charm and ruthless use of American power. Because, let's face it, the United States has the most powerful military. It can bomb anywhere, it can create havoc anywhere from the skies, from its missiles, drones, and so on. So, in the memoir, he describes the hit list, the kill list. This is famously a man who was against the death penalty when he was a lawyer in Chicago, a man who comes from that kind of charm school of Democratic Party liberalism. You know, such a charming guy. I mean, everybody seems to accept that.

Paul Jay

I used to play a game when Obama was running in '08, in the primary and in the election. I used to insist to myself that I read his speeches and not watch, because if you watched he was so damn charming, you would just want to believe what he said. Whereas if you read the speeches, as you said, "Oh, this is just some, you know, center-right Democrat speaking."

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