When Trump was president, he went to Saudi Arabia, sword-danced with the royal family and set in motion 18.5 billion dollars in arms sales, including those used in the the Saudi-led war on Yemen that has killed hundreds of thousands of civilians. In 2018, he ran cover for Saudi Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman (MBS) after MBS ordered the murder and dismemberment of dissident Saudi journalist Jamal Khashoggi.
During his presidential campaign, Biden denounced Trump for that and pledged to treat MBS as “a pariah.” But once elected, Biden went to Saudi Arabia, fist-bumping the murderer-prince and continuing U.S. backing for the war on Yemen. This was driven in part by seeking the support of the Saudis, the world’s largest oil producer, to pump and supply more oil and keep prices low, especially as the proxy war in Ukraine between Russia and the U.S.-dominated NATO alliance is driving up oil prices, fueling fears of recession in the world economies, and furthering domestic discontent.
When Trump was president, he threatened Iran, designated the Revolutionary Guards (a branch of Iran’s armed forces) as “terrorists” and assassinated one of its top commanders. He pulled out of negotiations aimed at ending Iran’s nuclear weapons development program and imposed new and even more crippling economic sanctions. This greatly escalated the danger of a major war in the Middle East, with all the suffering such a war would bring to people of the whole region.
Whereas Biden… also says Iran’s military is “terrorist,” works to forge an alliance between Israel and Saudi Arabia against Iran, declared that the U.S. would use military force if necessary to keep Iran from developing nuclear weapons, and imposed further economic sanctions causing massive suffering among the Iranian people.
When Trump was president, he spewed forth bellicose and racist remarks about China, even labeling COVID-19 “the China flu.” The Trump administration designated China as the main threat to the U.S.
Whereas Biden… has U.S. warships playing chicken with the Chinese navy just off China’s coast, threatens to go to war over Taiwan,1 and is escalating tariffs and other forms of economic warfare against China. Biden too identifies China as the main threat to U.S. global power.
Observing some of this, a recent piece in the New York Times concluded that Biden’s “approach to strategic priorities is surprisingly consistent with the policies of the Trump administration.” (“On U.S. Foreign Policy, the New Boss Acts a Lot Like the Old One,” July 24, 2022.)
The Times makes this seem like an amazing mystery—two such different presidents making different appeals to voters, yet largely conducting the same foreign policies. The Times pontificates that this shows “how difficult it is in Washington to chart new courses on foreign policy” and ponders whether this has to do with conflicting pulls of the “voters” and “corporations” or with “group-think” in the foreign policy establishment. They quote a former Trump official saying, “Continuity is the norm, even between presidents as different as Trump and Biden.”
It’s the Capitalism-Imperialism, Stupid!
But the source of this “continuity” is not mysterious—it’s the system, stupid! The system of capitalism-imperialism, its workings and imperatives!
U.S. imperialism is facing major challenges globally. Its position of unchallenged domination is eroding. Rival imperialist powers (especially China, and Russia) are increasingly trying to carve out their own “spheres of influence”… which the U.S. considers intolerable.2 The Times article points to this, noting that: “Both the Trump and Biden administrations have had to grapple with the question of how to maintain America’s global dominance at a time when it appears in decline. China has ascended as a counterweight, and Russia has become bolder.” [Emphasis added.]
In other words, the need and drive to maintain U.S. “global dominance” is the actual framework within which political leaders—Democrats as well as Republi-fascists—of the most powerful empire in world history evaluate and determine their “foreign policy choices.” It’s not some bullshit about what the “voters” want or which corporation is slipping a few million into whose campaign fund. And—based on living in the “top dog” imperialist country which delivers the spoils of empire to people in this society, even among the oppressed—the system’s rulers and intellectuals are able to draw people into this same hideous framework. And they seek to train people into thinking that the interests of those in the U.S. lie in helping “their” rulers dominate the rest of the world!
The reason for this imperialist compulsion to dominate the world ultimately lies in the “mode of production”—the historically developed way in which society is organized to produce the goods and services that keep it going. It is beyond the scope of this article to fully go into this, but we highly recommend the speech by Bob Avakian (BA), Why We Need an Actual Revolution and How We Can Really Make Revolution, especially the section on “Wars of Empire, Armies of Occupation, and Crimes Against Humanity” and Why the World Is So Messed Up, And What Can Be Done to Radically Change This – A Basic Scientific Understanding where he describes:
In the world today, the dominant system of exploitation is capitalism, which has developed into capitalism-imperialism, a worldwide system that not only exploits tens of millions of wage-workers in this country, but even more viciously exploits hundreds of millions of people, including more than a 150 million children, in a vast network of sweatshops, mines and farms, particularly in the Third World (Latin America, Africa, the Middle East and Asia).
It is these networks of exploitation and oppression, markets for these products, sources of raw materials like precious minerals, and trade routes that imperialist powers are compelled to “dominate”—in competition with other rival imperialist powers—through economic, diplomatic, political, and ultimately military means, extracting value and spoils from this domination. This plays a role in its own domestic stability and further builds up its military strength so as to further expand its dominance. Losers get driven down, or even driven under.
In terms of the specific constellation of challenges facing the U.S. empire, it seems there is fairly broad agreement among its rulers—from Obama to Trump to Biden—that China is the main threat to the U.S., and the import of continuing to build up and promote a Saudi/Israeli alliance in the strategically important area of the Middle East.
However, there are also actual differences: for example, how much carrot and how much stick to use against Iran? How much effort to invest in Europe? What is the role of multi-lateral institutions like NATO in Europe? Can China and Russia be divided against each other, instead of forming a rival imperialist bloc against the U.S.?
These are differences not over whether to but over how to achieve the same fucked-up goal—maintaining U.S. dominance. Increasing numbers of people righteously repudiating this framework and system is crucial to preparing the ground for an actual revolution that has its sights set on emancipating all of humanity and rescuing the planet itself.
From Why We Need an Actual Revolution and How We Can Really Make Revolution, by Bob Avakian:
With the development of capitalism over the past several centuries, commodity production and exchange has been greatly extended, to become the generalized way in which production (and exchange) has been carried out. (If you think about it, all the things that you use, or almost all of them, you do not make them yourself—you exchange something, namely money, to buy them from some other source. And this is what people all over the world are now doing; this is what capitalism has generalized.) And capitalism has more and more tightly bound things together, under its domination, into an overall world system. But this system of capitalist imperialism is marked by profound divisions: between different classes and groups of people within each country; between a small number of capitalist-imperialist countries and the countries under the domination of these imperialists, particularly in the Third World (Latin America, Africa, the Middle East, and Asia); and divisions between imperialist countries themselves, whose rivalry has revolved to a significant degree around their contention for control of colonies and people to exploit in the Third World. (And when, for a time in the last century, there were socialist countries, first in the Soviet Union and then also China, there was the conflict between the imperialist powers and those socialist countries, which the imperialists worked to isolate, suffocate, and destroy.) All this led to two world wars, in the last century, in which tens of millions of people were killed, including huge numbers of civilians. Since the end of World War 2 in 1945, the divisions that mark the world, within the overall framework of domination by the capitalist-imperialist system, have led to continual wars: wars where imperialist powers have unleashed massive violence against people fighting for liberation from imperialism in countries in the Third World—such as the war in Vietnam, where the U.S. slaughtered several million Vietnamese and poisoned much of the soil of that country with chemical weapons (war crimes and crimes against humanity that the U.S. imperialists have continued in all parts of the world, including today in the Middle Eastern country of Yemen, where, because of bombing and other actions by Saudi Arabia, and the United Arab Emirates, backed, armed and aided by the U.S., one million people, including large numbers of children, are suffering, and many are dying, from the terrible disease cholera, and eight million people, more than a fourth of the population, are facing starvation)—and there are wars between different oppressive forces, including wars where imperialist powers fight each other not directly but through “proxies,” such as the war which has devastated Syria over the past several years, where the U.S. and Russia have backed, armed, and aided different factions. While another world war—which, especially with the arsenals of nuclear weapons in the hands of the U.S. and Russia, China, and some other countries, could lead to destruction and death on a massive scale, and could even bring about the extinction of the human race—has so far been avoided, so long as the capitalist-imperialist system continues to dominate the world, and the profound divisions this embodies and enforces continue to exist, the danger remains of a far more devastating war than anything previously endured by humanity.