Imperialism is the order of the day for Biden and Harris. There is no harm reduction for the U.S. or for people around the world.
Upon the announcement that Joseph Biden won the 2020 elections, cities across the US erupted in celebration that fascism was defeated through a US electoral process that tamed an uprising, shafted third parties, and politicized a global pandemic. All of the consistent critical analysis of the 2020 election from revolutionary organizers, activists and left radicals that laid out the 40 year centrist-right history of Biden was silenced by whimsical beliefs of “pushing him left.” As we approach the end of Biden’s first year, the promise that Biden would “create easier conditions to organize under” has not materialized in either a domestic or international sense.
A Domestic Mess
While Biden himself was not an incredibly popular candidate for much of the 2020 presidential race, one thing that did convince many in the US left (who many would like to believe know better) to abandon principles, was a somewhat empty promise of implementing a strategic plan to combat COVID-19. By the time the Biden-Harris administration was comfortably settled in for their stay in the White House, revolutionary countries around the world like Cuba, China, and Vietnam had already begun implementing the universal strategies necessary for slowing the spread of the virus and curbing citizen deaths. Those strategies ranged from subsidizing employee pay, relentless contact tracing, the reorganization of national factories with a focus on production of PPE, and rent cancellation where applicable. Even under incredible odds such as vindictive US/UN sanctions against them, these countries had already begun modeling what it looked like to truly attempt to tackle a widespread pandemic.
It became crystal clear that these were not solutions that the Biden-Harris Administration were interested in pursuing. After the ironically named “American Rescue Plan” was passed in July 2021, the administration publically encouraged states to use the “$350 billion in financial support and clear guidance to provide state, local, territorial, and tribal governments the money they need to put more police officers on the beat -- including hiring above pre-pandemic levels in communities experiencing an increase in gun violence associated with the pandemic.”
As the discourse around rent and student loan cancellation began to shrivel up, the hope for additional stimulus checks began to fade and the dust had settled, reality began to show that only two groups were going to survive this pandemic— corporations and the armed forces that protect their interests, the police. Almost overnight, cities across the US had access to millions of dollars they could use to beef up their police hires, invest in surveillance technology and reward their police department with shiny new gadgets, namely new cars. This all came off the heels of a summer filled with cries from the streets pleading “defund” and “abolish” the police.
Another important failure of the Biden administration has been it’s non-action toward ending the 1033 Program. The 1033 program allows the Department of Defense to transfer surplus military-grade equipment to local and state police forces. That equipment was on full display in 2020 as police forces around the nation used it to suppress protests in the wake of the police killings of George Floyd and Breonna Taylor. During his first week in office, Biden signaled that he would sign an executive order that would limit that transfer, but as Abdallah Fayyad points out in an article for The Boston Globe, “Bipartisan police reform negotiations are dead, separate legislation to demilitarize police has stalled, and the president has ignored calls from members of his own party to take executive action on the issue.”
With Donald Trump out of the White House, mainstream media has pivoted from its syndicated images of Black death and police brutality trauma porn. As they have maintained their delusional obsession with Trump’s whereabouts and January 6th, coverage of police terror has been invisibilized, but this doesn’t mean it’s been stopped. Police killed 1,136 people in 2021, with Black people making up 27% of that number despite being only 13% of the US population.
Our current moment is haunted by the specter of millions of COVID deaths, a lack of testing infrastructure (“Google it!”), no support for teachers and students, and hospitals that are overflowing. Major industries have been bailed out, police pockets have been stuffed. When it comes to its domestic affairs, the empire only ever has one priority, its own maintenance.
Biden-Harris “Backyard” Politics
The first year of the Biden-Harris administration’s “foreign policy” can be marked by rhetorical hypocrisy and the strategic expansion of US global hegemony via a $768 billion Department of Defense budget in the midst of a stalled Build Back Better bill. Drone strikes in Somalia, sanctions in Ethiopia and Eritrea, the disastrous alleged pull-out in Afghanistan, strengthened allyship with Israel, and the increased aggression towards China and Russia have all occurred under a first year presidency where Biden has given lip-service to “democracy” and “human rights.”
This rhetorical hypocrisy has been most evident with the Biden-Harris administration's handling of Haiti and the Americas. Entering his presidency in the midst of a reactionary rebellion of Trump supporters who stormed the US Capitol over alleged “stolen” elections in attempts to stop a transfer of power, Biden capitalized on a liberal “defense of democracy” doubling down on patriotism and American exceptionalism. This has served as cover for an expansion of US imperialism.
While “defending democracy,” only 3 weeks in office, Biden and his administration ignored the months of mass protests in Haiti to vehemently defend the now deceased Haitian president Jovenal Moïse’s unconstitutional stay in office. The strategic defense of Moïse’s presidency was a mainstay policy for the administration up until his assassination. While the assassination of Moïse did relieve the Biden-Harris administration of the embarrassment of having to reconcile the contradiction of pretending to respect Black lives and democracy while supporting a tyrant, the earthquake in Haiti, the imagery of the inhumane treatment of countless Haitians and other Africans seeking asylum at the Del Rio, Texas border, and the thousands of deportations to Haiti has continued to tear away at the Biden-Harris administration's human rights facade.
The disregard for Haiti shown by the Biden administration further signals the rhetorical hypocrisy at display. While the ongoing plight of Haitians could be easily ignored by the Biden-Harris administration, the moment of unrest in Cuba could not. Pushed forward by the U.S. blockade, pockets of protests took place on the island. The Biden-Harris administration attempted to capitalize on these minimal protests to gain favor from right-wing Miami based Cubans and continue attempts to destabilize that country. The administration has spent its entire first year agitating against Cuba. From outright refusal to remove Cuba from the “State Sponsored Terrorism” list to accusing Cuba’s overseas medical program of human trafficking to voting against ending the blockade to placing more additional sanctions on the island nation, they have demonstrated that they are clear on their motivations and interests.
These motivations and interests can be understood through any investigation of how the US seeks to treat its “backyard.” From Honduras to Venezuela to Nicaragua to Guatemala, US imperial motivations and interests are tied to a reassertion of the racist Monroe Doctrine. As Ajamu Baraka argues,
“There is also a domestic ideological component to this as well. The very existence of these nations at this historical moment, a moment characterized by the deepening and irreversible contradictions and current crisis of the capitalist order poses a potentially serious ideological threat.”
As a reemergence of left-wing governments grows in the relatively poor countries in the region, establishing socialist projects and democratic structures that provide housing, healthcare and education, it has become more of a necessity for the US to thwart those efforts.
In the dawn of the Cold War, Latin America and the Caribbean basin were absorbed by US occupation as a strategic location to levy any defense against the Soviet Union. By the 1980s, the Reagan administration revitalized these occupations through the US Military Southern Command (SOUTHCOM) as a defense against “communist insurgence”. The post-cold war era usage of SOUTHCOM has been utilized to carry out counterinsurgency tactics against left-wing governments in the region including Grenada and Nicaragua. By the late 1990s, SOUTHCOM made another rebranding attempt by establishing the Human Rights Initiative (HRI) in order to frame its efforts with humanitarian assistance and concern for human rights, which only expanded the US military’s reach into areas of academics and NGOs, as seen with Operation Plan Colombia.
The current iteration of SOUTHCOM is a consistent and steady escalation of US militarization in the Caribbean related to US control of Haiti and pressure on Cuba, Nicaragua, and Venezuela in new cold war campaigns. The fraudulent claim that the U.S. is concerned about democracy or human rights anywhere in the world, but particularly in that region, is underscored by its continuous expansion of US military influence throughout the Americas. Whether it is Operation Trade Winds, an annual Caribbean security-focused, multi-dimensional multinational exercises conducted in the ground, air, sea, and cyber domains, or the use of US military during environmental crises like the earthquake in Haiti, SOUTHCOM uses “humanitarian assistance” and “disaster response” efforts as a shoehorn for military training platforms. We should all come to expect more of this as the Global South begins to actively build a multi-polar world and carve out space that does not include the US.
Where To From Here?
As the US ruling class begins to prime us for an onslaught of mid-term election propaganda, it would behoove citizens of the world empire to reject selective amnesia. As working class people continue to struggle to stay housed, find reliable COVID testing, and make difficult decisions about their children’s education, we must remember that none of it ever had to be this way. As the Cuban people continue to suffer and innovate under the genocidal US blockade against the island, as the people of Haiti continue to fight for self-determination, and as Latin America refuses to bow down to US hegemony, those of us living in the core would be wise to remember that the name of this game has never been “harm reduction”, it's always been harm displacement. How much more harm are we willing to displace before we are politically mature enough to admit that kicking the can down the road hasn’t actually been doing us any favors? With a commitment to austerity policies and the expansion of US hegemony, what is clear is that the Biden-Harris administration has cemented their obligation to further US imperialism. What is needed in this moment is principled relationship building between revolutionary organizations inside and outside of the core, committed to combating imperialism. No more compromises with the lesser evil and it’s never-ending commitment to war and terror.
Salifu Mack is a Pan African socialist and member of the Black Alliance for Peace, the AAPRP, and the Lowcountry Action Committee, which is a Black-led grassroots organization dedicated to Black liberation through service, political education, and collective action in the Lowcountry of South Carolina. Follow us on IG to support our work: @LCTakesAction
Erica Caines is coordinating committee and outreach team member of The Black Alliance For Peace as well as an outreach member of the Black working-class centered Ujima People’s Progress Party in Maryland. Caines is the founder of Liberation Through Reading. She is also co-editor of the African revolutionary blog, Hood Communist.