An Open Letter to President Biden

TRANSCEND MEMBERS, 25 Jan 2021

Robin Edward Poulton, Ph.D. – TRANSCEND Media Service

Dear President Biden,

Congratulations on your inauguration as President of the United States. I wish you and Vice-President Kamala Harris political triumph, a very happy and successful New Year 2021, and peace. Especially Peace.

I have worked a lot for peace, including when I was working for the U.S. government in Africa. One of my sad conclusions: the U.S.A’s foreign policy has been a major cause of war in the world since 2001, a source of poverty and misery, a manufacturer of refugees and of terrorists. As an expert on the origins of terrorism, I know that the U.S.A. is a major supporter of terrorism and terrorist organizations.

I hope that you will commit yourself to being a President for Peace.

What would a President for Peace look like?  Instead of the bald eagle, you might choose a less predatory bird as your foreign policy symbol. (1)

Many defects in America’s foreign policy come from the reality that since 2001, the Pentagon has dominated American foreign policy. Successive Secretaries of State, starting with Colin Powell, have been sidelined. When I was in Afghanistan as a United Nations expert for disarmament and peace, I was told by a Senior Political Officer in the United States Embassy: “You know as much about U.S. foreign policy in Afghanistan as I do, Dr. Poulton. You read the New York Times, and so do I. The U.S. army makes policy here. It does not consult the Embassy, and does even not inform the Embassy about its actions or its intentions.”

The U.S. army in Afghanistan has failed, partly because it could never identify its mission. The Pentagon has tried to do a whole range of things for which it has no professional competence: running ministries, managing governance, building schools, creating economic development, constructing democracy, removing the only profitable cash crop (opium) and opposing the creation of a pharmaceutical industry to transform opium legally. All failures. I denounced the failed policies of the Pentagon in a Transcend article dated 12th June 2017 in the following terms: “NATO has made humanitarian work more dangerous, by blurring the roles of soldiers and aid workers. Military Provincial Reconstruction Teams (PRT) in Afghanistan and Iraq claim to be “rebuilding” schools and health services about which soldiers have no knowledge, for which they have no training. Why don’t they ask teachers and nurses to run the army? NATO’s PRT strategy has been a disaster. It allows politicians to make feel-good speeches and it flatters the colonels who are spending NATO or U.S. money into thinking they are “doing good” – which they are not! PRTs have done nothing for peace building and the PRT strategy has undermined sustainable development. PRTs mostly fund local warlords.”

Plenty of people know that U.S. army policies have failed. The U.S. ‘War on Drugs” is no different. Launched in Afghanistan in 1971, drug destruction programs have shown no positive results after half-a-century.  American politicians throw good money after bad, and ignore bad results. American leaders fear transparency and evaluation. American generals have careers built largely on failure. Many are also complicit in massive fraud and corruption: for nearly 25% of the Pentagon’s money is missing. According to the Washington Post (Dec 5th 2016): “The Pentagon has buried an internal study that exposed $125 billion in administrative waste in its business operations amid fears Congress would use the findings as an excuse to slash the defense budget.”

This scandal, concealed by the Deep State’s military-industrial complex, needs to be revealed, Mr President. You should insist on publishing the report. Only transparency and sunlight can improve morality and accountability.

America’s most lasting legacy in Afghanistan: Martyrs’ Cemeteries.

American failures are as much the fault of political leadership as they are of generals. The United States since 2001 has been singularly vague about what American soldiers are supposed to be doing in the 70+ countries where the U.S. has stationed troops. The Pentagon has built  – in effect – an Iron Wall of military bases around the Middle East, around Russia, around China. Mr. President, these bases offer only intimidation, when we should be seeking cooperation. The State Department needs to take back foreign policy-making, and the Pentagon needs to redefine its mission: changing from a ministry of intimidation, to a ministry of defense.

President Trump was no clearer than his predecessors about the role of American forces overseas. He did not reduce overseas American bases. He encouraged his favorite dictators to pursue their wars in places like Yemen, Syria, Kurdistan and Libya. Trump did not end the wars that he had promised to end; but at least he did not take the U.S.A. in any new wars.  President Obama, Nobel Peace Laureate, also resisted the new military adventures that weapons manufacturers, American generals and Senator John McCain were constantly imagining for him. You, Mr. President, together with President Obama, avoided direct American involvement in Syria and Libya; you reduced tensions with Iran and with Cuba; and you tried (unsuccessfully) to end the disastrous Iraqi and Afghan military adventures. Where the Obama Administration was weak, was in the failure to restructure decision-making machinery in Washington that remains dominated by hawks and missile manufacturers. Alternative sources of foreign policy advice cannot get a hearing. With your enormous experience in making policy in the Senate, Mr. President, this could be your distinctive contribution:  the demilitarization of American foreign policy. There are better ways than shooting to make and keep the peace.

[See my article on this subject dated 22 Sep 2014 – TRANSCEND Media Service]

Now that you are President (a delightful fact for which I offer you my warmest congratulations), and now that we are in 2021, you have a chance to make changes for the better. I urge you to strengthen State Department diplomacy, reduce Pentagon waste and budgets, close overseas bases, and strengthen alliances – including alliances with countries like Syria, Iran and Russia that could be friends even though they have been defined as ‘enemies’ – by launching a new approach to Peace Diplomacy using soft power, engaging international organizations and civil society as your Partners in Peace Building.

A Peace President will understand that violence takes many forms: it is not just bombs that undermine nations and increase poverty. A rethink of U.S. international relations could start from new principles: focusing on reducing violence, solving the refugee crisis, protecting children and child rights, respecting women, fighting gender-based violence at home and overseas, promoting social justice, investing long-term in areas of chronic instability (like frontier zones in Africa) …. all of which will help tackle the poverty and exclusion that underlie terrorism.

The destructive policies pursued so erratically by your predecessor offer one great advantage, Mr. President: they offer you the chance to redefine U.S. priorities in a new way. Most presidents inherit fixed strategies that limit innovation. Since nothing in the Trump era was fixed, the past four years offer you a freedom to innovate that few other presidents have enjoyed. We will not benefit by returning to outdated searching for U.S. enemies. To announce yourself as a President for Peace would signal to the world that the predatory eagle has landed and will settle on its nest. It can always take off again: but you could offer a new form of American Leadership in the form of a dove.

I look forward to offering to you and to Vice-President Harris my continuing support over the next four years.

NOTE:

(1) The Eagle can be seen as a symbol of freedom, as the magnificent bird soars across mountain tops: this is exactly how the Ancient Greeks perceived the eagle. In America, it is more usually understood as a symbol of power, even aggression, as the claws of the eagle descend on its unsuspecting prey: which is the way that Roman Legions used the symbol.  This interpretation is no criticism of the Bald Eagle, which lives as it has always done: it is more of a comment on American society.  The aggressive nature of permanent warfare is associated with an unfortunate belief in ‘American Exceptionalism’ and the rights (rather than the obligations) that U.S. citizens assume that this idea confers upon them. When the Bald Eagle is interpreted in this way, then I much prefer the idea of U.S. foreign policy becoming an unassuming dove cooing gently under the eaves of my barn.

Sincerely and respectfully,

Robin

___________________________________________

Robin Poulton ChONM, ChROSC, U.N.S.M., M.B.I.M., M.A., M.Sc., Ph.D.
Knight of Mali, Knight of Cambodia, Honorary Citizen of Ségou (Mali)
Former Senior Fellow, UNIDIR Geneva (United Nations Institute for Disarmament Research)
Former President, V-Peace (VIPIS = Virginia Institute for Peace and Islamic Studies)
Former Professor of French West Africa Studies (affiliate), School of World Studies,Virginia Commonwealth University 2012-16
Founding Member of the peace network 2r3s : Réseau de Réflexion Stratégique sur la Sécurité au Sahel
Founding Member of Virginia Friends of Mali (501.c.3 association for Ségou-Richmond sister cities)
Founding Member of Philanthra university institute (Mali)
Universal Ambassador for Peace
Member of Transcend Peace Journalism Network
poultonrobin@gmail.com


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This article originally appeared on Transcend Media Service (TMS) on 25 Jan 2021.

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