It was common knowledge that a U.S. failure to rejoin the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action (JCPOA), also known as the Iran nuclear deal, before Iran’s June presidential election would help conservative hard-liners to win the election. Indeed, on Saturday, June 19, conservative Ebrahim Raisi was elected as the new president of Iran.
Raisi has a record of brutally cracking down on government opponents and his election is a severe blow to Iranians struggling for a more liberal, open society. He also has a history of anti-Western sentiment and says he would refuse to meet with President Biden. And while current President Hassan Rouhani, considered a moderate, held out the possibility of broader talks after the United States returned to the nuclear deal, Raisi will almost certainly reject broader negotiations with the United States.
Could Raisi’s victory been averted if President Biden had rejoined the Iran deal right after coming into the White House and enabled Rouhani and the moderates in Iran to take credit for the removal of U.S. sanctions before the election? Now we will never know.
Trump’s withdrawal from the agreement drew near-universal condemnation from Democrats and arguably violated international law. But Biden’s failure to quickly rejoin the deal has left Trump’s policy in place, including the cruel “maximum pressure” sanctions that are destroying Iran’s middle class, throwing millions of people into poverty, and preventing imports of medicine and other essentials, even during a pandemic.
U.S. sanctions have provoked retaliatory measures from Iran, including suspending limits on its uranium enrichment and reducing cooperation with the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA). Trump’s, and now Biden’s, policy has simply reconstructed the problems that preceded the JCPOA in 2015, displaying the widely recognized madness of repeating something that didn’t work and expecting a different result.
If actions speak louder than words, the U.S. seizure of 27 Iranian and Yemeni international news websites on June 22, based on the illegal, unilateral U.S. sanctions that are among the most contentious topics of the Vienna negotiations, suggests that the same madness still holds sway over U.S. policy.
Since Biden took office, the critical underlying question is whether he and his administration are really committed to the JCPOA. As a presidential candidate, Biden promised to simply rejoin the JCPOA on his first day as president, and Iran always said it was ready to comply with the agreement as soon as the United States rejoined it.
Biden has been in office for five months, but the negotiations in Vienna did not begin until April 6. His failure to rejoin the agreement upon taking office reflected a desire to appease hawkish advisers and politicians who claimed he could use Trump’s withdrawal and the threat of continued sanctions as “leverage” to extract more concessions from Iran over its ballistic missiles, regional activities and other questions.
Far from extracting more concessions, Biden’s foot-dragging only provoked further retaliatory action by Iran, especially after the assassination of an Iranian scientist and sabotage at Iran’s Natanz nuclear facility, both probably committed by Israel.
Without a great deal of help, and some pressure, from the United States’ European allies, it is unclear how long it would have taken Biden to get around to opening negotiations with Iran. The shuttle diplomacy taking place in Vienna is the result of painstaking negotiations with both sides by former European Parliament President Josep Borrell, who is now the European Union’s foreign policy chief.
The sixth round of shuttle diplomacy has now concluded in Vienna without an agreement. President-elect Raisi says he supports the negotiations in Vienna, but would not allow the United States to drag them out for a long time.
An unnamed U.S. official raised hopes for an agreement before Raisi takes office on August 3, noting it would be more difficult to reach an agreement after that, according to an Axios report. But a State Department spokesman said talks would continue when the new government takes office, implying that an agreement was unlikely before then.
Even if Biden had rejoined the JCPOA, Iran’s moderates might still have lost this tightly managed election. But a restored JCPOA and the end of U.S. sanctions would have left the moderates in a stronger position, and set Iran’s relations with the United States and its allies on a path of normalization that would have helped to weather more difficult relations with Raisi and his government in the coming years.
If Biden fails to rejoin the JCPOA, and if the United States or Israel ends up at war with Iran, this lost opportunity to quickly rejoin the JCPOA during his first months in office will loom large over future events and Biden’s legacy as president.
If the United States does not rejoin the JCPOA before Raisi takes office, Iran’s hard-liners will point to Rouhani’s diplomacy with the West as a failed pipe-dream, and their own policies as pragmatic and realistic by contrast. In the United States and Israel, the hawks who have lured Biden into this slow-motion train-wreck will be popping champagne corks to celebrate Raisi’s inauguration, as they move in to kill the JCPOA for good, smearing it as a deal with a mass murderer.
If Biden rejoins the JCPOA after Raisi’s inauguration, Iran’s hard-liners will claim that they succeeded where Rouhani and the moderates failed, and take credit for the economic recovery that will follow the removal of U.S. sanctions.
On the other hand, if Biden follows hawkish advice and tries to play it tough, and Raisi then pulls the plug on the negotiations, both leaders will score points with their own hard-liners at the expense of majorities of their people who want peace, and the United States will be back on a path of confrontation with Iran.
While that would be the worst outcome of all, it would allow Biden to have it both ways domestically, appeasing the hawks while telling liberals that he was committed to the nuclear deal until Iran rejected it. Such a cynical path of least resistance would very likely be a path to war.
On all these counts, it is vital that Biden and the Democrats conclude an agreement with the Rouhani government and rejoin the JCPOA. Rejoining it after Raisi takes office would be better than letting the negotiations fail altogether, but this entire slow-motion train-wreck has been characterized by diminishing returns with every delay, from the day Biden took office.
Neither the people of Iran nor the people of the United States have been well served by Biden’s willingness to accept Trump’s Iran policy as an acceptable alternative to Obama’s, even as a temporary political expedient. To allow Trump’s abandonment of an Obama-brokered agreement to stand as a long-term U.S. policy would be an even greater betrayal of the goodwill and good faith of people on all sides.
Biden and his advisers must now confront the consequences of the position their wishful thinking and dithering has landed them in, and must make a genuine and serious political decision to rejoin the JCPOA within days or weeks.
Mobilizations took to the streets of Colombia on April 28 in a national strike to protest social injustice and aggressive tax reforms proposed by the Iván Duque government. Student movements, trade unions, young peoples’ organizations, feminist groups, and indigenous and Afro-descendant peoples’ movements marched, blocked roads and held cultural activities in urban centers and rural territories throughout the country, exercising their right to peaceful protest. But the state wasted no time in responding with violent repression, especially in major cities such as Calí, Bogotá, Palmira and Popayán.
Although the vast majority of protests have been peaceful, isolated incidents of looting and violence have been used as an excuse for using excessive force against protesters. Media discourses around “good protesters” and “bad protesters” legitimize this response. Widespread reports of infiltrators are being used to provoke violence and looting, as has been the case in previous strikes in the country. Armed forces reportedly have stood by and allowed looting to take place, only to later respond to such incidents with violent repression.
Rather than heeding the demands of the citizens against the tax reform and social injustice, the state has responded with militarization, turning peaceful demonstrations into scenes of war. Helicopters circle above protest points and communities, while tanks thunder through narrow city streets.
Several cities are occupied by four armed state actors:
Escuadrón Móvil Antidisturbios (ESMAD, or Mobile Anti-Riot Squads of the National Police),
military forces and
Grupo Operativo Especial de Seguridad del Cuerpo Nacional de Policía (GOES, or Special Security Task Force of the National Police Force).
Instead of seeking to pacify the situation and protect citizens, these forces have increasingly threatened security, peace and human rights.
Flagrant Human Rights Abuses
Countless videos recorded by protesters and onlookers circulate daily on social media, showing cases of police brutality, indiscriminate shootings, and the use of tear gas inside barrios that contain children and elderly people. Over the past few days, the violence has taken on a new face in Calí, with the presence of plainclothes police officers and reports of unmarked cars carrying out drive-by shootings against protesters.
Bogotá-based non-governmental organization Indepaz reports the following occurred between April 28 and May 8:
47 murders (the majority of whom have been young adults and 4 of whom were minors),
12 cases of sexual violence,
28 eye injuries,
1,876 acts of violence,
963 arbitrary detentions and
548 forced disappearances.
Reports are circulating of people being arrested and denied information of their destination, violating their rights to due process and exposing them to the risk of arbitrary detention, cruel and inhumane treatment, and forced disappearance.
Armed police have threatened lawyers and human-rights defenders when inquiring about missing people at police stations. The international community woke up to the seriousness of the situation when, on May 3, members of a humanitarian mission including UN and state representatives were attacked by armed police while waiting to enter a police station in search of missing people. On April 7, as a humanitarian mission was taking place north of Calí with the presence of Senator Alexander Lopez, a drive-by shooting took place, injuring one person and killing three.
The Racialization of State Repression
The violence and repression has a disproportionate impact on Black communities, only mirroring Colombia’s ongoing internal armed conflict. For example, 35 of the 47 murders Indepaz reported took place in Calí, home to South America’s second-largest Afro-descendant population. No surprise that structural and systemic racism are deeply ingrained in Calí. Many of the most aggressive cases of state violence have been carried out in neighborhoods with majority or significant Afro-descendant populations, treating communities as enemies of war. Historically, these barrios have suffered socio-economic exclusion, further entrenched by the impacts of the COVID-19 pandemic, structural racism and state violence. Many barrio residents already were victims of forced displacement, having fled the armed conflict in the majority Afro-descendant regions of the northern Cauca Department, in which Calí is located, and the Pacific coast.
While official statistics do not reveal the proportion of Black victims in this current wave of police brutality due to a lack of disaggregated data, photos of victims clearly show the disproportionate impact on young Afro-descendant men.
Racial profiling not only underpins state violence, but is central in the denial of state responsibility and impunity. Already, discussions around existing gang violence and urban conflicts are being used to question whether many of these young men participated in the protests or were delinquents killed in the context of the everyday violence in their communities. This discourse no doubt seeks to reduce the numbers of protest-related deaths, simultaneously justifying the deaths of young Black men. The first death registered in Calí took place in the majority Black barrio, Marroquin II, where a 22-year-old man was killed. But the military later denied his death was related to the protests.
Militarization, Imperialism and the Protests
The current situation in Colombia cannot be understood in isolation from the wider armed conflict and the ever-deepening neoliberal agenda supported and sustained by the United States and multinationals that feed off Colombia’s natural resources. U.S. imperialist interests in the region have been clear since the late 19th century, with the attempted invasion of Colombia’s neighbor, Panama, in 1885 and the start of the Panama Canal project in 1904. In 1948, the Organization of American States was created during a meeting in Colombia.
Colombia has been the strategic point for Washington’s political, economic and military operations in recent decades. Thanks to U.S. technical and logistical support, Colombia is now one of the greatest military powers in the region. With the 1999 signing of Plan Colombia and the 2002 Patriot Plan, U.S. military presence and influence has only deepened.
Further, U.S. military support has always depended on state policies that benefited U.S. imperial interests. For example, in 2009 the United States signed an agreement with the Uribe Government to be able to operate from seven Colombian military bases. Although this agreement was blocked by the Constitutional Court, the Santos government later arrived at alternative bilateral agreements. These enabled access and use of the bases in practice, and further facilitated the fruitless and dangerous strategy of spraying the herbicide, glyphosate, on illicit crops. All of this sustains the ideology of the “internal enemy” and the terrorist threat that underpinned the original emergence and expansion of paramilitarism in the 1980s.
It is precisely this paramilitarism model the Colombian state is using in the context of the current protests, particularly in Calí, where state agents, often without proper identification, collaborate with civilians to shoot and kill protesters from high-end cars. The Indigenous Guard, accompanying the protests in Calí, have suffered several attacks of this kind, most recently on May 9, when eight people were wounded.
This violent state repression is yet another consequence of imperialist intervention and the extractivist neoliberal project that uses militarism to eliminate a historically racialized population it considers residual as well as a threat to the capitalist, white-supremacist order.
Esther Ojulari is a human-rights and racial-justice activist and sociologist. She is a Ph.D. candidate at the University of London, writing on transitional justice and reparations for the Afro-descendant people in Colombia. She worked for eight years as a consultant in the Office of the United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights (OHCHR) on Afro-descendant rights. Esther is currently Regional Coordinator in Buenaventura, Calí and Northern Cauca for the Consultancy for Human Rights and Displacement (CODHES). She is a member of several Afro-descendant and African-led international networks and coalitions.
Harrinson Cuero Campaz is a Afro-Colombian rights activist. He is a Ph.D. candidate writing on sustainability in urban and regional planning for biologically and culturally diverse territories. He is a social activist and member of the Proceso de Comunidades Negras (PCN, or Black Communities Process). Harrinson currently works as regional representative of Consultancy for Human Rights and Displacement (CODHES) and as a coordinator for the formulation of the Special Territorial Plan of the District of Buenaventura 2021-40.
On July 2, fleeing questions from reporters about U.S. plans in Afghanistan, President Joe Biden sought refuge behind the July 4 Independence Day holiday. Yet, he obliquely acknowledged the United States will use some level of “over the horizon” air attacks to prevent the Taliban from taking power, attacks that will include drones and manned aircraft, possibly even B-52s.
Here is a portion of Biden’s remarkable exchange with the press, which occurred at the close of his comments on the June 2021 jobs report:
Q: Are you worried that the Afghan government might fall? I mean, we are hearing about how the Taliban is taking more and more districts.
THE PRESIDENT: Look, we were in that war for 20 years. Twenty years. And I think — I met with the Afghan government here in the White House, in the Oval. I think they have the capacity to be able to sustain the government. There are going to have to be, down the road, more negotiations, I suspect. But I am — I am concerned that they deal with the internal issues that they have to be able to generate the kind of support they need nationwide to maintain the government.
Q: A follow on that thought on Afghanistan —
THE PRESIDENT: I want to talk about happy things, man.
Q: If there is evidence that Kabul is threatened, which some of the intelligence reports have suggested it could be in six months or thereabout, do you think you’ve got the capability to help provide any kind of air support, military support to them to keep the capital safe, even if the U.S. troops are obviously fully out by that time?
THE PRESIDENT: We have worked out an over-the-horizon capacity that we can be value added, but the Afghans are going to have to be able to do it themselves with the Air Force they have, which we’re helping them maintain.
Q: Sir, on Afghanistan —
THE PRESIDENT: I’m not going to answer any more quick question on Afghanistan.
Q: Are you concerned —
THE PRESIDENT: Look, it’s Fourth of July.
When Biden refers to “over-the-horizon capacity that we can be value added” he is referring to a plan, that appears might cost $10 billion, to fly drones and manned attack aircraft from bases as far away as Qatar, the United Arab Emirates and Kuwait to assist the current Afghan central government in defending itself against the Taliban.
His statement is the first acknowledgement that the “over-the-horizon” air operations, that reportedly may rely very heavily on drone assassination and drone targeting for manned aircraft, will be directed at the Taliban. In Congressional testimony in June, Defense Secretary Lloyd Austin said that “over-the-horizon” operations would focus on “elements that can possibly conduct attacks against our homeland,” suggesting Al Qaeda and ISIS as targets but not foreclosing attacks against the Taliban.
Biden’s remarks about “over the horizon” as “value added” flowing into “but the Afghans are going to have to be able to do it themselves with the Air Force they have”, is reminiscent of former President Richard Nixon’s attempt to argue that the puppet government of Viet Nam was developing the power to defend itself, attempting to cover U.S. tracks out of the horribly disastrous U.S. colonization project in Viet Nam.
“Our air strikes have been essential in protecting our own remaining forces and in assisting the South Vietnamese in their efforts to protect their homes and their country from a Communist takeover”, Nixon said in a 1972 speech to the nation.
The apparent U.S. decision to continue to assist the Afghan central government from the air comes in company with a New York Timesreport saying that President Biden has placed “temporary limits on counterterrorism drone strikes and commando raids outside conventional battlefield zones like Afghanistan and Syria, and it has begun a broad review of whether to tighten Trump-era rules for such operations, according to officials.”
A similar report in Foreign Affairs, says that there has been an apparent reduction in U.S. drone attacks, and details elements of a “bigger rethink” process that the Biden administration is said to be going through to limit civilian deaths and reevaluate how the U.S. should respond to “the overseas terrorist threat.” A goal of the Administration, the report says, is to end the U.S. “forever” wars.
It must also be said, however, that these reports indicate that President Biden fully intends to continue the U.S. drone assassination/pre-emptive killing policy of Bush, Obama and Trump, possibly with more care for civilians casualties but in defiance of international principles of war, as outlined on BanKillerDrones.org, that would rule out the use of weaponized drones and military drone surveillance altogether whether inside or outside a recognized combat zone.
It appears that the reformist talk from Biden officials, much of it unattributed and therefore having no accountability, is intended to divert and placate those of us citizens who are revulsed by continuing drone atrocities, such as those leading 113 peace, justice and humanitarian organizations who signed a letter demanding “an end to the unlawful program of lethal strikes outside any recognized battlefield, including through the use of drones.” Apart from the view, noted above, that drone attacks and surveillance are illegal anywhere, we have the question of the U.S. having turned the entire world into a potential “recognized battlefield.”
Even though U.S. ground forces have largely left Afghanistan, it is clear that the Biden administration considers Afghanistan a legitimate battlefield for U.S. air forces.
In Biden’s “value added” remark, one can see a clear message: Regardless of talk of a more humanitarian policy of drone killing and ending “forever” wars, the president has decided that prolonged civil war in Afghanistan is in the interest of the United States. Possibly this is because continued turmoil in Afghanistan will be unsettling and preoccupying to her neighbors, Iran, Pakistan, Russia and China. Possibly it is because a civil war will make it easier for corporations and banks to exploit Afghanistan’s mineral, fossil fuel and opium wealth.
Certainly, continued U.S. air assaults in Afghanistan will generate money for U.S. military contractors.
With continuing U.S. air and commando attacks, Afghanistan can turn into a Libya, a divided, stalemated, suffering, bleeding country, where Turkey, Russia and China test their weapons and seek advantage.
Indeed, the U.S. is negotiating with Turkey, over the objection of the Taliban, to maintain “security” at the Kabul International Airport. Undoubtedly, the Turkish political/military/corporate elite, who have their own expansionary ambitions, will use its drones, among them the semi-autonomous Kargu 2, to try to hold the airport and surrounding territory.
The Black Alliance for Peace released a statement on June 25, opposing “any effort to prolong the U.S. war on the Afghan people, including efforts to keep the United States engaged in any form in Afghanistan.” The statement expressed concern for “the continued operation of U.S. special forces and mercenaries (or contractors) in Afghanistan, as well as U.S.-pledged support for Turkish military defense of Kabul International Airport, a site that has continued to be a major U.S. military stronghold to support its imperial presence.”
Biden would do well to heed this statement, along with a petition to him, circulated by BanKillerDrones.org, urging no further U.S. air attacks against the Afghan people.
Now that Independence Day has passed, perhaps Biden will be more willing to answer questions about the real goals of “over the horizon.”
Nick Mottern co-coordinates BanKillerDrones.com and is coordinator of Knowdrones.com.
Editor’s Note: The following article contains terminology that may allude readers. However, Toward Freedom published this piece because it provides a different dimension to the struggle against U.S. imperialism. The Qiao Collective, of which the writer is a member, is comprised of members of the Chinese diaspora who seek to explain U.S. imperialism’s impact on China.
On May 26, 2021, President Joe Biden ordered U.S. intelligence agencies to produce “analysis of the origins of COVID-19” within 90 days. This move followed weeks of speculation surrounding the claim that the virus had escaped from a Chinese laboratory, usually identified as the Wuhan Institute of Virology. Having rightly rejected this claim for more than a year as a Trumpian conspiracy theory, centrist and liberal commentators in the West have breathed new life into the “lab leak” hypothesis, taking cues from allegations and claims made by U.S. state leaders and corporate media. Meanwhile, Facebook and other social media giants reversed their censorship of lab-leak disinformation almost overnight, impelled by a tawdry mix of insinuations from unnamed U.S. intelligence sources and vague allegations of impropriety relating to the World Health Organization’s investigation into the origins of the pandemic earlier this year.
Right on schedule, the nation’s finest intelligence analysts delivered their report to the White House on August 24 and released an unclassified summary three days later. The once hotly anticipated story landed like a damp squib and was buried by the regular news cycle in less than a day. In part, this was due to the inconclusive nature of the findings: four intelligence community (IC) elements and the National Intelligence Council assessed “with low confidence” that SARS-CoV-2 emerged from “natural exposure,” another IC element leaned “with moderate confidence” toward lab leak, and three others did not commit either way, though they naturally all agreed that “Beijing… continues to hinder the global investigation, resist sharing information and blame other countries, including the United States.” But what really doomed the report to oblivion was a signal failure of U.S. intelligence—and the entire imperial apparatus—on a far grander scale: the utter rout of the United States’ puppet regime in Afghanistan by the Taliban, who in 10 days captured every provincial capital (save one), including Kabul.
One underexplored throughline linking both events is Biden’s fraught though largely earnest attempts to restore the traditionally multilateral basis of the U.S. empire, drawing a sharp distinction with his predecessor Donald Trump. While Trump dramatically withdrew the United States from the WHO at the height of a global pandemic in 2020, alleging an entirely illusory pro-China bias, one of Biden’s first acts in office was to rejoin the organization. WHO Director-General Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus duly celebrated the restoration of U.S. funding by contradicting the WHO mission’s own assessment, as part of a joint study with China, that “introduction through a laboratory incident was considered to be an extremely unlikely pathway.”
Biden’s penchant for pursuing the new cold war through multilateral channels has continued in his engagement with the G7 and NATO. Trump famously denigrated both forums and delighted in alienating the United States’ sub-imperial vassals. Biden has, meanwhile, used these summits to great effect as ostensibly internationalist window dressing for the military encirclement of China. In June, a NATO Brussels Summit Communiqué for the first time identified “China’s stated ambitions and assertive behaviour” as “systemic challenges to the rules-based international order and to areas relevant to Alliance security.” In the months since, Britain, France, and even Germany have launched performative naval incursions into the South China Sea—almost the antipodal opposite of the alliance’s ostensible remit in the North Atlantic.
Biden and the Democrats’ response to the domestic surge in anti-Asian racism, effectively delinking it rhetorically from their imperial aggression against China, has followed a similar logic. Gone are the days of presidential bombast over the “China virus” and the “Kung Flu.” Instead, after the Atlanta spa shootings of March 16, the Democrats worked overtime to identify Trump and his loyalists as the unique locus of violent anti-Asian animus. They extended the promise of full inclusion into American society and protection from isolated acts of vigilante terror—a promise somehow underwritten by a violently racist policing system and conditioned on mawkish displays of loyalty to the imperial project. The United States’ selective incorporation of the Asian and particularly Chinese diaspora, in exchange for Asian Americans’ active collusion in the relentless demonization by the United States of their countries of origin, has ample historical precedent. That Biden signed the (predictably hyper-carceral) COVID-19 Hate Crimes Act on May 20, 2021, mere days before ordering his intelligence apparatus to fan the flames of sinophobic hate by promoting the lab-leak myth, is testament to the inestimable hypocrisy of liberal “anti-racism.”
No figure in the Biden administration so thoroughly embodies the hollowness of such politics as Kamala Harris, an infamously vindictive ex-prosecutor now feted as the first Black and Asian vice president. Coincidentally or not, she too found herself playing an awkwardly timed bit part in the hybrid war on China as her government’s imperial designs in Afghanistan hurtled to their ignoble denouement. While the humbled U.S. military shambolically evacuated the one remaining piece of Afghan territory it controlled after a 20-year war—making sure to commit some parting war crimes for long-suffering civilians to remember it by—Harris was tasked with enlisting Singapore and Vietnam into the United States’ machinations in the South China Sea. Vietnam at least did not take the bait, instead reaffirming its historic ties to the People’s Republic of China as a fellow socialist state.
All that said, the most spectacular failure of the United States’ return to traditional alliance structures is undoubtedly the Afghanistan withdrawal itself. The irony is inescapable: Joe Biden, who staked so much on multilateralism and a clean reputational break with his predecessor, has infuriated his “coalition partners” by honoring Trump’s unilateral commitment to end 20 years of brutal military occupation. Extraordinarily, the United States has arm-twisted its Western allies into accepting the unmitigated defeat of a common imperial project, which it initiated, gravely harming its relations with its allies in the process.
Already, of course, the U.S. and its allies are undermining the prospects for lasting peace by threatening the new Afghan government with debilitating sanctions and fearmongering about a new “Taliban-Pakistan-China” axis. This confluence of events has not gone unnoticed in China, where Foreign Minister Wang Yi pointedly urged the U.S. to “work with the international community to provide Afghanistan with urgently-needed economic, livelihood, and humanitarian assistance” while condemning “the so-called investigation report on COVID-19 origins produced by the U.S. intelligence community” on a call with U.S. Secretary of State Antony Blinken.
In the fevered imaginations of U.S. war planners and their media sycophants, the empire’s greatest ideological, civilizational, and racial enemies of the last century—communism, Islamist jihadism, and a rising China—seem to be fusing into one. Hopefully, recent events have taught the United States’ prospective partners to think twice before following them once more unto the breach.