By Kevin Gosztola
“American leadership still matters. The reality is the world simply does not organize itself,” Secretary of State Antony Blinken proclaimed at his confirmation hearing. “When we are not engaged, when we are not leading, then one of two things is likely to happen. Either some other country tries to take our place but not in a way that is likely to advance our interests and values, or maybe, just as bad, no one does and then you have chaos.”
Much like President Joe Biden, Blinken is a neoliberal Democrat who believes in the doctrine of “Manifest Destiny.” He thinks if the United States does not impose its will and shape the world then there will be no law and order. He cannot fathom how countries could survive on their own. At least, that is how he argues for greater American intervention in global regions.
Blinken was confirmed as secretary of state in a vote on January 26. Not a single Democrat in the Senate voted against Blinken.
He is a longtime ally of Biden, and during Biden’s first term as vice president, he was his national security adviser.
During President Barack Obama’s second term, Blinken was deputy secretary of state. He was also a part of President Bill Clinton’s National Security Council from 1994 to 2001.
Making Venezuela’s ‘Regime Enablers’ Finally Feel The Pain Of Sanctions
Blinken’s predecessor Mike Pompeo, a right-wing Christian reconstructionist, was involved in President Donald Trump administration’s failed regime change operation against Nicolas Maduro’s government in Venezuela. Yet, despite its failure, Blinken told Republican Senator Marco Rubio he thought the Biden administration should keep recognizing Juan Guaido as the one and only true “leader.”
“We need an effective policy that can restore democracy to Venezuela, free and fair elections,” Blinken declared. He even embraced sanctions, despite the fact that they have hampered the country’s ability to respond to the COVID-19 pandemic and resulted in the deaths of tens of thousands of Venezuelans.
“Maybe we need to look at how we more effectively target the sanctions that we have so that regime enablers finally feel the pain of those sanctions,” Blinken added.
However, a report [PDF] from the Congressional Research Service (CRS) dated January 22, 2021, indicates the sanctions by both the Obama and Trump administrations were targeted pretty well and imposed to inflict “pain” against 113 Venezuelans and 13 entities.
…President Maduro, his wife, Cecilia Flores, and son, Nicolás Maduro Guerra; Executive Vice President Delcy Rodriguez; Diosdado Cabello (Socialist party president); eight supreme court judges; the leaders of Venezuela’s army, national guard, and national police; governors; the director of the central bank; and the foreign minister…
Trump imposed sanctions to prohibit Venezuela from participating in U.S. financial markets and block the government’s ability to issue digital currency. Treasury Department officials prohibited corporations from purchasing Venezuelan debt. Venezuela’s state oil company, PdVSA, was aggressively targeted for seeking to evade U.S. sanctions and Venezuela’s central bank was sanctioned too.
Blinken Defends Being Wrong On War In Libya
Obama flouted the War Powers Act and launched a war in Libya against Muammar Gaddafi’s regime without the approval of Congress. It created a power vacuum filled by extremist militia groups and transformed the country into a failed state. Migrants are captured and sold in what the United Nations has referred to as “open slave markets.”
Despite the catastrophe sparked by war, Blinken defended his support for a regime change war. “I think it’s been written about. I — I was the president-elect’s national security adviser at the time. And he did not agree with that course of action.”
Biden was opposed to war in Libya. “My question was, okay, tell me what happens? [Gaddafi’s] gone. What happens? Doesn’t the country disintegrate? What happens then? Doesn’t it become a place where it becomes a petri dish for the growth of extremism? Tell me. Tell me what we’re gonna do.”
Rather than concede President Biden was right and he was wrong, Blinken signaled to Senate Republicans that he would be their hawk when Biden was too dovish.
Blinken bafflingly blamed Gaddafi, who was summarily executed, for what happened in Libya after his death.
“We didn’t fully appreciate the fact that one of the things Gaddafi had done over the years was to make sure that there was no possible rival to his power. And as a result, there was no effective bureaucracy, no effective administration in Libya with which to work when he was gone,” Blinken argued.
The Bothsidesism Of Blinken’s View Toward War In Yemen
Sarah Lazare recalled for In These Times the horrors unleashed on the people of Yemen, as a result of the Obama administration’s support for Saudi Arabia’s war against the Houthis.
“The coalition bombed a center for the blind, a funeral, a wedding, a factory and countless homes and residential areas, and blockaded Yemen’s ports, cutting off vital food and medical shipments — all while the Obama-Biden administration was in power,” Lazare wrote.
“Indeed, the Obama White House was so complicit in war crimes in Yemen in that its own State Department internally warned key U.S. military personnel could be subject to war crimes prosecution, according to a Reuters investigation published in October 2016. By July 2015, a United Nations official was already warning that Yemen was on the verge of a famine, a premonition that horrifically came true.”
One of Pompeo’s final actions was to sanction Houthis, which caused a disruption to aid groups delivering humanitarian assistance. Biden froze the sanctions for one month the same day the Senate confirmed Blinken.
Asked about the intense humanitarian crisis in Yemen, Blinken drew a false equivalency between the actions of the Houthis and the Saudis.
“We need to be clear-eyed about the Houthis. They overthrew a government in Yemen. They engaged in a path of aggression through the country. They directed aggression toward Saudi Arabia,” Blinken contended. “They’ve committed atrocities and human rights abuses and that is a fact. What’s also a fact though is that the Saudi-led campaign in Yemen to push back against
the Houthi aggression has contributed to what is, by most accounts, the worst humanitarian situation that we face anywhere in the world.”
The Houthis were part of the Arab Spring uprising in Yemen against the corrupt government of Ali Abdullah Saleh. State Department officials generally backed these rebellions against autocratic rulers.
According to a 2017 post from Bruce Riedel of the Brookings Institution, “American intelligence officials said that Iran was actually trying to discourage the Houthis from seizing Sanaa and openly toppling Hadi. Iran preferred a less radical course, but the Houthi leadership was drunk with success. Moreover, Undersecretary of Defense Michael Vickers said on the record in January that Washington had a productive informal intelligence relationship with the Houthis against al-Qaida. He suggested that the cooperation could continue.”
The Obama administration, which included Blinken, did not want to jeopardize a 70-year-plus alliance with Saudi Arabia and backed the monarchy’s intervention.
‘Very Much’ Supporting U.S. Arms Shipments To Ukraine
Blinken expressed his support for arming Ukrainian groups a total of three times. He even reminded Republican Senator Ron Johnson he had the opportunity in 2018 to write an op-ed for the New York Times promoting what senators euphemistically describe as “lethal defensive assistance.”
He told Republican Senator Rob Portman, “I very much support the continued provision to Ukraine of lethal defensive assistance and, and indeed, of the training program as well.”
“To the extent that across a couple of administrations, we’ve been able to effectively train and as well as assist in different ways the Ukrainians, that has made a material difference in their ability to withstand the aggression they’ve been on the receiving end of from Russia,” Blinken asserted.
It is difficult to gauge whether the policy has been effective or helped Ukrainians withstand battles with pro-Russian separatist groups. There is not a whole lot of reporting.
But Lieutenant General Ben Hodges, who was the commander of the U.S. Army in Europe, stated in 2015, “If the U.S. policy changed to provide, say, Javelins, for example, that would probably lead to increased lethality on the battlefield for the Ukrainians. It would not change the situation strategically in a positive way, because the Russians would double down. They would dramatically increase more violence, more death, more destruction.”
“The conflict in Ukraine’s mostly Russian-speaking industrial east, called Donbass, erupted in April 2014, weeks after Russia’s annexation of the Crimean Peninsula,” according to the Associated Press. “More than 14,000 people have been killed in fighting between Ukrainian forces and Russia-backed separatists.”
Professor Stephen Cohen called attention to the role of neo-Nazi forces in Ukraine. The overthrow of Viktor Yanukovych was a “violent coup” led by fascist conspirators opposed to Russia. They conducted exterminations of ethnic Russians. The Azov Battalion, part of Kiev’s armed forces, is pro-Nazi and was banned from receiving U.S. military aid, but it almost certainly obtained weapons shipped by the Trump administration from the black market.
“We are left then not with Putin’s responsibility for the resurgence of fascism in a major European country but with America’s shame, and possible indelible stain, on its historical reputation for tolerating it, even if only through silence,” Cohen concluded.
US Return To Iran Nuclear Deal Not Happening Soon
It was the United States under Trump that ditched the Iran nuclear deal, not Iran. Still, it is the Biden’s administration position that Iran should first “comply” with U.S. demands before the U.S. rejoins the deal.
“If Iran returns to compliance with the JCPOA [nuclear deal], we would do the same thing and then use that as a platform working with our allies and partners to build longer and stronger agreements — also capture some of the other issues that need to be dealt with, with regard to missiles, with regard to Iran’s activities and destabilizing activities in the region,” Blinken said.
“There is a lot that Iran will need to do to come back into compliance. We would then have to evaluate whether it actually [did] so. So, I don’t think that’s anything that’s happening tomorrow or the next day.”
Meanwhile, as CBS News described in November, Iran has endured a “harrowing, sanctions-fueled coronavirus catastrophe.”
Doctors experience shortages of every supply necessary for fighting the pandemic. “U.S.-led sanctions have choked off Iran’s access to foreign-made chemicals and equipment.”
Iran has begged Biden to lift sanctions that prevent Iran from accessing COVID-19 vaccines.
Melodramatically, Senator Marco Rubio feverishly asked Blinken has any doubt that the Chinese Communist Party’s goal is to be the “world’s predominant political, geopolitical, military, and economic power and for the United States to decline in relation.”
“I do not,” Blinken replied.
“You have no doubt?” Rubio chimed.
“I have no doubt,” Blinken restated.
From Obama to Trump, U.S. empire has prepared its forces for what it calls “great power competition” between China and Russia. It fears China will take the place of the U.S., leading to one of Blinken’s nightmare futures.
Much of the public is wary over military interventions in the Middle East. The threat of terrorism is no longer enough to justify expenditures toward an ever-gargantuan military-industrial complex. Countering China, however, is an easier sell.
“Forcing men, women, and children into concentration camps, trying to, in effect, reeducate them to be adherents to the ideology of the Chinese Communist Party, all of that speaks to an effort to commit genocide,” Blinken remarked.
Human rights abuses under Biden will increasingly be weaponized to defend policies and operations that ramp up tensions with China. Whether descriptions of China’s acts are accurate or not, the point will be to silence anyone who questions whether the violations are enough to warrant increased conflict. (Of course, how dare anyone raise the matter of U.S. deportation camps and their horrors or America’s mass incarceration of 1–2 million people to point out any sort of hypocrisy.)
After the House of Representatives voted to arm so-called rebel groups in Syria in 2014, MSNBC’s Joe Scarborough asked Blinken about concerns that arms “could end up in wrong hands.” Blinken brushed aside concerns and maintained the U.S. would vet and give arms to “the right people.”
In March 2016, the Los Angeles Times reported “CIA-armed units and Pentagon-armed [militias had] repeatedly shot at each other while maneuvering through contested territory on the northern outskirts of Aleppo” in Syria.
Blinken may not be rapture ready like his predecessor, Mike Pompeo. He may be more willing to wave the LGBTQIA+ rainbow flag when arming proxy forces or backing regime change operations. However, they are both devout believers in American exceptionalism.
He views Biden as a president who will put the “globe back on its axis” after Trump. He will spend his time at the State Department working to “restore democracy” and “renew” America’s “leadership” in the world. Which means Blinken will continue the many callous, cold, and calculating traditions of U.S. imperialism, promote hubris over humility, and commit himself to cloaking ignoble acts in the rhetoric of human rights.