It has been just over a year since Joe Biden took office as President of the United States, and that year has been an eventful one. In the span of 12 months, President Biden has withdrawn the United States from a conflict that had defined two decades of U.S. foreign policy, grappled with aggressive Russian military threats and political posturing towards Ukraine, and developed a federal response to the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic.
How have the attitudes, decisions, and policies of President Biden lined up with his numerous campaign promises, and how compatible have they been with the consistent life ethic?
President Biden did take the initiative to end the War in Afghanistan but killed almost a dozen civilians in a haphazard and gratuitous drone strike along the way. And although he brought U.S. involvement in combat in Afghanistan to a close, President Biden has also tacitly exhibited overwhelming support for military violence around the world.
In May 2021, the Biden administration drew ire and criticism for approving a massive $735 billion weapons sale to Israel. The sale came in the midst of renewed controversy over the conduct of the Israeli government, as various organizations accused the regime of subjecting Palestinians to apartheid measures, violating international law, and defying standards of human rights.
But bipartisan objections fell on deaf ears. The Israeli state obtained billions of dollars worth of sophisticated munitions from the United States, even as it continued the criminal use of unwarranted lethal force against Palestinian noncombatants; the displacement of Palestinian people through compulsory eviction and demolition of their homes; the restriction of Palestinian migration and movement within Israel and its illegally annexed territories, and the blockading of essential goods and services to Palestinian populations; the arbitrary arrests, indefinite incarcertaion, and torture of Palestinian citizens; and general discrimination against Palestinians in the form of targeted budget cuts, political suppression, national ingress limitations, and lack of access to due process. Also, Israeli armed forces — the intended recipients of those sophisticated munitions — arguably perpetrated war crimes when they killed 144 people while attacking the Gaza Strip, in a campaign that included bombing a building that contained offices for the Associated Press, Al Jazeera, and other news media outlets.
Later in 2021, the Biden administration struck an arms deal with Saudi Arabia, sending $650 million worth of U.S. defensive missiles and equipment to Riyadh in spite of the fact that Saudi troops have repeatedly contravened both the international laws of war as well as Yemeni national sovereignty with impunity. In the course of its intervention in the Yemeni Civil War, the Saudi military has executed unlawful airstrikes, engaged in the random detention and abuse of Yemeni people, and otherwise contributed to a rising death toll that has now surpassed 17,500 Yemeni civilians.
Under the leadership of President Biden, the United States has not only failed to hold foreign governments accountable for their misdeeds, but has continued to distribute advanced weaponry to some of the most dangerous national leaders and totalitarian regimes on the planet. Like many before him, President Biden is complicit in the wanton destruction of innocent lives and valuable property. And at his direction, the United States has implicated itself in numerous atrocities around the world.
While it peddled large quantities of military resources abroad, the Biden administration also worked to feed an insatiable military-industrial complex at home. As of February 2022, President Biden is reportedly planning a request for a more than $770 billion military defense budget for the fiscal year 2023. This vast total eclipses the previous record of roughly $753 billion sought by President Trump in 2020. With Biden at the helm, domestic spending on the U.S. military has only surged, while other pledged initiatives (such as student loan debt forgiveness) have stalled. Certainly, U.S. flirtation with the concept of interfering in a war in Eastern Europe is related to this increased investment in the U.S. military.
On eliminating military violence and securing peace for vulnerable individuals and groups, the Biden administration has a long, long way to go.
Refugee and Immigration Policy
In his very first week in office, President Biden formally reversed the “Muslim Ban”: an executive order issued by his predecessor that had proscribed or restricted the admission of refugees and others from seven predominantly Muslim countries for an indeterminate period; these countries included Iran, Iraq, Libya, Somalia, Sudan, Syria, and Yemen.
The 2017 ban interrupted the relocation of at least 104 refugees whose applications had already been accepted, thus halting the arrival of men, women, and children who had erstwhile been cleared for entry into the United States. And today, although the prohibition has been annulled, at least 53 of those applicants have now been denied under the Biden administration — many for unspecified reasons — despite the fact that their prior petitions for refugee status had been granted before the institution of the ban. Another 32 refugees are still waiting for their cases to be decided, even after a 2020 court ruling instructed the U.S. government to expedite applications that were immediately affected by the ban.
More broadly, President Biden has not actually fulfilled his commitments to welcome greater numbers of refugees. While he raised the annual refugee cap to 62,500 halfway through the fiscal year 2021, only 11,400 refugees were ultimately resettled in the United States that year: the lowest number since 1980. And while the refugee ceiling for the fiscal year 2022 is 125,000, a mere 3,200 refugees arrived in the United States in the first three months of the fiscal year, which set a pace for 12,800 refugees over the course of the year: a little more than one-tenth of the aforementioned maximum amount.
President Biden has an abysmal history on immigration policy as well. In March 2021, a CBS News report revealed that over 3,200 migrant children were detained in U.S. Customs and Border Protection cells, and that nearly half of those children were held for durations that exceeded the legal limit of three days. As recently as August 2021, the New York Times indicated that the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services had launched a probe into the “substandard conditions” of at least one facility, where accounts of overcrowding and lack of adequate care persist.
There have been other missteps too. In 2021, the emergence of disturbing photos that depicted U.S. Border Patrol agents on horseback pursuing and apparently whipping a group of Haitain migrants prompted public outcry. While an inquiry into the incident was announced, no disciplinary action has been taken. President Biden also renewed and expanded the Trump-era “Remain in Mexico” policy, which had resulted in the expulsion of more than 70,000 migrants awaiting potential resettlement in the United States and their confinement in dilapidated encampments and shelters across northern Mexico. And after guaranteeing that “no one” would be deported during his first 100 days in office, the Biden administration oversaw the deportation of tens of thousands of people.
President Biden has a dismal track record on refugee and immigration policy, and a complete overhaul of his approach ought to be a priority of his administration.
Criminal Justice and Law Enforcement Policy
Even as the American public demands criminal justice reform and the restructuring of police subsidization and training in the face of systemic injustice and militarized police brutality, President Biden called for more police funding. As President Biden neglected to take steps to reduce or abolish the LESO (1033) Program that funnels military gear from the Department of Defense to police departments across the nation, the Biden administration more than doubled the amount of money allocated to the federal COPS Hiring Program.
At the same time, President Biden pressured the U.S. Supreme Court to establish precedent in their ruling in the case of Caniglia v. Strom that would allow police officers to enter homes and seize firearms without a warrant: a procedure with eerie similarities to the perilous no-knock warrants that have yielded the deaths of dozens of Americans. He also attempted to appoint David Chipman as director of the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives (ATF), without addressing the unretracted lies disseminated by Chipman regarding the deadly events at Waco, Texas.
Biden has accomplished a handful of noble goals during his tenure: the conclusion of the “forever war” in Afghanistan and the imposition of a moratorium on the federal death penalty stand out among them.
But in many areas, the Biden presidency has been sorely lacking. With three years remaining in his first term, President Biden must rededicate his efforts to fostering and promoting policies that honor the value and dignity of human life.