During his recent visit to the White House, US President Joe Biden promised Volodymyr Zelenskyy that the Ukrainian leader would “never stand alone”. The grinning Zelenskyy reminded me of a football manager who gets the full public endorsement of his club chairman days before being sacked.
The likely reality is that the public expression of support from the most powerful man in the world holds as much water as a broken sieve. Biden will keep American weapons flowing for the war against Russia as long as it suits Washington to do so, and not a moment longer. Such is the way with all US promises.
After losing the 20-year war in Afghanistan it is obvious the US is seeking to fight and win future battles by proxy. US boots on the ground will be in short supply. Someone else will do the fighting against America’s perceived enemies. Can Ukrainians trust Biden, though? Or any other US president? Over the years those in the White House have betrayed others on a number of occasions; just ask the Palestinians, Vietnamese, Iraqi Kurds and Afghans, for example.
Washington is indeed a daunting enemy, but its friendship is also perilous. Millions of people in Britain marched against the invasion of Iraq in 2003, but the friendship between President George W Bush and Prime Minister Tony Blair saw British troops dragged into a war that the country had clearly rejected. The result was more than a million widows and orphans in Iraq, a country which is still in turmoil today.
America’s foreign policy betrayals are many, as MEMO writer Omar Ahmed observed last year: “The US has form in this regard. We saw, for example, how it betrayed the people of Iraq during and after the 1991 uprisings; how it abandoned the Afghan government in the face of the Taliban takeover; how it stopped supporting armed opposition groups in Syria; and how it has betrayed the Kurds on numerous occasions. In fact, the manner in which the US under President Donald Trump turned its back on its Syrian Kurdish allies led Ukrainians to fear that they would be next in line to suffer a similar fate.”
I believe that the war in Ukraine was imposed on the innocent Ukrainians, but not necessarily by Moscow. Russia was wrong to invade the country and is wrong to remain there; I accept that unconditionally, but Vladimir Putin was goaded into launching his invasion. The US poked the Russian bear with a sharp stick in the secure knowledge it would react aggressively.
While NATO was playing war games on Russia’s borders this time last year, remember, the Russian leader urged Biden to sit and talk. When the two finally spoke it was a 50-minute phone call on 30 December 2021, their second conversation that month at Putin’s request. Biden said that he needed to see Russia cut its military build-up on Ukraine’s borders; Putin responded by saying that sanctions threatened by Washington and its allies could lead to a rupture in ties.
We have to ask if Zelenskyy has unwittingly become a useful idiot for the US. Wearing his now trademark military-style trousers and T-shirt, he has welcomed US support while warning that it is difficult to see an easy end to the conflict. “There cannot be any just peace in a war that was imposed on us,” he insists.
His fiery speech was very different to the words from the same Ukrainian leader who twelve months ago urged the US president to tone down his rhetoric against Russia. However, like many leaders who rely on the US for support, his own rhetoric has become more aggressive as Biden upped the ante in the war of words with Putin.
Perhaps intoxicated by US power, the Ukrainian leader headed for Washington to address the US Congress last week, with the incoming Republican leadership of the House of Representatives becoming less enthusiastic about writing out blank cheques for military aid to Kyiv. Public support is thus essential.
I’m not sure if Zelenskyy is naive or has been dazzled by the scale of America’s military power, but is Biden’s support really unconditional? As I wrote following a recent visit to Afghanistan, US bombs and missiles are no longer dropping on innocent Afghans, but Biden’s executive order imposing sanctions and freezing Afghan assets has consigned a huge number of innocent people to a slow death by starvation. If that isn’t a war crime or crime against humanity, I don’t know what is.
The US has treated Afghanistan like a high-maintenance military playground, and ordinary people have suffered as a result. Biden has even cussed the Afghans for being ungrateful and not fighting back against the Taliban. How long, I wonder, will it take him to turn on the heroic Ukrainians who have more than proved themselves in the face of Russian aggression?
Perhaps no one has been more betrayed by the US than the Palestinians. President Bill Clinton put himself at the heart of the Oslo Accords, the much-heralded “peace deal” between Israel and Palestinian leaders signed nearly 30 years ago. The deal has been exposed as a sham, and the Zionist state’s occupation of Palestine continues to grow and look permanent, although few in Washington and other Western capitals will admit it, not least US presidents. The fact is that the two-state solution is long dead. In its place we see growing support for a one-state solution — a secular state with equality and democratic rights for all — because Palestinians recognise that it is the only way that hundreds of thousands of Palestinian refugees might be able to fulfil their legitimate right of return.
Clinton encouraged the Palestinians to dream of peace but, despite the treaties, promises and pledges from successive presidents in Washington, those dreams lie in tatters. He betrayed the Palestinians big time. When the Oslo Accords were signed in 1993, 110,000 illegal settlers lived in the occupied Palestinian territories; today there are 600,000. Clinton’s promises were a classic Washington betrayal. So much so, that few Palestinians will ever put their faith in a US president ever again.
Some political observers cite the Vietnam War as a low point in US history when secret talks with North Vietnamese representatives opened up with America in Paris. The US supported the South Vietnamese, sending money, supplies and military advisers, but tens of thousands of body bags containing the remains of US soldiers saw domestic opposition to the war grow.
In order to get Saigon to accept the agreement negotiated secretly between Washington and Hanoi, the US promised to provide substantial military aid to South Vietnam. That aid never materialised.
A peace treaty was signed in January 1973 between the US and Vietnam’s warring parties, leading to a full and ignominious withdrawal of US forces. A similar scenario was played out in Afghanistan in 2021. “It is so easy to be an enemy of the United States,” said former South Vietnamese leader Nguyen Van Thieu, wryly, “but so difficult to be a friend.”
The irony is that the official motto of the United States is “In God We Trust”. That’s probably just as well, because trust in the US leadership is at an all-time low at home and abroad. Zelenskyy should take Biden’s words with more than a little pinch of salt. No US president can be trusted; their promises only last as long as they suit Washington.
The views expressed in this article belong to the author and do not necessarily reflect the editorial policy of Middle East Monitor.