Known for his exposés of Blackwater and the U.S. dirty wars in the Middle East, The Intercept reporter Jeremy Scahill’s latest blockbuster is a series on Joe Biden’s history as an “empire politician.”
The series is impressive and informative, however, it ignores certain unflattering historical facts and perpetuates a few popular misperceptions.
CovertAction Magazine commends The Intercept’s investigation into Biden’s influence on U.S. foreign policy over the last half-century, and hopes it will amend and improve it by examining some of the problems with what it reported—and the even greater problems with what it failed to report.
In his introduction, Scahill writes that after poring over congressional reports and speeches among other documents, he came to the conclusion that Biden is a man “dedicated to the U.S. as an empire, who believes that preserving U.S. national interests and ‘prestige’ on the global stage outweighs considerations of morality or even at times the deaths of innocent people.”
The series goes on to provide strong evidence to corroborate this assessment.
Scahill details, for example, Biden’s chairing of congressional hearings that helped build support for the 2003 War in Iraq, his staunch support for the bombing of Serbia and Kosovo, and for the kind of military occupation that the U.S. had conducted in Germany and Japan after WW II there.
Biden further supported U.S. aggression in Grenada, Libya and Panama in the 1980s, which resulted in the deaths of many civilians, and in 1981 voted to provide expansive aid to Pakistan in order to arm Islamic fundamentalists fighting the Soviet occupation of Afghanistan.
One year later, Biden tried to justify Israel’s killing of civilians in Lebanon, which even the Israeli Prime Minister Menachem Begin couldn’t do.
In the 1990s, Biden backed President Bill Clinton as he bombed a pharmaceutical factory in Sudan, and supported President George W. Bush’s sending suspected terrorist suspects to Guantanamo Bay.
Biden supported the bombing of the Al-Shifa pharmaceutical plant in Sudan under false pretexts in 1998. [Source: csmonitor.com ]
When he first ran for the Senate, Biden positioned himself as an opponent of the Vietnam War, albeit on tactical grounds, considering the war to have been “lousy policy” rather than a crime.
Before that Biden had obtained a draft deferment because he had asthma as a teenager. However, he never took part in antiwar protests and referred to antiwar protesters who had occupied the chancellor’s office at Syracuse University where he was a law student as “assholes.”
Senator-elect Joe Biden, D-Del., takes his oath of office in Washington, D.C., on Dec. 13, 1972. [Source: theintercept.com ]
During his early years in the Senate, Biden co-sponsored the 1973 War Powers Act, which mandated that presidents obtain congressional authorization before going to war.
Eighteen years later, Senator Biden denounced President George H.W. Bush’s “monarchist” disdain for congressional authority and opposed the Gulf War in Iraq.
Soon after Bush declared victory in the Gulf, Biden, however, determined that his opposition was a political mistake and began a transformation into a top hawk on Iraq and supporter of many subsequent wars.
While early in his career voting to rein in the CIA, he evolved also into a foe of whistleblowers and helped block the nomination of Theodore Sorensen as CIA Director when it was discovered that Sorensen had given an affidavit in the case of Pentagon Papers whistleblower Daniel Ellsberg that sympathized with Ellsberg.
Ted Sorensen, center, arrives with Sen. Daniel Patrick Moynihan, D-N.Y., right, at the Senate Intelligence Committee hearing on Sorensen’s nomination for CIA director on Jan. 17, 1977. [Source: theintercept.com ]
Distortions and Omissions
As the above summary indicates, there is much to learn from The Intercept’s series and admire.
However, there are certain topics that are only superficially covered, or inexplicably left out altogether.
Scahill, for example, says nothing about how Biden was mentored when he first came into the Senate “as a young kid” by Averell Harriman, the “father of the Cold War.”
A son of one of the original robber barons who founded the legendary Wall Street firm Brown Brothers & Co., Harriman served as U.S. ambassador to the Soviet Union 1943-1946, Secretary of Commerce 1946-1948, Governor of New York 1955-1958 and Undersecretary of State for Political Affairs under John F. Kennedy and Lyndon B. Johnson.
Harriman’s support for an aggressive anticommunist foreign policy was both ideological and personal; he lost a fortune when zinc mines that he had invested in were nationalized by communist regimes in Eastern Europe.
In the late 1970s, Biden accompanied Harriman and his wife Pamela on a trip to Yugoslavia to attend the funeral of Eduard Kardelj, Tito’s intellectual mentor [Tito was the socialist leader of Yugoslavia from 1953-1980].
W. Averell Harriman, Biden’s political mentor. [Source: wikipedia.org]
During their visit, Harriman predicted that the Soviet Union would collapse and told Joe that he should “get to know Yugoslavia” because it was an “area we could bring into the 21st century as an ally.”
Two decades later, as a prominent member of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, Biden helped see to it that Harriman’s ambition was fulfilled.
He supported secessionist factions in Bosnia-Herzegovina and Croatia that caused the breakup of Yugoslavia and aggressively promoted the bombing of Bosnia, Kosovo and Montenegro, whose end result was the establishment of a giant U.S. military base, Camp Bondsteel.
Aerial photo of Camp Bondsteel. [Source: wikipedia.org]
Scahill’s discussion of the Bosnia war omits any consideration of the geopolitical imperative underlying U.S. policy and presents a misleading narrative about the war.
He writes that “as Yugoslavia’ disintegrated in the early 1990s, Serbia and Croatia began a bloody battle for control of large swaths [of it].” The Serbs, however, had attempted to keep the Yugoslav federation together when Slovenia, Croatia and Bosnia-Herzegovina seceded with U.S. encouragement.
The IMF and World Bank had contributed to Yugoslavia’s dissolution through its promotion of fiscal austerity and neoliberal economic programs, which Scahill omits.
After his pithy assessment of the war’s origins, Scahill writes that in Bosnia, “Serb forces committed widespread atrocities, particularly against Muslims.” While this statement is true, it reinforces the dominant view of the Muslims as victims of Serb aggression and war crimes.
The Muslims not only committed their own gruesome atrocities, but were led by an Islamic fundamentalist, Alija Izetbegović, who had been arrested in World War II after recruiting Muslims for a military unit organized by the SS Gestapo.
Then Senator Biden speaks with Alija Izetbegović in Sarajevo on April 9, 1993. [Source: aljazeera.com]
The Muslim fighting regiments were also bolstered by 4,000 Arab jihadist fighters from Afghanistan, Algeria, and other Islamic countries and included two future 9/11 hijackers—a fact Scahill ought to have mentioned.
The quality of Scahill’s analysis descends further when he promotes misinformation about the July 1995 killings by Bosnian Serb forces of Muslims in Srebrenica.
Scahill writes that “the International Criminal Tribunal for the former Yugoslavia (ICTY)… determined that more than 8,000 people were killed during the massacre and ruled that the Bosnian Serb operations constituted genocide.”
But the 2001 ICTY judgment of Serb commander Radislav Krstic gave a low estimate of seven thousand men that were captured by the Serbian forces at Srebrenica and concluded that only a “few mortal remains” were found near the purported killing site.
The Sarajevo-based International Commission for Missing Persons (ICMP), an adjunct of the ICTY, which matched the DNA from bone samples with family members of persons reported as missing, in 2007 identified a total of 6,930 Srebrenica victims.
However, some on this list had gone missing prior to July 1995 and the study could not determine the cause of death. Autopsy reports referred to bodies where only shell or mortar fragments were found, militating strongly against the thesis that they were executed.
Satellite image of alleged mass graves were presented by U.S. ambassador to the UN Madeleine Albright at the UN several weeks after the alleged Srebrenica massacre. The problem is that proof of the mass graves has never been firmly established and Albright never made the photos available for public examination. [Source: nsarchive2.gwu.edu]
Another thing Scahil omits is that Muslim regiments under Naser Orić, commander of the Bosnian Army’s 29th Division, killed over 3,000 Serb soldiers and civilians from the Srebrenica area, including the town Mayor, before the Serb massacre took place.
Naser Orić a U.S.-supported warlord who bragged about massacres of Serbs committed near Srebrenica. [Source: serbiamonitor.com ]
Scahill makes a point of contrasting Biden’s agitation for war in the Balkans with his opposition to the use of force in Haiti to restore populist Jean-Bertrand Aristide to power after he had been ousted in a right-wing coup, insinuating that Biden was less concerned about Haitians because they were black.
This is fine, but Scahill could have written more about the politicization of human rights and geostrategic imperatives driving U.S. military intervention in the 1990s.
Biden and DuPont
A principle flaw of “Empire Politician” is that it does not discuss political-economy and the corporate interests that drove Biden’s support for the U.S. empire.
Readers are not made aware of the structural forces that need to be overcome for the forever wars to end. Scahill leaves the impression that Biden’s shifting and mostly odious record is the result of his own misjudgments, rather an oligarchic political system, and that a better man in his position might have done better.
We know that Biden enjoyed a particularly close relationship with the MBNA credit card company and big banks in Delaware along with the DuPont Corporation, the infamous war profiteer and polluter which for decades ruled Delaware like a personal fiefdom.
Biden’s first Senate campaign in 1972 was staffed by DuPont employees, had its office on a road named after DuPont and celebrated its victory in the Gold Ballroom of the Hotel DuPont.
Subsequently, Biden employed a DuPont lawyer as a top adviser and DuPont engineer as Senate chief of Staff and later head of his presidential transition team.
From 1974-1996, Biden lived in the DuPont mansion in Wilmington.
Aerial view of the DuPont mansion in Wilmington which Biden lived in from 1974 until 1996. [Source: housebeautiful.com ]
During the 2020 election cycle, DuPont provided the Biden campaign with $95,729.
Biden further received donations from DuPont lobbyists and executives working for companies owned by the Du Pont family.
In the early 1980s, Biden launched an investigation into Summit Aviation Corp., a Middletown, Delaware company owned by Richard “Kip” DuPont that ferried bombs and guns to the Nicaraguan Contras, a right-wing paramilitary group fighting the left-wing Sandinistas, but never released the findings.
Biden’s job clearly was to help to cover up for criminal activities by a prominent DuPont family member in return for DuPont supporting Biden’s political career.
DuPont later benefited from Biden’s policies in the Middle East, a fast-growing market for DuPont which supplies products to the oil and gas industry, and in Ukraine where the company opened a seed plant to support “increased demand for Pioneer brand corn hybrids.”
Imperial Vice President
Like with Biden’s ties to large corporations, Scahill is weak in analyzing Biden’s record as Vice President.
While acknowledging Biden’s role in supporting drone strikes and covert military interventions in the Middle East, he fails to discuss his advancement of U.S. corporate interests in Central America and record as the Obama administration’s key point man on Iraq.
In that latter capacity, Biden forged close relations with Nouri al-Maliki, the “Shia Saddam,” who helped trigger the growth of the Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant (ISIS) by oppressing Iraq’s Sunni population.
Biden laughs with Nouri al-Maliki, the “Shia Saddam,” at a press conference in Baghdad in 2009. [Source: sandiegouniontribune.com]
Biden later helped install Haidar al-Abadi as Iraq’s president in an attempt to fulfill the long-standing U.S. ambition of privatizing Iraq’s oil industry, and oversaw the Third Iraq War, which was among the least transparent in modern U.S. history.
Journalists Azmat Khan and Anand Gopal determined that one in five of the 27,500 coalition air strikes over Iraq resulted in at least one civilian death, more than 31 times that acknowledged by the U.S. government.
Scene from Mosul after its sacking by U.S.-coalition forces in 2016. [Source: time.com ]
The biggest elephant in the room is Ukraine.
Biden’s actions there during his Vice-Presidency were arguably the most unethical of his career and showed the maturation of a corrupt political figure.
Biden played a key role in supporting a coup in Ukraine in 2014 that brought to power a regime infiltrated by Neo-Nazis, and was a close confidante of post-coup president Petro Poroshenko, who presided over one of the most corrupt regimes in the world.
Biden enjoys a laugh with Petro Poroshenko, the most corrupt leader in Europe. [Source: covertactionmagazine.com ]
Biden further promoted expanded arms sales to the Ukrainian military while it carried out large-scale human rights atrocities in a dirty war in the East provoked by the coup.
Later Biden bragged about blackmailing Ukraine’s president to secure the firing of an honest Attorney General in order to protect a corrupt energy company, Burisma, which appointed his son Hunter to its board of directors—even though Hunter had no experience in the energy field.
New York Post feature story Biden and his son Hunter’s misdeeds in Ukraine, which Scahill ignores. [Source: nypost.com ]
Evidence has emerged that would indicate that Burisma was a CIA front, controlled by a warlord, Ihor Kolomoyskyi, who used it to finance private militias that were relied upon to wage the war in the East.
None of this is mentioned in “Empire’s Politician.”
Besides Ukraine, Scahill fails to address Biden’s support for color revolutions in Eastern Europe that resulted in the overthrow of pro-Russian leaders, and his support for oppressive rulers like Mikheil Saakashvili of Georgia (2004-2007; 2008-2013), who provoked a deadly war with Russia that Biden supported.
Saakashvili pins a medal on Biden in July 2009. [Source: facebook.com]
Pierre Omidyar and The Intercept’s Black Hole on Ukraine
Given the shortcomings in Scahill’s study, the question needs to be asked: is Scahill limited in his skills as a researcher and historian—merely a B or B+ level performer, or is he compromised by his work for The Intercept?
The Intercept was launched in 2014 with $50 million in seed money from Pierre Omidyar, the founder of e-bay and owner of PayPal, whom Forbes ranked as the 24th richest person in the world with an estimated net worth of $21.8 billion.
Pierre Omidyar [Source: usatoday.com ]
Journalists Max Blumenthal and Alec Rubinstein found that Omidyar has partnered closely with many of the U.S.-funded outfits that fulfill the role the CIA used to play during the Cold War in backing opposition media and civil society in countries targeted for regime change.
One of these countries is Ukraine. In 2011, Omidyar’s foundation, the Omidyar Network, gave $335,000 to “New Citizen,” an NGO that was mobilizing political support against Ukraine’s pro-Russian president Viktor Yanukovych, who was overthrown in the 2014 Maidan coup.
The head of New Citizen, Oleh Rybachuk, was a favorite of the State Department, DC neocons, the EU, and NATO—and the right-hand man to Viktor Yushchenko, who had led Ukraine’s 2004 Orange Revolution against Yanukovych, which Biden supported.
Scene from Ukraine’s 2004 Orange Revolution. [Source: pinterest.com]
Before the Maidan Square protests, Rybachuk boasted that he was planning another “Orange revolution.”
Oleh Rybachuk [Source: kyivpost.com ]
In December 2013, The Financial Times reported that Rybachuk’s “New Citizen” NGO campaign “played a big role in getting the [Maidan Square] protest up and running.”
New Citizen, along with the rest of Rybachuk’s network of NGOs and campaigns—“Center UA,” which Omidyar’s network provided over $100,000 to in 2012, “Chesno,” and “Stop Censorship”—targeted pro-Yanukovych politicians in an anti-corruption campaign that built its strength in Ukraine’s regions, before massing in Kyiv.
Omidyar’s Network further funded a virulently anti-Russian Ukrainian internet TV station, Hromadske TV, which promoted anti-Yanukovych propaganda during the Maidan protests, and Rappler, another internet TV station that allied with U.S. interests.
Omidyar’s background and support for the Maidan coup could very well explain why The Intercept’s exposé of Joe Biden leaves out Ukraine, and why Scahill watered down his analysis by omitting any discussion of political-economy.
Repression, Censorship, and Ideological Homogeneity on the Left
The Intercept’s black hole with regards to the Ukraine was apparent in the saga of Glenn Greenwald, who resigned after senior editors refused to publish an article of his about Biden and Ukraine before the November 2020 election.
Greenwald was The Intercept’s other star reporter who had published the Snowden leaks and reported on the machinations in Brazil that led to the impeachment of leftist leader Dilma Rousseff and jailing of Lula.
In his resignation letter, Greenwald wrote that “the same trends of repression, censorship and ideological homogeneity plaguing the national press generally have engulfed the media outlet I co-founded [The Intercept], culminating in censorship of my own articles.”
In a very subtle way, did Scahill succumb to the censorship and enforcement of ideological homogeneity by limiting the scope of his investigation into Biden?
After writing a puff piece about U.S. bombardiers in World War II entitled Bombs Away: The Story of a Bomber Team, famed author John Steinbeck wrote: “We were all part of the war effort… correspondents were not liars but it is in the things not mentioned that the untruth lies.”
Scahill is a viable critic of the military, but it is in the things not mentioned—Ukraine, Burisma, Averell Harriman, Naser Orić, Mosul, the Shia Saddam, Camp Bondsteel, Petro Poroshenko, Alija Izetbegović, and Dupont—that the untruth lies.
- “Radislav Krstić becomes the first person to be convicted of genocide at the ICTY and is sentenced to 46 years imprisonment.” UN, ICTY Press Release, August 4, 2001, https://www.icty.org/x/cases/krstic/tjug/en/010802_Krstic_summary_en.pdf ↑
- https://www.icmp.int/press-releases/over-7000-srebrenica-victims-recovered/; David Rohde, “Denying Genocide in the Face of Science,” The Atlantic, July 17, 2015. ↑
- Edward S. Herman and David Peterson, “The ‘Srebrenica Massacre’ Turns Twenty Years Old,” Dissident Voice, August 5, 2015, https://dissidentvoice.org/2015/08/the-srebrenica-massacre-turns-20-years-old/ Military service records showed that 140 of the total had been killed in combat months or years before the fall of Srebrenica. Stefan Karganovic, Deconstruction of a Virtual Genocide (Srebrenica Project, 2011), 186. Some on the Red Cross’ missing list also turned up on voter rolls later on and could have been captured or killed in other battles. ↑
- See The Srebrenica Massacre: Evidence, Context, Politics, ed. Edward S. Herman (Evergreen Park, Illinois: Alphabet Soup, 2011); Karganovic, Deconstruction of a Virtual Genocide. ↑
- “The Fall of Srebrenica, July 1995, Bosnia’s Darkest Hour: Srebrenica: Background and Battle,” Clinton Presidential Library, Yugoslavia Genocide, Srebrenica, https://clinton.presidentiallibraries.us/items/show/53013. Orić even bragged about killing 114 Serbs in one single incident. Scahill’s discussion of the Kosovo Liberation Army (KLA) is flawed because it omits its involvement in heroin trafficking and ties to Islamic extremism and fact that President Clinton’s special envoy to the Balkans, Robert Gelbard, referred to them as a “terrorist organization” mere months before the bombing commenced. Scahill misinterprets the reasons why KLA leader Hashim Thaçi was indicted for war crimes; he was accused of criminal involvement in over 100 murders during the war. ↑
- For a critical history of DuPont, see Gerard Colby, Du Pont Dynasty: Behind the Nylon Curtain (Secaucus, NJ: Lyle Stuart, 1984). ↑
- Colby, Du Pont Dynasty, 14, 786, 787. According to an international arms dealer who knew a Summit executive, Summit planes were used by high-ranking members of the Thai military in northern Thailand to protect illegal drug operations along the Cambodian border and for counterinsurgency operations in the Vietnam War and to protect the illegal Southeast Asian heroin connection by which the CIA funded mercenaries. Some of its warplanes–including ones outfitted for spraying crop defoliants–were sold illegally to dictatorships in Haiti, Honduras, Guatemala and Anastasio Somoza’s Nicaragua in operations supported by Theodore Roosevelt III. DuPont may have further set up military training camps at his Maryland farm where there were reports of automatic weapons being fired. ↑
- See Jeremy Kuzmarov, Obama’s Unending Wars: Fronting for the Foreign Policy of the Permanent Warfare State (Atlanta: Clarity Press Inc., 2019), 178-181. ↑
- John Steinbeck, Bombs Away: The Story of a Bomber Team (New York: Penguin Classics, 2009); Michael Sherry, The Rise of American Airpower (New Haven: Yale University Press, 1987), 137. ↑