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The Biden Administration has a selling point that is even less visible than the withdrawal from Afghanistan: the antitrust campaign by the Department of Justice and the Federal Trade Commission (FTC).
A version of this column originally ran in Le Devoir on March 30, 2024. Translated from the French by Elettra Pauletto.

I am no great supporter of Joe Biden, nor of his first-term record. I believe that his destruction of Bernie Sanders’ social-democratic movement, carried out with the complicity of Democratic Party leaders, was devastating. I find it more useful and interesting to criticize Biden’s ultra-centrist policies than to add my voice to the anti-Trump hysteria that dominates my natural habitat among right-minded New Yorkers.

The media’s absurdly enthusiastic response to Biden’s State of the Union address on March 7 only served to irritate me. In the Wall Street Journal, Peggy Noonan, a former speechwriter for President George H. W. Bush, called Biden’s speech “fiery,” extolling his “energy” and “focus.” 

“There’s life in the old boy yet,” the Republican writer trumpeted. 

That said, some very good reasons to support Biden were conspicuously absent from the State of the Union address: he should have at least mentioned his withdrawal from Afghanistan. Although its chaotic execution was deemed disastrous for American credibility by the Washington consensus, it was largely a success. Do we know of any other military withdrawal on such a massive scale, in such a hostile environment, that could have been aired on TV without showing overwhelming images of death and despair?

To be sure, we could have extracted more pro-American Afghans in the early days of the withdrawal. But with Taliban spies scattered throughout the national army and government, such an operation would have sparked more panic and death. In one way or another, it was necessary to put an end to this foolish venture. And military evacuations are never pretty. Biden was carrying the burden not just of George W. Bush’s past stupidity but also that of a critic of the Iraq invasion, none other than Barack Obama, who in 2009 authorized the “surge” of 30,000 soldiers in Afghanistan, an act so cynical and counterproductive that I still can’t believe it happened.

We never should have tried to occupy that unconquerable country, especially not after bungling the Tora Bora mission to capture Osama bin Laden. The Taliban had nothing to do with September 11, and Afghan tribes didn’t want anything to do with our concept of freedom and democracy. “We know from experience that imposing a law on a people from the outside never works,” declared French President Jacques Chirac, a military veteran of the French expulsion from Algeria, a few months after the 2003 invasion of Iraq.

I would like to see all Afghan girls permitted to go to school, but not if they can only do so under the permanent protection of soldiers from Kansas or California. So well done, Mr. Biden. Stunted since childhood in focus and judgment, former president Trump ordered the withdrawal from Afghanistan just before the end of his term, without any planning and, oddly, without notifying the armed forces before signing the order.

Nevertheless, the Biden Administration has a selling point that is even less visible than the withdrawal from Afghanistan: the antitrust campaign by the Department of Justice and the Federal Trade Commission (FTC). The United States enjoys a glorious tradition of public intervention in private markets in order to curb the concentration of power of big businesses: railways in the nineteenth century; oil a little after the turning of the twentieth; and telecommunications in 1913. The great jurist Louis Brandeis eloquently summarized this threat by saying, “We may have democracy, or we may have wealth concentrated in the hands of a few, but we can’t have both.”

Our world today is as politically subjugated as it was in the days of Standard Oil and its boss, oligarch John D. Rockefeller. The current danger comes from the concentrated power held by Big Tech. Mark Zuckerberg, CEO and founder of Facebook, and Amazon founder Jeff Bezos (who enjoys intimidating Congress as owner of the Washington Post) are perhaps the closest thing we have today to  Rockefeller-like capitalists. By financially stripping media outlets that once served as barriers against attacks by private interests often intertwined with political factions, Google has become just as toxic and destructive to democratic culture. The Biden Administration has noticed and revived the antitrust spirit within the federal government.

The Justice Department has filed two lawsuits against Google for anticompetitive – and therefore illegal – manipulation of Internet searches and online advertising markets. The first suit was initiated at the end of the Trump Administration; the second – more sophisticated and potentially more damaging because it targets the enormous revenues stolen from newspapers and magazines – was launched in January 2023 by Jonathan Kanter, head of the antitrust section.

Kanter understands the stakes better than anyone aside from Lina Khan, head of the FTC, who launched her own antitrust suit against Amazon in September. It’s hard to say which of these giant corporations is the worst. But weakening, and possibly breaking up, Big Tech, is essential to a free and pluralistic America and a completely honorable reason to vote for Biden.

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