Bidenâ€™s incoming team helped shape some of the most militaristic policies of the Obama administration.
By Sarah Lazare
Biden is already drawÂing from a host of pro-war indiÂvidÂuÂals from the ObaÂma era to fill his cabÂiÂnet. (Photo of Antony Blinken by MANDEL NGAN/AFP via Getty Images)
There was no reaÂson to think that a Biden adminÂisÂtraÂtion would be to the left of the ObaÂma adminÂisÂtraÂtion when it comes to forÂeign polÂiÂcy. Biden comes with a long politÂiÂcal career of supÂportÂing the wars of the UnitÂed States and its allies, from the 2003 invaÂsion of Iraq to Israelâ€™s aggresÂsion against PalesÂtiniÂans to the proÂtractÂed occuÂpaÂtion of Afghanistan. And whatÂevÂer limÂitÂed overÂtures he made to the Left durÂing his camÂpaign for the genÂerÂal elecÂtion in 2020 (while he simulÂtaÂneÂousÂly ran on disÂtancÂing himÂself from the Left), forÂeign polÂiÂcy was almost entireÂly omitÂted, as eviÂdenced by the issueâ€™s excluÂsion from the uniÂty task force with Bernie Sanders.
ObaÂma, with Biden at his side, overÂsaw interÂvenÂtion in Libya, disÂasÂtrous involveÂment in the Yemen war, ongoÂing occuÂpaÂtion in Afghanistan, supÂport for the coup in HonÂduras, and much more.
PerÂhaps the most disÂtinÂguishÂing forÂeign polÂiÂcy posiÂtion Biden took on the camÂpaign trail was his saber ratÂtling toward ChiÂna, which was not quite as racist at Trumpâ€™s, but nonetheÂless got so bad a Biden ad was rebuked by proÂgresÂsive Asian-AmerÂiÂcan groups for its racist conÂtent (Biden evenÂtuÂalÂly walked back some of the adâ€™s rhetoric). Biden did say durÂing his camÂpaign that he wants to end â€‹â€œforÂevÂer warsâ€ (many of which he helped start) and that heâ€™s against the war in Yemen (a posiÂtion he only took after he served in the ObaÂma adminÂisÂtraÂtion that supÂportÂed the war), but he neiÂther cenÂtered these platÂforms nor accomÂpaÂnied them with conÂcrete polÂiÂcy proÂposÂals that would actuÂalÂly bring an end to endÂless war.
In keepÂing with this traÂjecÂtoÂry, Biden is already drawÂing from a host of pro-war indiÂvidÂuÂals from the ObaÂma era to fill his cabÂiÂnet. Because many of these peoÂple have been around for a while and have relaÂtionÂships across WashÂingÂton, there is no shortÂage of well-known politÂiÂcal figÂures who are tesÂtiÂfyÂing to their decenÂcy and smartsâ€”thatâ€™s how the relÂaÂtiveÂly insuÂlar world of WashÂingÂton â€‹â€œnationÂal secuÂriÂty proÂfesÂsionÂalsâ€ works, after all. But for those on the outÂside of the WashÂingÂton Blob lookÂing in, the operÂaÂtive quesÂtions are, â€‹â€œWhat are these appointeesâ€™ records, and what does this say about what exactÂly we are up against in a Biden administration?â€
Antony Blinkenâ€‰â€”â€‰who will be nomÂiÂnatÂed for SecÂreÂtary of State, as the Biden-HarÂris tranÂsiÂtion team announced MonÂdayâ€‰â€”â€‰has rightÂfulÂly attractÂed conÂsidÂerÂable critÂiÂcism for a record of supÂportÂing wars and so-called humanÂiÂtarÂiÂan interÂvenÂtions. Blinken was a top aide to Biden when the then-SenÂaÂtor votÂed to authoÂrize the U.S. invaÂsion of Iraq, and Blinken helped Biden develÂop a proÂposÂal to parÂtiÂtion Iraq into three sepÂaÂrate regions based on ethÂnic and secÂtarÂiÂan idenÂtiÂty. As deputy nationÂal secuÂriÂty advisÂer, Blinken supÂportÂed the disÂasÂtrous milÂiÂtary interÂvenÂtion in Libya in 2011, and in 2018 he helped launch WesÂtÂExÂec AdviÂsors, a â€‹â€œstrateÂgic adviÂsoÂry firmâ€ that is secreÂtive about its clients, along with othÂer ObaÂma adminÂisÂtraÂtion alumÂni like MichÃ¨le Flournoy. Jonathan GuyÂer writes in The AmerÂiÂcan Prospect, â€‹â€œI learned that Blinken and Flournoy used their netÂworks to build a large client base at the interÂsecÂtion of tech and defense. An Israeli surÂveilÂlance startÂup turned to them. So did a major U.S. defense comÂpaÂny. Google bilÂlionÂaire Eric Schmidt and ForÂtune 100 comÂpaÂnies went to them, too.â€
But othÂer, lessÂer-known ObaÂma adminÂisÂtraÂtion alumÂni deserve greater scrutiÂny. Among them is Avril Haines, who has been tapped as Bidenâ€™s DirecÂtor of NationÂal IntelÂliÂgence. Haines was one of the co-authors of Obamaâ€™s â€‹â€œpresÂiÂdenÂtial polÂiÂcy guidÂance,â€ the infaÂmous drone playÂbook that norÂmalÂized tarÂgetÂed assasÂsiÂnaÂtions around the world. Hereâ€™s how Newsweek described Haines in 2013:
Since becomÂing the NationÂal SecuÂriÂty CounÂcilâ€™s legal advisÂer in 2011, she had been workÂing on a wide array of highÂly comÂpliÂcatÂed and legalÂly senÂsiÂtive issuesâ€‰â€”â€‰genÂerÂalÂly until 1 or 2 in the mornÂing, someÂtimes latÂerâ€‰â€”â€‰that go to the core of U.S. secuÂriÂty interÂests. Among them were the legal requireÂments govÂernÂing U.S. interÂvenÂtion in SyrÂia and the range of highÂly clasÂsiÂfied options for thwartÂing Iranâ€™s nuclear proÂgram. All the while, Haines was someÂtimes sumÂmoned in the midÂdle of the night to weigh in on whether a susÂpectÂed terÂrorÂist could be lawÂfulÂly incinÂerÂatÂed by a drone strike.
DurÂing the Biden presÂiÂdenÂtial camÂpaign, there was a conÂcertÂed effort by forÂmer ObaÂma aides to cast Haines retroacÂtiveÂly as a voice of restraint and proÂtectÂing civilÂians, as capÂtured in an artiÂcle by Spencer AckÂerÂman. This reviÂsionÂism should not be believed: WhatÂevÂer civilÂian proÂtecÂtions Haines may have writÂten into drone law, they clearÂly did not work, as eviÂdenced by the devÂasÂtatÂing toll of U.S. drone wars on civilÂians. While the Trump adminÂisÂtraÂtion escaÂlatÂed the drone war and loosÂened restricÂtions on killing civilÂians, it was the ObaÂma adminÂisÂtraÂtionâ€‰â€”â€‰aidÂed by Hainesâ€‰â€”â€‰that norÂmalÂized the wideÂspread use of tarÂgetÂed assasÂsiÂnaÂtions that turned the whole world into a potenÂtial U.S. battlefield.
There are othÂer aspects of Hainesâ€™ record that are worÂryÂing. She has â€‹â€œin the past described herÂself as a forÂmer conÂsulÂtant for the conÂtroÂverÂsial data-minÂing firm PalanÂtir,â€ as MurÂtaza HusÂsain reportÂed for The InterÂcept. PalanÂtir was co-foundÂed by a Trump-backÂing bilÂlionÂaire, and is impliÂcatÂed in some of the worst wrongÂdoÂings of the Trump adminÂisÂtraÂtion, includÂing mass surÂveilÂlance and immiÂgrant detenÂtion. As HusÂsain reports, litÂtle is known about Hainesâ€™ role at the firm, and she scrubbed any menÂtion from her bio when she came on as a Biden adviÂsor. (Haines also worked for WesÂtÂExÂec, as GuyÂer reports.)
In 2018, Haines angered proÂgresÂsives when she spoke in supÂport of Gina Haspelâ€™s nomÂiÂnaÂtion for CIA DirecÂtor. Haspel was wideÂly opposed for her role in runÂning CIA prisÂons where torÂture took place.
And then there is LinÂda Thomas-GreenÂfield, tapped to serve as UnitÂed Nations AmbasÂsador. Thomas-GreenÂfield lists her most recent employÂment Albright StoneÂbridge Group, a secreÂtive â€‹â€œglobÂal stratÂeÂgy firmâ€ someÂwhat simÂiÂlar to McKÂinÂsey & ComÂpaÂny, and chaired by Madeleine Albright (Thomas-GreenÂfield is curÂrentÂly listÂed as â€‹â€œon leaveâ€ from the firm). Albright StoneÂbridge Group is a black box: Itâ€™s near imposÂsiÂble to get any info about who its clients are. The firm claims that it does not lobÂby the U.S. govÂernÂment or do work that is covÂered by the ForÂeign Agents RegÂisÂtraÂtion Act, but many of its staffers douÂble in roles that cerÂtainÂly do exert influÂence, or have in the past. The firmâ€™s UAE office is headÂed by Jad MneymÂneh, who preÂviÂousÂly was in the Crown Prince Court of Abu Dhabiâ€™s Office of StrateÂgic Affairs.
There is nothÂing remarkÂable about Biden appointÂing someÂone who hails from a shadÂowy globÂal stratÂeÂgy firm for a powÂerÂful role, but that is preÂciseÂly the probÂlem. As GuyÂer points out, Jake SulÂliÂvan, set to be Bidenâ€™s NationÂal SecuÂriÂty AdviÂsor, went to work for Macro AdviÂsoÂry PartÂners in 2017. â€‹â€œRun by forÂmer British spy chiefs, Macro AdviÂsoÂry PartÂners has about 30 full-time staff and reportÂed $37 milÂlion in revÂenue last year,â€ notes GuyÂer. â€‹â€œMacro AdviÂsoÂry PartÂners has used Sullivanâ€™s involveÂment as a sellÂing point in offerÂing â€‹â€˜trustÂed counÂsel in a turÂbuÂlent world,â€™ with his face atop the rosÂter on their websiteâ€™s landÂing page. But when SulÂliÂvan pubÂlishÂes a magÂaÂzine artiÂcle about U.S. forÂeign polÂiÂcy or delivÂers uniÂverÂsiÂty lecÂtures, he almost always omits this job from his biography.â€
Then there is MichÃ¨le Flournoy, conÂsidÂered the favorite to lead the PenÂtaÂgon (though this hasnâ€™t been offiÂcialÂly announced yet). Not only is she on the board of milÂiÂtary conÂtracÂtor Booz Allen HamilÂton, but she co-foundÂed the the hawkÂish cenÂter-left think tank CenÂter for a New AmerÂiÂcan SecuÂriÂty (CNAS)â€‰â€”â€‰which receives sigÂnifÂiÂcant fundÂing from the weapons indusÂtry, includÂing GenÂerÂal DynamÂics CorÂpoÂraÂtion, Raytheon, Northrop GrumÂman CorÂpoÂraÂtion and LockÂheed MarÂtin CorÂpoÂraÂtion. She served in the ObaÂma adminÂisÂtraÂtion as Under SecÂreÂtary of Defense for PolÂiÂcy from 2009 to 2012 and then played a powÂerÂful role at CNAS. She was a major backer of the 2011 milÂiÂtary interÂvenÂtion in Libya, a supÂportÂer of the occuÂpaÂtion of Afghanistan, and firmÂly opposed the comÂplete removal of U.S. troops from Iraq.
More Biden nomÂiÂnaÂtions will be trickÂling in over the comÂing days and weeks, and we have every reaÂson to expect more of the same: His tranÂsiÂtion team is a clear tell. As I reportÂed on NovemÂber 11, one third of Bidenâ€™s PenÂtaÂgon tranÂsiÂtion team alone lists as their â€‹â€œmost recent employÂmentâ€ think tanks, orgaÂniÂzaÂtions or comÂpaÂnies that are either fundÂed by the weapons indusÂtry or are directÂly part of this indusÂtry. Many of these entiÂties are well-known and even respectÂed, includÂing influÂenÂtial think tanks like CNAS and the CenÂter for StrateÂgic and InterÂnaÂtionÂal StudÂies. Staffers of these think tanks do not get the same bad flak that lobÂbyÂists receive, but they deserve it: Via polÂiÂcy papers, media outÂreach and relaÂtionÂships with politiÂcians, these staffers effecÂtiveÂly do the same thing lobÂbyÂists do, but dressed in a more acaÂdÂeÂmÂic veneer, and the think tanks Biden is drawÂing from have proven track records of pushÂing weapons sysÂtems on the U.S. govÂernÂment. Indeed, in 2016 even the New York Times accused CSIS of lobÂbyÂing for GenÂerÂal AtomÂics, a CalÂiÂforÂnia-based manÂuÂfacÂturÂer of PredaÂtor drones, based on a cache of emails showÂing it doing just that. And then there are the many that do not disÂclose their funÂders, includÂing four tranÂsiÂtion team memÂbers (LinÂda Thomas-GreenÂfield among them) who hail from Albright StoneÂbridge Group.
There is a tempÂtaÂtion to take a moment to breathe, to celÂeÂbrate that the Trump adminÂisÂtraÂtion has been votÂed out (although Trump appears deterÂmined to mainÂtain powÂer), and to hold on to hope that Biden will mark a turn away from some of Trumpâ€™s worst impulsÂes, includÂing his war monÂgerÂing. But we learned from the earÂliÂest days of the ObaÂma adminÂisÂtraÂtion that it is sober assessÂmentâ€‰â€”â€‰rather than proÂjecÂtionâ€‰â€”â€‰that is called for in moments like this. ObaÂma, with Biden at his side, overÂsaw interÂvenÂtion in Libya, disÂasÂtrous involveÂment in the Yemen war, ongoÂing occuÂpaÂtion in Afghanistan, supÂport for the coup in HonÂduras, and much more. And Biden is now pulling from the same team of adviÂsors and influÂence pedÂdlers and conÂsulÂtants who helped make it all happen.
Sarah Lazare is web editor at In These Times. She comes from a background in independent journalism for publications including The Intercept, Common Dreams, The Nation, and Tom Dispatch. She tweets at @sarahlazare.
This article was published on November 25 at Common Dream.