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'No Militarists' or 'Corporate Goons': Progressives Urge Biden to Appoint Foreign Policy Team That Rejects Status Quo of Endless War

"It's time to break with the past and build toward a new, progressive vision of U.S. foreign policy."

Hundreds took to the streets as anti-war and social justice groups organized a demonstration in New York City on April 15, 2018. (Photo: Erik McGregor/Pacific Press/LightRocket via Getty Images)

Dozens of progressive anti-war and environmental organizations are demanding presumptive Democratic presidential nominee Joe Biden commit to appointing a foreign policy team dedicated to fundamentally shifting U.S. national security strategy away from the "disastrous" and "overly-militarized" status quo.

"One thing should be absolutely clear: the foreign policy status quo has not kept us safe."
—Kate Kizer, Win Without War

In a letter (pdf) to Biden on Tuesday, 31 advocacy groups urged the former vice president to select "personnel that meet a set of basic principles" and disqualify anyone who participated or was complicit in the Bush administration's torture regime, opposed the Iran deal, supports Israeli annexation of Palestinian land, or has worked for a private military contractor.

"The personnel you choose to staff your potential transition team and future administration will reflect your administration's policy priorities and its approach to international engagement," the groups wrote to Biden, whose support for the Bush administration's 2003 invasion of Iraq drew scrutiny and criticism throughout the 2020 Democratic presidential primary.

"The failure to hold George W. Bush administration officials accountable for disastrous and unlawful decisions that made the United States and the world less safe impeded the Obama administration's ability to carry out its stated agenda and rectify harmful errors of the past," the groups wrote.

To qualify for a position on Biden's foreign policy team, the groups said, potential appointees should meet a series of "minimum requirements":

  1. Recognition of mass inequality, white nationalism, climate change, pandemics, and authoritarianism as critical national security challenges that must be prioritized;
  2. Advocacy for international cooperation, not competition, including "great power" competition, to resolve common challenges and create accountability for abuses;
  3. Embrace of reducing the Pentagon's budget to fully resource and prioritize nonmilitary solutions—such as peace building, conflict prevention, and diplomacy—as the primary tools to address violence and violent conflict, including as the main approach to addressing violent groups that perpetrate terrorism;
  4. Support for the United States' accession to, robust engagement with, and funding of international treaties and agreements, as well as international bodies and organizations that enhance international norms and rule of law, and limit and reduce the amount of nuclear weapons and materials in the world;
  5. Emphasis of the importance of engaging and prioritizing the importance of civil society and local stakeholders in national security and foreign policymaking.

"In a time of global pandemic—as people across the nation rise up against a violence-first approach to addressing social ills here at home—one thing should be absolutely clear: the foreign policy status quo has not kept us safe," said Kate Kizer, policy director of Win Without War, one of the letter's signatories.

"It's time to break with the past and build toward a new, progressive vision of U.S. foreign policy," said Kizer. "That means ensuring that those who hold the levers of power are not the same old guard of the national security establishment. If a Biden administration is to lead us to a more just, equitable, and peaceful world, it must first ensure that its decision-makers meet these basic requirements."

Other signatories include Beyond the Bomb, Peace Action, Justice Democrats, Center for Biological Diversity, Jewish Voice for Peace Action, and CodePink.

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The letter came months after many of the same organizations urged Biden himself to commit to slashing the Pentagon budget, opposing regime-change wars and economic sanctions, engaging in diplomatic talks with Iran and North Korea, and supporting a "just resolution" to the Israel-Palestine conflict.

On Tuesday, the groups said the recklessness and militarism of the Trump administration "has sparked a long overdue, and fundamental rethinking of U.S. national security within the Democratic Party."

"Without national security and foreign policy personnel who are willing to learn from the mistakes of the past and understand the need for change this moment presents, we fear our country—and the world—risk descending into climate and economic chaos fueled by further corruption and authoritarianism," the groups wrote. "We expect a potential Biden administration to reflect the urgency of this moment in its personnel appointments."

Read the full letter:

Dear Vice President Biden,

As the Democratic Party's presumptive nominee, you have the opportunity to reformulate U.S. foreign policy and national security strategy to achieve the necessary, fundamental re-envisioning of the United States' role in the world. A critical way to achieve this is through national security and foreign policy personnel appointments.

As you consider members of your potential transition team and administration, we urge you to appoint personnel that meet a set of basic principles to ensure the mistakes of the past are not recreated. These principles should include public:

  1. Recognition of mass inequality, white nationalism, climate change, pandemics, and authoritarianism as critical national security challenges that must be prioritized;
  2. Advocacy for international cooperation, not competition, including "great power" competition, to resolve common challenges and create accountability for abuses;
  3. Embrace of reducing the Pentagon's budget to fully resource and prioritize nonmilitary solutions—such as peace building, conflict prevention, and diplomacy—as the primary tools to address violence and violent conflict, including as the main approach to addressing violent groups that perpetrate terrorism;
  4. Support for the United States' accession to, robust engagement with, and funding of international treaties and agreements, as well as international bodies and organizations that enhance international norms and rule of law, and limit and reduce the amount of nuclear weapons and materials in the world;
  5. Emphasis of the importance of engaging and prioritizing the importance of civil society and local stakeholders in national security and foreign policymaking.

The personnel you choose to staff your potential transition team and future administration will reflect your administration's policy priorities and its approach to international engagement. The failure to hold George W. Bush administration officials accountable for disastrous and unlawful decisions that made the United States and the world less safe impeded the Obama administration's ability to carry out its stated agenda and rectify harmful errors of the past. It also allowed people complicit in some of the most dangerous national security decisions in our country's history to gain power in the Trump administration. As such, it is important that the track record of potential personnel is scrutinized carefully. We urge you to disqualify individuals for appointments to national security positions if the individual:

  1. Participated in, was complicit in, advocated for, or had knowledge of and cannot document opposition to the CIA's torture and extraordinary rendition program or torture by the U.S.military during the Bush administration or any other administration, or was involved in preventing the release of the Senate-commissioned torture report or declassifying the program during the Obama administration;
  2. Opposed the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action (JCPOA) or advocated for the Trump administration's "maximum pressure" policy toward Iran;
  3. Supports Israeli settlements, Israeli annexation of Palestinian land, or opposes the rights of U.S. residents to boycott as a form of constitutionally-protected protest against the U.S. government's or foreign governments' policies;
  4. Has worked for or served on the board of a for-profit entity that received money from the agency they would work in; has worked for or served on the board of an entity that received money from an undemocratic foreign government or its auspices; has been affiliated with, is a member of, or received funding from organizations or individual donors to such entities that espouse hate,xenophobia or racism against a particular group or community, in the last ten years, ​and​ would not agree to abide by, at minimum, the requirements of Executive Order 13490;
  5. Advocated for and has not publicly disavowed for their support of U.S. military interventions in pursuit of political objectives, covert operations that resulted in civilian harm, and/or United States policies that provided weapons, military equipment, or security cooperation to governments, security forces, and/nonstate actors that commit human rights abuses, crimes against humanity, genocide, or war crimes in the past 50 years.

The Trump era has sparked a long overdue, and fundamental rethinking of U.S. national security within the Democratic Party. A potential Biden administration presents an opportunity to begin to challenge the institutions and groupthink that have led to a disastrous, overly-militarized, unilateral approach to foreign affairs, and put the United States in a position to credibly lead on addressing the existential threats the world faces in the coming century. Without national security and foreign policy personnel who are willing to learn from the mistakes of the past and understand the need for change this moment presents, we fear our country—and the world—risk descending into climate and economic chaos fueled by further corruption and authoritarianism. We expect a potential Biden administration to reflect the urgency of this moment in its personnel appointments.

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