One debate rocketing around the halls of Washington, DC—especially post-inauguration as the city’s citizens and political class watched nonscalable fencing erected around historic and traditionally open government buildings—is whether President Joe Biden will govern as a moderate and predictable Democrat politician or something more akin to a far-left progressive activist.
If the new president has let the left-wing progressives persuade him that Americans citizens are enough of a threat to alter his domestic decision-making by turning the capital into a militarized zone, what will that shift to the left mean for foreign policy? Some conservatives believe this is a foregone conclusion given the persistent, antagonistic, and loud influence of progressive members like Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez (D-NY).
The Battle for Biden’s Mind
Unlike domestic policy, American foreign policy is exceedingly difficult to wedge comfortably into stereotypical R or D boxes. The Quincy Institute for Responsible Statecraft, a new think tank funded by the libertarian Koch empire and the hard-left progressive Soros network, demonstrates the enigmatic nature of foreign policy.
As the Washington Examiner politics editor wrote in August, “There is a progressive critique of U.S. foreign policy that is gaining adherents, even if the Democratic Party nominated a conventional liberal hawk to challenge Donald Trump for president of the United States.”
There are signs that this progressive wing of the Democrat caucus might be winning the heart and mind of Joe Biden. As with any influence push kept relatively (and probably intentionally) underreported, the American public may be surprised if these progressive efforts come to fruition.
With the Biden Administration, the quiet prodding leftward is coming from an admittedly strongly progressive-leaning group called the Center for International Policy (CIP). Led by senior fellow Yasmine Taeb, CIP helped by a raft of other progressive groups has presented Biden with a list of progressive leaders on foreign policy it hopes will fill second-tier positions.
CIP—founded in 1975 in response to the Vietnam war—is reportedly advising Biden with the intention of putting down “deep roots at second-tier levels of the Biden Administration. . . . It’s hard to have a progressive foreign policy, the thinking goes, without radicals and progressives actually impacting foreign policy.”
Taeb told Politico in December that CIP was putting forth “the first comprehensive and coordinated effort by the left to influence the transition to appoint progressives to national security and foreign policy positions.”
“The candidates being recommended are not only qualified but are forward-looking, with no corporate ties or revolving door issues which has been a concern with respect to many of the national security appointments being made by the incoming Biden administration,” Taeb said. She also noted that roughly 65 percent were women or people of color.
“The list draws on experts and scholars at human rights and antiwar groups and transpartisan think tanks advocating for less military intervention, as well as a number of establishment figures and unconventional thinkers with government experience,” Politco noted.
Some of the names on Taeb’s list include:
- Matt Duss, a top foreign policy adviser to Sen. Bernie Sanders (I-VT), for deputy national security adviser or special adviser to the secretary of State;
- Trita Parsi, co-founder of the Quincy Institute and a former United Nations official, to oversee Middle East affairs on the National Security Council; and
- Kate Gould, a national security adviser to Rep. Ro Khanna (D-CA), for senior policy adviser for the U.S. Mission to the United Nations.
Others on the list are old national security and foreign policy hands, well known in Washington:
- Bruce Riedel, of the Brookings Institution, is a former deputy assistant secretary of Defense for the Near East and South Asia.
- Joe Cirincione of the Ploughshares Fund is a vocal proponent of nuclear disarmament.
- Heather Hurlburt works on policy reform at New America’s Political Reform program.
Obama Administration Retreads
Taeb and her advisory team seem interested in moving Biden to the left of some of his already appointed foreign policy and national security picks. This cadre of politicos, as Washington Post noted in early January, appear to be an almost exact replica of President Barack Obama’s team. “The Biden administration’s foreign policy leadership team is looking more and more like the Obama-Biden foreign policy leadership team from 2016—exactly like it, in fact,” wrote Post’s Josh Rogin.
The concern around Washington is that the same people who crafted and defended President Barack Obama’s foreign policy won’t be willing or able to recognize, much less rectify, its shortcomings. These concerns were heightened when [U.S. Special Presidential Envoy for Climate John] Kerry gave his first major post-election foreign policy interview last month to NPR. He argued that the United States needed to put climate change cooperation at the forefront of U.S.-China relations. Chinese state propaganda outlets gleefully covered Kerry’s remarks, embracing his notion of a climate partnership.
CIP’s Left-Wing Funding
However, Taeb and her team—and their hard-left constituency—may be quite pleased with Kerry putting climate change cooperation first, even before the larger threat of China and her goal of ascendency on the world stage. CIP—according to InfluenceWatch, a project of Capital Research Center that tracks funding and relationships between political influencers—is funded by a veritable who’s who of lefty foundation giving. And the organization has taken in tens of millions over the years, with environmental activist groups playing a prominent role.
Since its founding, CIP has received considerable money from some of the biggest names in left-wing progressive foundation giving. From 1999 to 2018, CIP took in over $20 million combined from progressive groups, many with a focus on environmental causes. The David and Lucille Packard Foundation, for example, has been a top giver since at least 2009, routinely giving CIP over $200,000 annually toward “conservation and science.” According to InfluenceWatch, the Packard Foundation is almost solely dedicated to environmental causes and population control programs.
The William and Flora Hewlett Foundation gave CIP a half million dollars in 2015, and it also focuses on environmental activism. According to InfluenceWatch, the Hewlett Foundation assumes “global warming is caused primarily by human activity (namely global emissions of carbon dioxide and other greenhouse gases),” argues that “climate change is the defining issue of our day,” and is “an urgent global crisis that affects every problem philanthropy seeks to solve, whether it’s improving health, alleviating poverty, reducing famine, promoting peace, or advancing social justice.” Hewlett also gave CIP a quarter million dollars in 2016.
George Soros’s Foundation to Promote Open Society groups gave nearly a million in 2014, and the overtly environmentally interested Sea Change Foundation gave a quarter million in 2009. Sea Change is explicitly focused on “serious threats posed by global climate change.”
March to the Left
Politico notes that Gordon Adams, a former White House Office of Management and Budget official who would like to dramatically reduce defense spending, is also on the list.
“This is quite unprecedented,” Adams, who is a fellow at the Quincy Institute, said in an interview of the push to move Biden left on foreign policy. “It says there are, in fact, an impressive number of people who could legitimately fill those jobs and question the dominant perspective on foreign policy and national security.”
“There is a seriousness with which the progressive wing of the Democratic Party is trying to shape alternative ways for the United States to engage in the world,” he added.