When Donald Trump was elected president, the foreign policy apparatus that Barack Obama’s administration built did not disappear. The power brokers went to think tanks and lobbying firms, cashing in on the uncertainty with help from defense contractors and other corporations.
Democratic presidential nominee Joe Biden’s potential foreign policy would likely be a continuation of Obama’s aggressive approach with the use of extrajudicial killings and jailing of asylum seekers. Advisors have made clear that Biden would have no intention of making military aid to Israel conditional on Israel’s human rights abuses of Palestinians.
Michèle Flournoy, a front-runner for Biden’s pick for Secretary of Defense, is already considered something of a glass ceiling breaker as the highest-ranking woman to have served as a Senate-confirmed Presidential appointee in the Pentagon. In 2011 the Washington Post described her as “tall and slender with a regal manner” and “known for being extremely poised and rarely showing emotion.”
In 2018, Flournoy co-founded WestExec advisors with Biden foreign policy advisor Antony Blinken, Former Deputy Secretary of State. Blinken, who is also a contributing opinion writer for The New York Times and global affairs analyst at CNN, is on leave from the firm to focus on the presidential campaign. The firm is a group of senior national security professionals who advise corporations, including former CIA deputy director David S. Cohen and Dan Shapiro, former U.S. Ambassador to Israel. WestExec does not disclose its clients, but according to the American Prospect, they work with Israeli artificial intelligence company Windward.
In July, as part of the Democratic National Committee, Shapiro called on members to oppose a measure to condition U.S. aid to Israel so “no US aid may be used to facilitate annexation or to violate Palestinians rights.” The measure was rejected by a wide margin.
“While we understand that those concerns have not been addressed to the full satisfaction of all parties, we believe we have taken significant and overdue strides while sustaining the unity of our Party,” Shapiro said.
Vice presidential candidate Kamala Harris has drawn criticism in the past for her relationship with the Israeli government. In May 2019, she met with representatives of American Israel Public Affairs Committee (AIPAC) from California in her Senate office after saying she would not attend the conference. Her campaign communications director said at the time that “her support for Israel is central to who she is.”
In 2017, Harris visited Israel, where she was photographed speaking with two members of the Israel Defense Forces in front of a Raytheon Iron Dome missile defense battery. She visited a cybersecurity development program run by the Israeli Defense Forces, the Israeli National Cyber Bureau in the Prime Minister’s Office, and Ben Gurion University of the Negev. Finally, she met with Netanyahu in Jerusalem the day after he had announced a plan to deport 40,000 African asylum seekers.
She told AIPAC the same year: “[The] first resolution I co-sponsored as a United States senator was to combat anti-Israel bias at the United Nations and reaffirm that the United States seeks a just, secure, and sustainable two-state solution.”
Abed Ayoub, the legal director of the American-Arab Anti-Discrimination Committee (ADC), told the Middle East Eye: “Biden’s campaign is so beholden to AIPAC that they have adopted racist tropes to define Palestinians, the same tropes used to justify apartheid policies.”
Avril Haines, who was deputy director of the CIA from 2013 to 2015, previously worked at WestExec and is now leading the potential Biden transition team for foreign policy and national security. She also worked as a consultant on promoting gender diversity through hiring for Peter Thiel’s data-mining firm Palantir. During the Obama administration, she chaired the interagency lawyers’ group on drone strikes, helping to create the guidelines of the program. She was also part of a CIA team that negotiated with the Senate about how much to declassify the intelligence committee’s torture report.
“This is a pretty ominous signal about what is to come” in a Biden administration, a Senate staffer told the Daily Beast, “to have the deputy CIA director touted for her record in advancing human rights and respect for the rule of law I don’t think can be adequately squared with not only her record but her deliberate choices of advocacy.”
In February 2016, Flournoy put out a booklet of lessons for the next president on national security through the think tank she founded, the Center for a New American Security. She stressed that the “Departments of Defense and State, intelligence agencies, and USAID” would need “adequate and predictable funding levels,” otherwise “these departments cannot plan for and invest in the capabilities critical to safeguarding U.S. national security now and in the future. The inability,” she wrote, “of the congress to reliably provide for the common defense is creating real and accumulating risk for the United States.” To be clear, in 2015 the defense budget was $495.6 billion.
Flournoy is also on the board of military consulting firm Booz Allen Hamilton as well as a member of the Council on Foreign Relations. CFR’s corporate affiliates include consulting company McKinsey, data-mining company Palantir, as well as defense contractor Boeing, Northrop Grumman, and Raytheon. Before that she was part of Boston Consulting Group, during which period the military contracts went “from $1.6 million in 2013 to $32 million in 2016,” according to the American Prospect. She is the chair of the board of Amida, which has a contract for data management and cybersecurity with the Defense Department.
“Somebody like Flournoy, should have no place in a Democratic administration,” David Segal, a leader of left group Demand Progress, told the Progressive. “She has a more militaristic stand towards Saudi Arabia than many Republicans.”
Flournoy founded CNAS in 2007 with Kurt Campbell. I saw Joe Biden speak at their annual conference in 2016, when he said the Obama Administration’s foreign policy made the U.S. “better positioned than any nation in the world,” adding: “If we build walls and disrespect our neighbors we will quickly see all of these policies evaporate. It matters how you treat other nations.”
The Obama administration did, obviously, disrespect their neighbors. They also built walls, including in Israel.
Campbell, the Former Assistant Secretary of State for East Asian and Pacific Affairs, made a speech for the Biden Victory Fund in May. He is also the Chairman and Chief Executive Officer of The Asia Group, a strategic and capital advisory firm.
Sandra Tamari, executive director of Adalah Justice Project, a Palestinian advocacy group, wrote at In These Times:
“Palestinians and their allies demand the U.S. stop funding Israel to buy more weapons to kill Palestinians. We feel the immense pain of the families who have seen their loved ones killed by Israel since late May, among them Eyad Al-Hallaq, the 32-year old autistic man who was shot down by Israeli forces on the streets of Jerusalem while he was walking to his special needs school, and Ahmad Erekat, the 27-year old Palestinian man shot at an Israeli checkpoint on his way to pick up his sister from the beauty salon to deliver her to her wedding ceremony.”
Blinken, who was staff director for the US Senate Foreign Relations Committee while Biden was chairman, said recently that as president, Biden would be secretive about disagreements with Israel. “Joe Biden believes strongly in keeping your differences — to the greatest extent possible — between friends and behind doors,” he said in May at a briefing organized by the Democratic Majority for Israel, an advocacy group. The group’s super PAC arm also spent $681,000 on a television attack ad questioning Vermont Sen. Bernie Sanders’ health during the Democratic presidential primary.
In May, Blinken said Biden “would not tie our military assistance to Israel to any political decisions that it makes. Israel’s security is challenged on a daily basis. They face existential threats every single day. And he’s made clear that he would not tie our military assistance to this.” He has also said that Biden was opposed to the Boycott Divestment and Sanctions movement.
“He believes in two states for two peoples,” Blinken added.
In a booklet put out in 2016 by CNAS on “defeating the Islamic State,” the authors advised that a “key lesson from previous U.S. security force assistance efforts has been to demonstrate a degree of patience with the organizations the United States support. These forces will on occasion suffer setbacks on the battlefield, but that should not lead to the withdrawal of U.S. support.”
During the American Jewish Committee’s virtual Global Forum in June, Blinken recalled a story from 2014: “I got a call late one night from the Israeli Ambassador Ron Dermer, and he said, ‘Can I come over tonight? It’s something urgent.’ And I said, of course, come on over. This is about 9 o’clock at night at the White House. And he and the military attache from the embassy laid out to me in detail why Israel urgently needed a replenishment of Iron Dome interceptors that were saving lives from missile attacks.”
“The next day, I went to the Oval Office. I sat with President Obama and Vice President Biden [and] I laid out what I’d heard from the ambassador and the military attache, and I got three words from both of them in response: ‘Get it done.’ That was Friday morning. Tuesday, we had a quarter of a billion dollars from Congress to replenish Israel’s Iron Dome supply. That’s the kind of real action — real deeds — that go to the heart of Israel’s security.”
Defense contractors have been frothing over Biden as well. Eric Fanning, the CEO of the Aerospace Industries Association, which represents Lockheed Martin, Boeing and Raytheon Technologies, endorsed Biden in June. Fanning was the secretary of the army and the Chief of Staff to the Secretary of Defense. “I know Vice President Biden will be a commander in chief who leads the world’s greatest military by upholding its values,” Fanning said.
Politico granted anonymity to a defense lobbyist who said the endorsement was a mistake. “I think he should have resigned the minute he made that statement,” he said. He added, “The major defense contractors I have talked to are flabbergasted and furious at this move.”
Fanning is also on the board of the think tank Flouroy founded, CNAS.
Stuart Eizenstat told Politico last year he “planned to advise the [Biden] campaign on foreign policy.” He has also lobbied for defense contractors Caterpillar, Raytheon, BAE Systems, and Boeing and the notorious private security firm Blackwater/Xe/Academi. Speaking at AIPAC, he called the BDS movement “a wolf in sheep’s clothing.”
Between October 2019 and February, Eizenstat was lobbying Mike Pompeo’s State Department for the West Bank’s Psagot Winery on proposed EU food and drink labeling regulations, which would let European customers know that the wine was made at a settlement on Palestinean land. In February, the winery released a special edition Pompeo-labeled wine to extol their appreciation after he said the U.S. would no longer view settlements as illegal.