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'Vicious cycle of militarism': Biden's defence team criticised for ties to arms industry

Democrats and anti-war groups denounce Biden's list of Pentagon advisers which includes many with connections to weapons manufacturers
Joe Biden and his wife Jill pay respects during a Veterans Day stop at the Korean War Memorial Park in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania on 11 November.
Joe Biden and his wife Jill pay respects during a Veterans Day stop at the Korean War Memorial Park in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania on 11 November (AFP)
By in
Washington

Joe Biden's transition team is facing criticism from Democratic lawmakers and anti-war groups after the president-elect announced a group of Pentagon advisers who have connections to the arms industry.

The Biden campaign announced last week that a 23-person "agency review team" for the defence department would be led by Kathleen Hicks, who previously worked in the Pentagon under the Obama administration. 

In the announcement, Hicks' most recent employer was listed as the Cen­ter for Strate­gic and Inter­na­tion­al Stud­ies (CSIS), a think tank which received financial contributions from several arms manufacturers in 2020, including Northrop Grumman, Lockheed Martin and Raytheon.

Northrup Grumman has manufactured drones that have been used by the US military in Afghanistan, Iraq and Somalia, among other locations.

Raytheon is a key sup­pli­er of bombs that have been used by the Saudi-led coalition in Yemen. Meanwhile, General Dynamics made headlines last week after the White House announced 18 of its Reaper drones would be sold to the UAE despite rights groups warning they could be used to inflict harm on civilians in both Yemen and Libya.

'The Biden administration will probably continue the vicious cycle of militarism unless there is a stronger anti-war movement to pressure him'

- Medea Benjamin, Code Pink

Two other CSIS employees are also on the transition team: Andrew Hunter and Melissa Dalton, who worked in the Pentagon under the Obama administration.

A New York Times inves­ti­ga­tion found in 2016 that CSIS was effec­tive­ly dou­bling as a weapons indus­try lob­by­ing firm, push­ing for expand­ed drone sales. 

According to the announcement, two members of the transition team come from the Center for a New American Security (CNAS). Susanna Blume is a former Pentagon employee while Ely Ratner served as deputy national security advisor to then-vice president Joe Biden from 2015 to 2017.

The think tank received at least $500,000 from Northrup Grumman last year, as well as sizeable contributions from both Lockheed Martin and Raytheon.

CNAS was co-founded by Michele Flournoy, the odds-on favourite to be Biden's secretary of defense. Flournoy has previously suggested sending counter-drone technology to Saudi Arabia in order to deter Iran.

"Flournoy's call to increase US investment in unmanned military systems does not bode well for the Middle East, where multiple countries are terrorised by US drones whirring overhead and wedding parties can end in tragedy," Marcy Winograd, a 2020 delegate for the Democratic National Committee and anti-war activist, told MEE.

"Her stated desire to instil more confidence in the Saudi regime to keep the Middle East in line is chilling, particularly in the aftermath of the murder of a Washington Post journalist critical of Saudi leadership."

'Take profits out of policy'

Another think tank that is heavily represented on the transition team is the Rand Corporation, the largest recipient of money from the US government and defense contractors.

Stacie Pettyjohn, Terri Tanielian, and Christine Wormuth all cite the Rand Corporation as their most recent employer.

Farooq Mitha also made the list, and while his most recent employment is mentioned as being with the Imbue Group, he is largely known for being the Muslim outreach coordinator for the Biden campaign as well as a co-founder of Emgage - a Muslim political organisation that has been widely criticised over its connections to anti-Palestinian causes.

Medea Benjamin, an activist who co-founded the women-led group CodePink, which calls for an end to US militarism, said it was unlikely Biden would listen to growing anti-war sentiment since he was surrounding himself with individuals with links to top military contractors.

"It is very disappointing to see that so many people on Biden's transition team for the defense department have such close ties to companies that profit from enormous Pentagon contracts or think tanks that are funded by both the Pentagon and weapons companies, or consulting firms that help other countries (often repressive ones) buy US weapons," Benjamin told Middle East Eye.

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"Unfortunately, it shows that the Biden administration will probably continue the vicious cycle of militarism unless there is a stronger anti-war movement to pressure him."

In a letter last Thursday, House Democrats Barbara Lee and Mark Pocan urged Biden not to select a secretary of defense who has been employed by the defense industry.

Trump's Pentagon chiefs Jim Mattis, Pat Shanahan and Mark Esper all came to the Pentagon from the defense industry.

"American national security should not be defined by the bottom lines of Boeing, General Dynamics and Raytheon," Pocan said in a statement.

"Instead of draining the swamp, Donald Trump ensured that his Pentagon lined the pockets of America’s most profitable defense contractors.

"President-Elect Joe Biden has an opportunity to take profits out of policy and build back better. The American people deserve a Defense Secretary that puts the American people's safety above corporate profits," Pocan added.

'It is contrary to our national interest to have a defense secretary beholden to military contractors who profit off of war'

- Marcy Winograd, Democratic National Committee delegate

Winograd, who has been working with around 100 DNC delegates to pressure Biden into assembling a new team of foreign policy and defense advisers, said it would be a disaster if his government included "war profiteers".

"It is contrary to our national interest to have a defense secretary beholden to military contractors who profit off of war or to have a cabinet member who serves on boards of publicly-traded military contractors and therefore enjoys a too cozy-relationship with these weapons dealers," Winograd said.

"I am committed to challenging the composition and direction of Biden's cabinet should it include architects of war and counterinsurgency, and to applauding Biden if he fulfills his promise to lift the Muslim travel ban, cut off US military support for the Saudi war on Yemen, reaffirm the Iran nuclear deal and restore aid to the Palestinians living under Israeli occupation," she added.