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Progressives promote roster of foreign-policy staffers for Joe Biden

Coalition of left-leaning groups lists 100 individuals recommended for key positions in Biden's incoming administration
Biden received criticism from releasing his transition team, which consisted of many individuals with ties to top US weapons manufacturers.
Biden received criticism after releasing names on his transition team with ties to top US weapons manufacturers (AFP)
By Umar A Farooq in Washington

Dozens of anti-war, environmental and human rights groups are promoting a 100-candidate roster for senior positions in the incoming US administration of President-elect Joe Biden, as part of an effort to guide US foreign policy in a more progressive direction.

The list, sent to Biden's team on Friday, excluded individuals with corporate ties. It was backed by a range of advocacy organisations, including the Center for International Policy (CIP); Common Defense; the Revolving Door Project; Friends of the Earth US; MoveOn; the National Iranian American Council Action (NIAC); the Arab American Institute, and Win Without War.

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"We received hundreds of nominations from dozens of organizations that participated in this process to recommend talented and diverse progressives for national security and foreign policy positions in the next administration," Yasmine Taeb, senior fellow at CIP and one of the lead organisers who compiled the list, told Middle East Eye.

"The candidates put forth are forward-looking, committed to advancing a vision of restraint and supporting efforts to cut the bloated Pentagon budget and ending our endless wars."

Biden received a backlash from progressives after he released the names of individuals on his transition team, many of whom had connections to top US weapons manufacturers.

Earlier this week, Vermont Senator Bernie Sanders criticised Biden for not doing enough to support progressive policies.

"Remember, I was the runner-up to Biden, and we got a few votes. Elizabeth Warren got a few votes. A number of progressives won seats to Congress," Sanders said in an interview with CNN on Wednesday.

"Those voices of millions and millions of people deserve representation in the Biden cabinet. And if you're asking me if I've seen that at this point, I haven't."

A more progressive foreign policy

Of the 100 names in the roster, some are being recommended for senior positions that would put them just under Biden's cabinet choices, including secretary of state and director of the National Security Council.

They include Matt Duss, Sanders's foreign policy adviser, whom progressives are pushing for the position of deputy national security adviser or a special adviser to the secretary of state.

Duss, a prominent proponent of diplomacy on the Hill, was instrumental in the Vermont senator's resolution to end US support for the Saudi-led coalition's war in Yemen and also in the resolution aimed at rolling back Trump's authority to engage in military conflicts without the consent of Congress.

Another candidate the groups are recommending for a role in the National Security Council is Trita Parsi, who currently serves as the executive vice president of the Quincy Institute - an anti-interventionist Washington-based think-tank. He is also a former UN official who has called for the US to negotiate with Iran and shrink its global military footprint.

The organisations also put forward Noah Gottschalk, Oxfam's global policy lead, for a position in the State Department overseeing migration and refugees.

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The pick could help boost refugee resettlement numbers in the US, which reached an all-time low under the Trump administration.

Alongside the roster being sent to the incoming Biden administration, the coalition also shared a petition, with about 200,000 signatories, which calls on the Senate to stop confirming any more corporate lobbyists into positions in the executive branch of government.

While Biden has publicly said he plans "reassessing ties" with Saudi Arabia in the aftermath of the murder of Jamal Khashoggi and announced intentions to return the US to the Iran nuclear deal, many progressive groups have expressed concern that the president-elect will not do enough to stop US militarism around the world.

Biden has said he will not limit, restrict or leverage military aid to Israel, and has currently made no calls for cuts to national defence spending, two policy goals progressives have been working on.

Stopping 'endless wars'

Putting an end to the forever wars in the Middle East is a staple goal of these progressive and left-leaning groups, and Biden himself has made a promise to end conflicts abroad.

Still, Biden continued to say that his pledge would not mean an end to counterterrorism operations overseas, including in Afghanistan and Iraq.

In an article for Foreign Affairs, he said he would continue such operations against the Islamic State (IS) group and al-Qaeda.

For his part, Duss has defined ending these wars as confronting all parts of the "war on terror," including Washington's use of torture, targeted killings and continued support for authoritarian figures in the Middle East while branding itself as a beacon of democracy.

As a growing number of Americans from both sides of the political spectrum have been questioning America's commitment to military interventions, the House and Senate both passed a staggering and unprecedented $740bn Pentagon budget for next year, including hundreds of millions of dollars for countering IS operations.

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