For too long, American foreign policy decisions have been controlled by the wealthy and well-connected, trampling on the rights and interests of regular people, both at home and abroad. These decisions, including corporate negotiated trade deals and continued engagement in armed conflict abroad, have failed all but a small clique of committed warhawks, defense contractors, and international corporations.
It is time for a structural reorientation of foreign policy away from corporate power and towards the public interest. Practically, this would mean embracing international cooperation to manage ongoing crises including human rights violations, climate change, corporate concentration, and economic inequality and eschewing military action as a primary avenue to resolve conflict. It would also mean adopting equitable trade deals that benefit American workers and protect green policies enacted to fight climate change.
As the Revolving Door Project detailed in The American Prospect, the executive branch can play a key role in this reorientation towards public interest, with a commitment by future administrations to adopt a foreign policy platform that includes the following:
- Hiring Pro-Labor, Pro-Climate Trade Officials: Trade officials must be committed to serving the public interest, not their former employers and corporate clients. Over the few past decades, U.S. trade deals have contributed to a marked redistribution of wealth upward, the degradation of labor rights, the maintenance of weak environmental protections, and a notable absence of a regulatory framework for digital services. Given these outcomes, it is perhaps unsurprising that previous U.S. Trade Representatives in both Democratic and Republican administrations charged with negotiating these deals have consistently had deep ties to industry. Despite its abuses in recent decades, U.S. trade policy can protect the interests of the American people. But a progressive vision of trade can only be achieved with energetic, pro-labor, pro-climate advocates leading the way.Over the coming months, the Revolving Door Project will work to (1) identify political appointments across the executive branch that have influence over foreign policy and (2) encourage both Democratic and Republican administrations to appoint pro-labor, pro-climate individuals to these positions.
- Sealing the Revolving Door Between the Defense Industry and the Pentagon. Over the past several decades, the revolving door between the Department of Defense and the arms industry has helped pave the way for excessive militarism that has enriched giant defense corporations at the expense of millions at home and abroad. The defense industry’s influence on national security policy has led to a consistent, reckless prioritization of military action over diplomacy. In a world with far too many empowered “deficit hawks,” bloated defense spending comes at the expense of investments in health care, infrastructure, medical research, education, and housing and is a direct result of the arms industry’s stranglehold on the Pentagon. The federal government has the ability to pursue a progressive national security agenda, but only by sealing off the door between the defense industry and the Pentagon.The Revolving Door Project plans to scrutinize corporate influence over the Pentagon through FOIA requests of political appointee calendars and emails and through political spending analysis.
- Pursuing an Aggressive International Agenda to Address Climate Change. The U.S. cannot tackle climate change on its own. The effort to fight climate change must also play a central role in our foreign policy agenda. Beginning with rejoining the Paris Climate Agreement, the U.S. must lead the global efforts to fight climate change through trade and diplomacy. Our trade officials should refuse to join any trade agreements that prop up the fossil fuel industry and require all trade agreements to include protections for green policies in place. In addition, we must proactively work with allies to develop and integrate green energy technology and infrastructure globally.Beyond trade and diplomacy, our national security decisions must center climate change, the effects of which have already caused global instability, destruction, and death across the globe. Instead of militaristic reactions to the conflict and migration caused by climate change, our national security officials need to attack the root of these problems head on. We should not and cannot leave the protection of the environment to the Environmental Protection Agency alone. All foreign policy appointees, including Secretary of State, U.S. Trade Representative, Under Secretary of the Treasury for International Affairs, Deputy National Security Advisor for International Economic Affairs, and U.N. Ambassador, must prioritize climate change in all policy decisions.The Revolving Door Project plans to investigate the fossil fuel industry’s connection to foreign policy appointees through research including FOIA requests and political spending analysis.
- Ending Diplomacy by Donors. The transactional relationship between campaign finance and diplomatic postings has a long history in American politics. Under both Democratic and Republican administrations, top donors and bundlers have often landed cushy ambassadorial positions. Continuation of this evidently corrupt practice is a clear problem for any society that aspires to uphold democratic ideals. Further, it is disrespectful to the career foreign service officers who are truly committed to performing their duties as federal employees. The Revolving Door Project is committed to eradicating the corrupt practice of appointing major fundraisers as representatives of the American people abroad.The Revolving Door Project plans to track campaign donor data and ambassador nominations to ensure ambassadorship nominations are given based on merit and not fundraising ability.
Below you will find some of the project’s writing and research on foreign policy. For a selection of quotes and interviews on the topic, please visit this page.
September 29, 2021 | The American Prospect
When United States Trade Representative Katherine Tai announced this past May that the U.S. would support the TRIPS waiver on COVID-19 vaccines at the World Trade Organization (WTO), we at the Revolving Door Project celebrated the administration’s decision as “a transformative, hopeful event.” The waiver proposal calls on the WTO’s Trade-Related Aspects of Intellectual Property Rights (TRIPS) Council to suspend intellectual-property protections on COVID-19 therapeutics, diagnostics, and vaccines to ensure materials necessary for combating the pandemic are “available promptly, in sufficient quantities and at affordable price to meet global demand.”
September 01, 2021 | Sludge
A financial disclosure reveals that Special Envoy for Energy Affairs Amos Hochstein operated a shadow consultancy with foreign fossil fuel clients.
July 23, 2021 | American Prospect
If Biden is emerging as an anti-monopoly president, then why is he rewarding Cohen, a fixer for one of the go-to examples of monopoly power in America? More importantly, if he hopes to redeem American democracy from Trumpism, why is Biden rewarding the political strategist for a company that does not care about basic voting rights, especially for Black people?
May 10, 2021 | Independent Media Institute
According to the Washington Post, Biden is finally getting around to scratching the backs of his friends and allies. This carries weight in D.C. gossip circles, given how well-connected Biden is there. So who made the cut?
April 15, 2021
The world is currently at an inflection point – Western leaders can choose to continue blocking the TRIPS waiver and lock in a cycle of dependence or empower poorer countries to develop generic vaccines and build infrastructure that will safely put the pandemic behind us. Critiques of the TRIPS waiver claim that most poor countries lack the infrastructure to carry out vaccine operations – a paternalistic view that suggests that manufacturing capacity, supply chain management, and logistics are static in nature. The sooner we act, the more time poorer countries have to begin mobilizing resources needed to make generic vaccine development possible.
April 10, 2021
Hochstein previously served in the Obama State Department, where his job was essentially to secure access to global oil fields on behalf of putatively American multinational Big Oil firms.
March 23, 2021
Elizabeth Rosenberg, a lesser-known Obama-era official, is being considered to lead the Treasury Department’s Terrorism and Financial Intelligence unit. Her record designing painful economic sanctions, supporting fossil fuel industry-friendly policies, and helping powerful corporations gain close access to the highest levels of government is cause for alarm, writes Vishal Shankar.
March 18, 2021
The Revolving Door Project is outraged by yesterday’s news that the Biden administration has been pressuring the Mexican government into turning away migrants at the Mexico-Guatemala border. While this Trump style initiative would be appalling on its own, we are additionally concerned about the possibility that President Biden may have bartered millions of doses of the AstraZeneca vaccine to achieve his anti-migration goals.
March 17, 2021
A powerful collection of weapons manufacturers and defense contractors are shaping American foreign policy by lobbying policymakers and funding hawkish think tanks to keep U.S. defense spending the highest in the world. Their influence-peddling efforts prioritize the defense industry’s profits over countless lives and pressing domestic priorities like universal healthcare. Our Elias Alsbergas and Vishal Shankar explain how the military-industrial complex seeks to influence the executive branch and which defense industry allies are seeking jobs in the Biden Administration.
March 08, 2021
John Kerry, President Biden’s international “Climate Envoy”, appears to want bold climate change policy. Kerry was a leader in developing the framework for the first UN climate talks in 1992, co-authored cap-and-trade legislation back in 2009 when it could have possibly been useful, and was a major driver of the 2015 Paris Agreement.
March 01, 2021
As the United States approaches a full year of COVID-19-induced lockdowns, the Revolving Door Project and the Center for Economic and Policy Research called on the White House’s COVID-19 task force director Jeffrey Zients to demand that Pfizer, Moderna, and other American pharmaceutical firms open-source their COVID-19 vaccines.
February 22, 2021 | Responsible Statecraft
The Center for a New American Security (CNAS), a foreign policy think tank with at least 16 alumni in the Biden administration, has repeatedly published reports that directly promote the interests of its donors — including defense contractors, fossil fuel companies, and foreign governments — without disclosing their support. These conflicts of interest raise larger questions about what CNAS’ core philosophy of “extending American power” truly means.
January 21, 2021
You have committed to rooting out the corruption of the previous Trump administration and have proposed sweeping government ethics proposals, which we commend. But in order to stick to these promises and to assure the American public that your administration will put national security concerns over corporate profits or foreign interests, we urge you to, at the very least, direct your nominees and appointees to clearly describe the specific nature of their past work for the private sector actors, especially those under investigation by or in ongoing contracts with the federal government. Earlier this week, the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, recognizing the significance of these conflicts, requested additional information on nominees’ private sector work. The undersigned groups urge you to complete this request swiftly and ensure all of your appointees disclose the full scope and nature of their private sector work.
January 21, 2021
Biden Administration Must Go Further in Financial Disclosures to Reveal Possible Conflicts of Interest in Foreign Policy Making, Groups Say in Open Letter
Dozens of foreign policy, faith-based, environmental organizations, and watchdog groups are calling on President Biden to require more thorough screenings for, and disclosures of, possible conflicts of interest among nominees and appointees to the new administration. In a letter sent to the White House today, over 40 groups, including the American Friends Service Committee, Friends of the Earth, Government Accountability Project, Peace Action, Project on Government Oversight, Public Citizen, Win Without War, and the Revolving Door Project say the Personal Financial Disclosures submitted by Biden’s nominees do not include vital information about private sector work and personal investments, posing questions about potential conflicts of interest.
January 12, 2021
At the Revolving Door Project, we have frequently emphasized the importance of strengthening the civil service to ensure government works for public service and doesn’t cater to the interest of powerful people and corporations. We warned about how too much reliance on political appointments in the executive branch reduces accountability, citing academic research that political appointees perform worse than career managers. Especially in the Trump era, we have seen numerous examples of political appointees using the government for personal gain. Biden’s selection of William Burns, a career diplomat, as his CIA director should therefore be widely praised by progressives as a step towards restoring the civil service and depoliticizing the American intelligence community.