Foreign Policy

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:

  1. 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.
  1. Sealing the Revolving Door Between the Defense Industry and the PentagonOver 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.
  1. 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.
  1. 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.

January 21, 2021

Revolving Door Project


2020 Election/TransitionEthics in GovernmentForeign Policy


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

Miranda Litwak

Press Release

2020 Election/TransitionEthics in GovernmentForeign Policy

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

Zena Wolf

Blog Post

2020 Election/TransitionForeign PolicyGovernment Capacity

With Bill Burns At CIA, A Hopeful Move Toward Civil Service Revitalization

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.

November 24, 2020

Timi Iwayemi

Blog Post

2020 Election/TransitionForeign PolicyTech

Michèle Flournoy and The Ongoing Influence of WestExec Advisors

As we proposed in the Prospect, Biden’s administration can pursue a progressive national security agenda that prioritizes diplomacy over military action, opposes regime change interventions, reduces the Pentagon’s budget, and condemns governments that violate human rights. But to do so, Biden must also end the defense industry’s influence on the executive branch and turn to individuals without deep conflicts.

September 17, 2020

Timi Iwayemi Miranda Litwak

Blog Post

2020 Election/TransitionForeign Policy

The Revolving Door Project on Foreign Policy

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.

June 17, 2020

Andrea Beaty

Blog Post

Foreign PolicyFTCRevolving DoorTrade Policy

“Career” Trade Reps Solicit USMCA Consulting Gigs from Auto Industry

Jason Bernstein and Fred Fischer, both Deputy Assistant U.S. Trade Representatives, reached out to auto industry representatives offering to “assist companies directly with their USMCA implementation needs,” according to Bloomberg’s report. The report did not confirm whether Bernstein and Fischer asked for or received clearance to contact the auto companies, while ethics experts speculate that offering such services while still employed by the government might breach federal ethics requirements.

May 27, 2020

Erica Jung

Blog Post

2020 Election/TransitionCampaign FinanceForeign Policy

What Might a Biden Administration’s Policy Towards India Look Like?

Former Vice President and current Democratic presidential nominee Joe Biden has often boasted of his considerable foreign policy experience, having served on the Senate Foreign Relations Committee and played an active role in the Obama administration’s foreign policy making. Throughout the 2020 primary, however, Biden’s foreign policy agenda rarely featured. A closer look reveals significant cause for concern. While Biden seeks to show that his foreign policy platform would be more progressive than that of Trump’s, his record has weak spots when it comes to far-right Indian nationalism.

May 11, 2020

Timi Iwayemi

Blog Post

2020 Election/TransitionCampaign FinanceForeign Policy

Diplomacy by Donors

On December 18, 2019, the United States House of Representatives impeached President Donald Trump for withholding military aid from Ukraine as a means to pressure Vladimir Zelensky to investigate Democratic presidential candidate, Joe Biden. One of the key figures in this scandal was Gordon Sondland, then ambassador to the European Union. Sondland had limited diplomatic experience before his appointment, but he had the privilege of donating $1 million to President Trump’s inaugural committee.

May 11, 2020

Andrea Beaty Miranda Litwak


Anti-MonopolyCoronavirusForeign Policy

International Antitrust Response to Coronavirus

The Pandemic Anti-Monopoly Act would preemptively stop harmful mergers that not only affect American consumers, but economies all over the world that rely on the same global supply chains. Undoubtedly, companies looking to acquire struggling businesses during the pandemic will try to take advantage of the “failing firm” argument to justify acquisitions. But what actions have lawmakers and antitrust enforcement officials in other countries undertaken to prevent predatory mergers while businesses struggle?