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Blog Post | September 17, 2020

The Revolving Door Project on Foreign Policy

2020 Election/TransitionForeign Policy

This article was originally published on September 17, 2020 and is being updated continuously.

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 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.
  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.

The Project’s foreign policy work and interviews:

The Way To Enact A Biden Foreign Policy Agenda? Personnel.

Joshua Timi Iwayemi & Miranda Litwak | The American Prospect | 8/18/20

The Proxy War Over a Top Biden Adviser

Spencer Ackerman | Daily Beast | 7/7/20

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

Andrea Beaty | The Revolving Door Project | 6/17/20

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

Erica Jung | The Revolving Door Project | 5/27/20 

Diplomacy by Donors

Joshua Timi Iwayemi | The Revolving Door Project | 5/11/20

International Antitrust Response to Coronavirus

Andrea Beaty & Miranda Litwak | The Revolving Door Project | 5/11/20

2020 Election/TransitionForeign Policy

More articles by Joshua Timi Iwayemi More articles by Miranda Litwak

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