President-elect Joe Biden has been diligent about placing moderates in top foreign policy jobs. As evidenced by his national security cabinet appointments, Biden has signaled his foreign policy will reflect a centrist approach. That has caused a good deal of tension and rankled the very influential left wing and radical progressive wing of the Democratic Party.
Biden has also showed signs that he intends to follow a more orthodox path on Israel and Middle East policy than his party’s progressive and radical activists advocate. His centrist approach to foreign policy has reinforced lingering cynicism and distrust about Biden among many progressives. And that distrust has broken out into a serious challenge that will test his diplomatic skills.
Biden’s foreign policy challenge emerges from a progressive coalition petitioning him to stack the second tier of his foreign policy administration with left-wing progressives. The coalition has delivered a detailed roster to Biden of 100 candidates recommended for senior foreign policy posts.
The question is . . . How will a President Biden juggle the demands and pressure of this challenge from the influential left wing and radical progressive wing of the Democratic Party?
The answer to this question is of particular interest to those focused on America’s foreign policy as it relates to Israel and the Middle-East.
The coalition strategy is straightforward. Left-leaning groups intend to put down deep roots at second-tier levels of the Biden Administration. Getting more progressives into the White House, State Department, and other key foreign policy positions is seen as a way to ensure their advice turns into action. It’s hard to have a progressive foreign policy, the thinking goes, without radicals and progressives actually impacting foreign policy.
From Win Without War to the Quincy Institute to MoveOn Advocacy to Human Rights Watch, the progressive coalition submitting the names to Biden is backed by a laundry list of prominent left-wing organizations.
The effort is being coordinated by Yasmine Taeb, a senior fellow at the Center for International Policy. According to Taeb: “This is the first comprehensive and coordinated effort by the left to appoint progressives to national security and foreign policy positions.”
Leading the list of names presented to Biden is Matt Duss. The progressive coalition pointedly recommends Duss to Biden as a deputy national security adviser or special adviser to the secretary of state. Currently a senior foreign policy adviser to Bernie Sanders, Duss has made a name for himself as an outspoken critic of U.S. policy toward Israel. He is seen by the new politics radicals as someone who, if situated inside the Biden Administration foreign policy ranks, would openly challenge the legitimacy of the Abraham Accords.
Next in line is co-founder of the Quincy Institute for Responsible Statecraft, and former United Nations official, Trita Parsi. Parsi is trumpeted by the coalition to oversee Middle East affairs on the Biden Administration’s National Security Council. Parsi has publicly “denounced” sanctions on Iran.
Both Matt Duss and Trita Parsi are recommended to Biden by the coalition for positions that do not require Senate confirmation.
Kate Gould, a national security adviser to Rep. Ro Khanna, D-Calif., is being advanced as senior policy adviser with the U.S. Mission to the United Nations. In 2018, Gould, a long-time pro-Palestinian advocate with the Quaker Friends Committee, predicted: “The designation of Jerusalem as the capital [of Israel] is just a prescription for endless bloodshed.”
Progressives also are promoting the return of prominent and influential left-wing, Obama-era veterans to high-level roles with the Biden Administration. Robert Malley, a former top National Security Council official for the Middle East and a senior advisor to Bernie Sanders, is reportedly in the mix for a top Iran-focused job in the Biden Administration. Malley has made a career out of opposition to Israel.
Other veterans being pushed forward by the radical coalition include Paul Pillar, a former senior intelligence official, and Steve Simon, a former National Security Council official who is a longtime proponent of left-wing views about the Israel-U.S alliance.
Iram Ali, former campaign director at MoveOn Political Action who called for a boycott of the AIPAC policy convention, has been flagged for a role in the Biden Administration foreign policy ranks by progressives, as has Alison Friedman, who is proposed as the State Department’s Senate-confirmed undersecretary for civilian security, democracy, and human rights – a broad portfolio that could allow progressives to scrutinize US arms sales to Israel.
Another recommendation to President-elect Biden from the left-wing coalition is Noah Gottschalk, a senior policy adviser at Oxfam America, who the progressive coalition suggests be named deputy assistant secretary of state. Gottschalk said of the Trump Peace to Prosperity plan: “It isn’t a peace deal – it’s a road map to permanent occupation.”
“There is a seriousness with which the progressive wing of the Democratic Party is trying to shape alternative ways for the United States to engage in the world,” according to Gordon Adams, who along with Keane Bhatt, a policy adviser to Bernie Sanders, is being tabbed as a potential addition to the Biden Administration foreign policy ranks.
Whether or not the incoming president takes the advice and staffing suggestions of progressives could prove an early fault line over the future of America’s place in the world.
Much of the radical new politics views Israel through an ideological prism, arguing that Israel is a colonial enterprise, an outpost of Western imperialism, in an overwhelmingly Muslim Middle East.
The prominence of the radical new politics in the Democratic Party furnishes President-elect Biden with difficult choices. He will feel intense pressure to please his left wing and gratify its aspirations.
The question for Israel and today’s Israeli leaders is how well does a President Biden manage the pressure coming from progressives and adherents of the radical new politics?
The days and weeks ahead will provide us with some answers.