America is Back (in the Middle East): The Biden Doctrine

As the new American government flexes its foreign policy muscles, one thing is clear: Joe Biden has doubled down on the interventionist, imperial instincts that have motivated his entire career in government. His team seems set to reinforce these destructive impulses. 

A Grim Portents

Throughout the first two full months of his presidency, US President Joe Biden set his sights on the Middle East. He opened the month of February with his first major foreign policy speech, proclaiming, “The message I want the world to hear today: America is back, America is back” to a room full of State Department officials.

US President Joe Biden speaks from the White House grounds, describing his airstrike in Syria (Doug Mills / The New York Times)

He closed the month with his first military action as president, bombing Syria on February 25. While the number of people killed in Biden’s attack is currently unknown, there was almost certainly a bodycount.  

This month of firsts was largely focussed on foreign policy. The self-proclaimed theme of February for the Biden administration was “Restoring America’s place in the world.” This theme seems to be evolving into a nascent “Biden Doctrine.” Avoiding the pitfalls and bravado of the boisterous Trump Administration, Biden has quietly reasserted American imperial power across the globe.

US Bradley Fighting Vehicles patrol oil fields in northeastern Syria on February 13. (Delil Souleiman / AFP via Getty Images)

Biden, in a letter justifying his strike in Syria to Congress, explained that the US “always stands ready to take necessary and proportionate action in self-defense, including when, as is the case here, the government of the state where the threat is located is unwilling or unable to prevent the use of its territory by non-state militia groups.”

According to Biden, these strikes were in retaliation for an attack on US occupation forces in Iraq on February 15. This attack killed a Filipino contractor, and injured several Americans.  

Biden had expressed that his retaliatory strikes would ease tensions by intimidating others in the region, cowing them into submission, and preventing further attacks. Predictably, this has not been the case. On Wednesday, March 3 ten more missiles were launched at US occupation forces in Iraq.  

The argument that Biden’s strike was conducted in “self-defense” strains credulity. Having invaded Iraq, and set up military bases across the country, the United States can apparently now claim self defense each time these forces are resisted. In the eyes of the United States, defending against American invasion is “aggression.”

Deploying thousands of troops across the Middle East (against the will of the local population, of course) then crying foul when these soldiers, or one of the hundreds of military bases in which they are housed, falls under threat, is a perfect recipe for the Biden administration to wage permanent war.  

The New Steward of the Forever Wars

Not only is Biden stepping up American aggression in Syria, but he seems equally dedicated to expanding American hard power across the globe. In his doctrine-setting foreign policy speech Biden went on to say that he will be “stopping any planned troop withdrawals from Germany.”

These plans had been put in place by former president Donald Trump, who sought not to pull all troops from Germany, but merely remove 9,500 of the 34,500 troops in the country.  

The difference between 34,5000 American troops in Germany and 25,000 seems an esoteric one.  In Afghanistan, however, the thousands of US troops remaining will certainly continue to have an impact. In fact, the New York Times recently reported that the United States has more than a thousand more troops in the country than it had priorly disclosed. This will certainly complicate any plans to wind down the war.

Then-US Vice President Joe Biden meets Afghan army recruits in Kabul on January 11, 2011. (Getty Images)

Former president Donald Trump had come to an agreement with the Taliban, establishing a deadline to pull out all US forces, May 1. Now, with that deadline merely a month away, it seems Joe Biden is reconsidering that arrangement. 

On March 17, Biden gave an interview indicating this deadline will not be met: “I’m in the process of making that decision now as to when they’ll leave. The fact is, that was not a very solidly negotiated deal that the President, the former President, worked out. So we’re in consultation with our allies as well as the government, and that decision’s – it’s in process now.”

Biden seemingly confirmed this last week, telling the press, “It’s going to be hard to meet the May 1 deadline.”

He went on to say that he “can’t picture” being in Afghanistan for more than an additional year. Though, in 2001, when Biden joined the nearly unanimous vote for war in Afghanistan, he certainly could not “picture” being in the country for nearly another two decades. In remaining in Afghanistan, Biden is following the advice of storied institutions and experts.

The ironically named United States Institute for Peace and the US Congress established the “Afghanistan Study Group” have released their final report for “A Pathway for Peace in Afghanistan.”

Unsurprisingly, their report recommends against following Trump’s hard deadline for withdrawal. Peace through war, the report insists, as the authors fear, “a rash and rushed approach could increase the chances of a breakdown of order in Afghanistan that threatens the security and interests of the United States and its allies.”

If the United States was concerned about a breakdown of order in Afghanistan, the country would not have invaded in 2001. As Biden reinvigorates this “forever war,” he does so with the support of a team which firmly believes in a liberally-minded global American military regime.

Return of the Liberal Imperialists

Biden’s foreign policy is largely being directed by three Obama/Biden Administration alumni: Anthony Blinken, Biden’s Secretary of State, Linda Thomas-Greenfield, his Ambassador to the United Nations, and Jake Sullivan, the National Security Advisor.

“This team has a belief in American supremacy which could lead them to recklessness in their use of American military power,” explained Andrew Bacevich, president of the Quincy Institute for Responsible Statecraft and author of America’s War for the Greater Middle East. Biden’s new Secretary of State may best exemplify this dangerous belief.

Anthony Blinken was the staff director for the Senate Foreign Relations Committee from 2002 until 2008, as then-senator Joe Biden was chair of the committee. This, of course, coincides with Biden’s disastrous support for the 2003 American invasion of Iraq. Here Blinken played a large role, insisting that pushing invasion was, “a vote for tough diplomacy.” 

Bliken did not learn his lesson from the disastrous American war in Iraq. Instead, he backed the 2011 Obama Administration war against Libya, which has resulted in catastrophe for the country, and the return of slavery.

He also remains disappointed at the lack of a full American war in Syria, explaining that, “force can be a necessary adjunct to effective diplomacy. In Syria, we rightly sought to avoid another Iraq by not doing too much, but we made the opposite error of doing too little.”

Strange that in order to “avoid another Iraq” the Democrats are returning the architects of that war to power. 

Jake Sullivan, now Biden’s National Security Advisor, mirrors Blinken’s hawkish outlook.  Despite his youth, Sullivan is widely considered to be a masterful diplomat, with a senior Clinton Campaign official going as far as to say he’s “on the Benjamin Button track. He is the equivalent of at least a decade, if not two, beyond his biological years.”  

Sullivan developed his ideology, as well as accumulated “decades” of experience, working under two-time failed presidential candidate and former Secretary of State Hillary Clinton. This, of course, makes his experience highly questionable.

Ben Rhoades, Obama’s national security advisor, described Sullivan’s role: “On the spectrum of people in our administration, he tended to favor more assertive US engagement on issues” and “responses that would incorporate some military element.” So, the Biden administration is two for two in favor of military intervention.

As for the final member of this triumvirate, Biden’s ambassador to the UN Linda Thomas-Greenfield, her focus is slightly more domestic. Rather, it lies at an intersection of foreign and domestic policy. In recent years the Boycott Divestment and Sanctions movement (BDS) has been gaining traction in the United States.

The BDS movement seeks to hold Israel accountable for its oppression of the Palestinian people and occupation of Palestine by pressuring the international community to Boycott companies which profit from the regime, to Divest from Israel and Israeli companies, and support Sanctions against the state (hence the name). 

Thomas-Greenfield appears particularly perturbed by this movement, and has made her support of Israel’s occupation of Palestine clear.

She has vowed to stand up “against the unfair targeting of Israel” by the BDS movement, which, in her view, “verges on antisemitism.” She very closely follows the example of Trump’s UN ambassador, Nikki Haley, on this point.

Haley spent her career attempting to block all criticism of Israel and its powerful lobby in the UN, and Thomas-Greenfield seems positioned to follow suit.  

Thomas-Greenfield, Sullivan, and Blinken share one extremely important quality. Each of them has a history of profiteering, leveraging their government ‘expertise’ into lucrative private sector consulting careers. This is not abnormal for the Biden team; his administration is crawling with lobbyists and Washington influence-peddlers. 

A Match Made in Hell: The Lobbyists, Consultants, and Arms Dealers of Biden’s Inner Circle

Biden has been basking in the warm light of an obedient American press concerning his historically diverse cabinet. Lloyd Austin, his Secretary of Defense, is the first African American to hold the post.

He would not, however, be the first foot soldier of Raytheon, the massive defense firm/weapons manufacturer, to be the Secretary of Defense. He will be joining Mark Esper, Donald Trump’s Secretary of Defense, who was the primary lobbyist for the defense firm. 

Austin sat on the board of Raytheon for years, starting in 2016. He has since stepped down from the position in order to join the Biden administration, but he seems to have parted ways with the weapons giant amicably, as he will be receiving a $1.7 million payout on his way out the door.  Raytheon surely hopes to see returns on that investment in Austin in the form of continued weapons contracts.

If their man in the Department of Defense fails them, Raytheon has many other points of influence in the Biden administration, such as Antony Blinken’s State Department.

Following his work with then Vice President Biden, in 2017 Blinken founded WestExec Advisors, a consulting firm where he and other former Obama administration officials bartered their influence. And who were they selling influence to? As it turns out, we may never fully know.  WestExec, as policy, does not disclose its client list.

Journalists at The American Prospect spoke to a WestExec staffer who “wouldn’t comment on whether the consultancy has Raytheon as a client but would only say the defense contractor is ‘in the ballpark,’ noting they work for a ‘defense prime,’ meaning one of the top five defense firms among which Raytheon ranks. (WestExec’s own Robert Work has served on Raytheon’s board since 2017.”

Some of WestExec’s clients include, according to a financial disclosure by the Biden team, Google’s Jigsaw, Windward (an Israeli private intelligence firm), and Shield AI (a drone company), as well as better known companies such as Blackstone Investment, Bank of America, Facebook, Uber, McKinsey, Boeing (another weapons manufacturer) and even the Royal Bank of Canada.

Many of these companies have also been represented by Linda Thomas-Greenfield’s firm, the Albright Stonebridge Group, and Jake Sullivan’s, Macro Advisory Partners.

Each high ranking Biden official has their own tangled web or corporate and foreign entanglements, which has in turn made them rich.

At the Albright Stonebridge Group, Linda Thomas-Green made more than half a million dollars in her last two years alone, representing giants such as Amazon, Hilton, and Microsoft.

With this extensive list of clients, why is Raytheon so critical? As one of America’s preeminent arms dealers, they have their hand in conflicts across the globe.

One, though, seems to stand above the rest in profitability. Raytheon has made in excess of three billion dollars selling weapons to Saudi Arabia for their brutal assault on Yemen. With such a hefty investment, both Raytheon and the Saudis are looking to place friends in the Biden government to protect their deadly interests. 

Riyadh’s Men in Washington 

Throughout the 2020 presidential campaign, the Biden camp loudly opposed former President Donald Trump’s close relationship with the Saudi government, and in particular, Crown Prince Mohammad bin Salman (MBS).

There has also been mounting pressure from segments of Congress, led by Bernie Sanders, to end US support for the Saudi war in Yemen.  

Tim Lenderking, Biden’s newly appointed Special Envoy for Yemen, certainly fits the theme of ‘restoring’ America’s place in the Middle East. Prior to the Trump administration, Lenderking in several countries across the Middle East, yet never Yemen.

However, he did serve as the Deputy Chief of Mission in two US embassies, in Kuwait and Saudi Arabia (coincidentally, both countries now involved in the war against Yemen). Lenderking also worked for the US embassy in Iraq, as their “Senior Democracy Advisor.”  

Given his background, the line Lenderking takes on the Saudi war in Yemen is unsurprising: “The more bombs that are dropping, the more Houthi aggression, the more attacks against Riyadh and other population centres in Riyadh, which we cannot countenance, the more conflict is going to drag on,” Lenderking explained in 2017.

With Lenderking’s open hostility to the embattled Houthis, and Biden’s CIA Director William Burns receiving lavish gifts from the Saudi ambassador, it seems unlikely that Biden will be stopping the war in Yemen any time soon.  

Biden has even backed off his early criticism of MBS, as the Saudi weapons market is just too large to ignore (to say nothing of the oil market).

On Yemen, the largest difference one can strain to draw between Biden and Trump appears to be the former’s insistence that the billions of dollars of weapons sold to Saudi Arabia, for use in the Yemen war, must be used “defensively” and that the US will support “defensive” Saudi operations. Convenient, given Lenderking’s insistence that the war in its essence is defensive.

The Biden Doctrine is not complicated. Thus far, the doctrine seems to be ‘expand American military power abroad, all while making as much money as possible,’ which sounds suspiciously like the doctrines of Trump, Obama, and Bush.

He has bombed Syria, extended the war in Afghanistan, and packed his administration with lobbyists tied to corporate interests, the military-industrial complex, and authoritarian regimes.

Those who opposed Biden’s presidential run cannot be surprised, given his long record of war-mongering, and key role in launching the Iraq war. His voters and supporters, however, must now embrace their new imperial president. After all, America is back.