US president-elect Joe Biden has already announced some of the key office holders for his administration. A quick look at some of the most talked about cabinet appointments, will give us a sneak peek at where the upcoming presidency is headed.
Lloyd Austin was appointed on Tuesday December 8 for the post of secretary of defense, heading the military apparatus of the US. Austin was a commanding general of the US forces in Iraq between 2010 and 2011, during the first administration of Barack Obama. While he oversaw Obama’s decision of withdrawing over 50,000 US military personnel from Iraq, he was on record opposing it. Not only did Austin oppose the withdrawal of the troops but also called for thousands of additional troops to be deployed in Iraq as part of the coalition forces.
He was later appointed as the Vice Chief of Staff in 2012 and was charged with leading the US Central Command in Iraq in 2014. Austin retired in 2016, and went on to serve in the board of defense contractor Raytheon Technologies, a company that has heavily profited by supplying Saudi Arabia weapons for its war on Yemen.
While Austin’s past as a career military officer will not be new, his appointment is likely to face some opposition in the US Congress. Being a senior military officer, much like his predecessor James Mattis, Austin will require a special waiver, passed by the Congress, from the National Security Act of 1947 that requires a seven-year gap for career military officers.
Then comes the secretary of state-elect, Anthony Blinken, who has a history of working with Biden and is credited with some of his key foreign policy decisions as a senator. Blinken is a regular at the White House, having served in the past two Democratic administrations, Bill Clinton and Barack Obama, in various foreign policy posts.
He is credited with Biden’s support for the Iraq War waged by George W. Bush administration, and also for his widely discredited trifurcation plan for Iraq along ethnic and sectarian lines. He has supported every major war the US has waged, no matter the president in charge. He had advocated for the 2011 NATO invasion of Libya and supplying Syrian extremist groups with weapons. He also worked with Biden to offer financial aid for Israel’s “Iron Dome” missiles, and also supports Saudi Arabia’s war on Yemen.
Blinken is already drawing up the foreign policy of the Biden administration, which will characterize Russia as an adversary and China as a competitor. Since his appointment, he has also confirmed that the Biden administration will continue with sanctions on Iran, despite his supposed criticisms of the Trump administration’s unilateral withdrawal from the Iran nuclear deal.
A common theme that emerges in these appointments, coupled with the number of people who previously worked in agencies and think tanks directly supported by the weapons industry, indicates that a more rigidly militarist approach to foreign policy can be expected. For the military industrial complex things will be business as usual.
Even in matters of domestic issues, things do not seem to be changing. Take for instance, former Hillary Clinton staffer, Neera Tanden who is appointed to serve as the Director of the Office of Management and Budget, a crucial economic policy post of the President’s Executive Office. Tanden, often seen to be very close to the establishment Democrats, has been among the most prominent opponents of the left-ward tendencies within the Democratic Party.
Tanden has vehemently opposed universal healthcare and the USD 15 per hour minimum wage, which were some of the central policy planks of former presidential candidate and senator Bernie Sanders. With someone of her political record holding the budget office as the US faces a major pandemic is not an indication that the upcoming government is heeding to the demands on the ground. Not so incidentally, like Blinken, Tanden has also expressed strong support for the US-led invasion of Libya in 2011 and US bombings in Syria under the Obama administration.
Then there is the secretary of homeland security-elect, Alejandro Mayorkas, who was formerly part of the Obama administration as deputy secretary of homeland security and the director of US Citizenship and Immigration Services. According to Liberation News, Mayorkas was part of the group that led to Obama earning “the nickname ‘Deporter-in-Chief’ for carrying out an eye-popping number of deportations that spread terror in immigrant communities.”
There’s also Cedric Richmond, a congressman from Louisiana, who apart from heading the public liaison office of the president will also become a senior adviser in the White House. Richmond also won his re-election in the 2020 US Congressional election for this seat in the House of Representative.
He was one of the few Democrats who have supported and voted for the extremely Keystone XL pipeline. Incidentally his election campaign for 2020, according to Open Secrets, received funding to the tune of USD 113,000 from the oil and gas lobby. Many, especially progressives within the Democratic Party, have already raised concerns of the influence Richmond will have on the climate change-related orders Biden has promised to pass once he takes office.
All of these factors only lead us to believe that change is not really on the cards once Biden takes over from Donald Trump in January 2021.