A coalition of progressive foreign policy groups is releasing a new letter to Biden that’s designed to do just this. With domestic policy grabbing much attention, it tries to stake out the terms of a debate over what progressive foreign policy might look like in the Biden administration, should he get elected.
The letter — which is signed by organizations that include Win Without War, J Street, Indivisible, MoveOn, Justice Democrats, and Demand Progress — calls on Biden to undertake a “fundamental re-envisioning of the United States’ role in the world.”
To that end, it lays out numerous principles that signatories hope Biden will adhere to, many of which amount to a robust vision of what’s sometimes called progressive internationalism.
For instance, it demands that matters requiring international attention and cooperation among countries — mass global inequality, climate change, global white nationalist movements, rising international authoritarianism — be treated as national security challenges.
Related to this is the letter’s demand that Biden pledge to prioritize international cooperation over the sort of “great power competition” that we’re drifting back into during the Trump era.
Also called for is an “embrace of reducing the Pentagon’s budget” to shift priorities towards peace building and diplomacy as the “primary tools to address violence and violent conflict,” including terrorism.
The letter also asks Biden to refrain from staffing foreign policy positions with people who have supported CIA torture programs, opposed the release during the Barack Obama presidency of a Senate report on those programs, supported Israeli settlements, and backed “covert policies that resulted in civilian harm” (this might include prominent advocates for Obama’s targeted killing program, which did cause civilian casualties).
The letter concludes:
A potential Biden administration presents an opportunity to begin to challenge the institutions and groupthink that have led to a disastrous, overly-militarized, unilateral approach to foreign affairs, and put the United States in a position to credibly lead on addressing the existential threats the world faces in the coming century.
All this points to the complex position Biden occupies in relation to foreign policy progressives. Biden supported the Iraq War, which associated him with an older-line and more hawkish foreign policy establishment whose failures Obama ran against in 2008 (before disappointing progressives with his record on drones, war powers and other matters).
Yet Biden also was involved in negotiating the Iran nuclear deal. Many progressives regard this as a crowning internationalist achievement and a realization of the good side of Obama’s vision, which was shaped in reaction to Iraq, with the goal of moving past “the mindset that got us into war in the first place,” as Obama put it in 2008.
This tension was well articulated by Matt Duss, an adviser to Sen. Bernie Sanders (I-Vt.), who clashed with Biden in the primaries over Iraq. As Duss noted, Biden still must “show that he has grappled with the consequences of that war,” but at the same time, he was “on the more restraint-oriented side” of numerous key foreign policy debates during the Obama years.
This letter seems designed to create a framework with which Biden can be pinned down more precisely on many of these matters.
The other key context here is that foreign policy progressives has come a long way in the past two decades. The antiwar movement that sprung up in reaction to Iraq and George W. Bush’s “war on terrorism,” evolved further with its organizing on behalf of the Iran nuclear deal.
Foreign policy progressives have since demonstrated still more reach and depth by helping to corral virtually all congressional Democrats into opposing Trump over U.S. support for the Saudi-led war in Yemen, which has unleashed a humanitarian catastrophe.
So this letter is also a first volley in foreign policy progressives’ effort to exert real influence over a Biden administration, and to show that it has become a major presence to be reckoned with.