Biden’s Cabinet: A Return to Normal — But Normal is the Problem

As President Biden assembles his cabinet, the priorities of his administration are becoming clear. For the most part, his cabinet reflects a return to many of the same policies — and people — of the Obama administration. Many of his selections for national security and foreign policy played key roles in the drone strikes and ongoing bombing campaigns of the U.S. in Iraq, Afghanistan, Syria and Yemen. Biden has selected people with a history of ties to military defense contractors, fossil fuel companies, and banks. Already, several cabinet selections have singled out China as the most important threat to U.S. national security. So far, significantly more attention has been paid to climate change, but none of this matches the urgency of the problem. Overall, economic and military domination by the United States around the globe remains the highest priority. The Biden administration is certainly a return to normal — but it is the same normal that has been the problem for a long time.

The following is a partial list of some key cabinet selections for the Biden administration and the roles they have played in prior administrations.

Retired General Lloyd Austin, Secretary of Defense

Secretary of State: Antony Blinken

Avril Haines, Director of National Intelligence

John Kerry, Special Presidential Envoy for Climate

Ron Klain, Chief of Staff

Alejandro Mayorkas, Secretary of Homeland Security

Susan Rice, Director of Domestic Policy Council

Jake Sullivan, National Security Adviser

Linda Thomas-Greenfield, Ambassador to the United Nations


Retired General Lloyd Austin, Secretary of Defense

In 2003, General Lloyd Austin was an assistant division commander for the 2003 U.S. invasion of Iraq, a war and occupation that ultimately ripped the country apart and cost the lives of an estimated 461,000 people. He played a similar role in the U.S. invasion and occupation in Afghanistan later that same year. Austin was the Commanding General of the U.S. occupation of Iraq from 2008 to 2009, a period which led to an estimated 15,000 civilian deaths, along with further instability in the country. In 2010, Austin began leading the training of Iraqi Security Forces (ISF), which were later accused of war crimes for their atrocities in the town of Mosul. Continuing his rise in the military ranks, from 2013 to 2016, Austin was the top commander of U.S. Central Command (CENTCOM), overseeing all U.S. military forces in the Middle East. This included the U.S. role in the bloody civil war in Syria, where the U.S. carried out bombing raids of entire cities, killing many civilians; it included ongoing military operations in Afghanistan and Yemen, which involved frequent drone strikes and bombing of civilian gatherings like weddings and funerals. After retiring from the military in 2016, Austin joined the board of directors of Raytheon Technologies, the third largest weapons manufacturer in the world. During his confirmation hearing on January 19, 2021, Austin made a point to call out China as “the most significant threat going forward.”

Antony Blinken, Secretary of State

Antony Blinken was confirmed as Secretary of State on January 27. Blinken is a long-time supporter of U.S. military aggression around the world. He was instrumental in Biden’s initial support for the U.S. war and occupation of Iraq. Blinken supported the strategy of carving Iraq into three territories marked by ethnic divisions. Blinken has been an unapologetic supporter of Israel’s occupation of Palestine, promising in his confirmation hearing to never link “military assistance to Israel to any political decisions that it makes.” In other words, regardless of what Israel does, U.S. military aid will always flow. In 2017, Blinken helped found the Washington consulting firm WestExec, whose slogan was “Bringing the Situation Room to the Board Room” — a classic way of offering multinational corporations private foreign policy consultation to aid their economic dominance internationally. Blinken has reaffirmed confronting China as the premier threat to U.S. dominance in the world. He supports the failed coup attempt in Venezuela to oust democratically elected Maduro to be replaced by Juan Guaido.

Avril Haines, Director of National Intelligence

Avril Haines was Obama’s top lawyer on the National Security Council from 2010 to 2013 and the CIA deputy director from 2013 to 2015. During this time Haines was one of the main architects in providing the legal approval for the drone war under the Obama administration, which carried out various assassinations and bombings. Also, in 2015, the Senate Intelligence Committee was concluding its several-years long investigation into the CIA’s use of torture in detentions and interrogations. At the time, Haines was the deputy director (second in command) of the CIA when the CIA illegally hacked the computers of the members on the Senate Intelligence committee in order to disrupt the investigation. After the hack was revealed, Haines refused to carry out the recommended discipline of the agents involved and even awarded them the Career Intelligence Medal. After the Obama administration, Haines also worked for Antony Blinken’s consulting firm WestExec, and she was a consultant for the data mining company Palantir. Palantir is a private company founded with CIA money, which provides secret intelligence information to the CIA, Department of Defense, and Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE). For example, Palantir provides ICE with information to track down and deport undocumented immigrants.

John Kerry, Special Presidential Envoy for Climate

John Kerry is a long-time central figure in the Democratic Party, almost winning the presidency in 2004. He is also a multi-millionaire, worth around $250 million, partially due to his marriage to Teresa Heinz of the multi-billion-dollar Heinz corporation. He was a senator from Massachusetts from 1984 to 2013. In 2013 he replaced Hilary Clinton as Secretary of State in the Obama administration. Kerry has supported every major U.S. military intervention since 1983, including in Iraq, Afghanistan, and Libya. As Secretary of State, he was instrumental in further involving the U.S. in the civil war in Syria, and the massive U.S. bombing campaign that followed. He played a similar role in supporting Saudi Arabia’s bombing of Yemen in 2015, which helped spark an ongoing civil war that has destroyed the country and starved the population. And as Secretary of State, he, too, oversaw the Obama administration’s assassination of an estimated 3,797 people by drone strikes. Biden has selected Kerry to be the so-called “climate envoy.” But Kerry’s political career shows him to be a champion of the fossil fuel industry, not a defender of the environment. During the Obama administration, Kerry supported Obama during what was the largest increase in fossil fuel extraction in U.S. history, massively expanding fossil fuel drilling and fracking. Through this, the U.S. went from a net importer of fossil fuels to a net exporter, and the Obama administration lifted a 40-year ban on fossil fuel exports, which Kerry supported. In 2017, Kerry leveraged his political experience to work for Bank of America, a major investor in the fossil fuel industry, as part of their global advisory council. Kerry’s selection as climate envoy has little to do with stopping climate disruption and protecting the environment, and everything to do with U.S. national security. Kerry points to rejoining the Paris Climate accords as a major step towards fighting global warming when in fact the Paris accords set non-binding emission limits, and have been criticized by a leading climate expert as “pure bullshit.” For years now, climate change has been seen as a national security threat to the U.S., posing major risks, including destabilization, mass displacement, disrupted access to resources, threats to military bases, and more. Kerry has already made it clear he intends to use his position as Climate Envoy as another flank in the U.S. attempt to limit China’s growth as a global competitor, implementing a global tax on carbon pollution. Currently China depends on coal power for roughly 60 percent of its energy, which is a major source of China’s greenhouse gas emissions, and would generate an enormous carbon tax if it was ever implemented.

Ron Klain, Chief of Staff

Ron Klain has been a long-time advisor to President Biden, helping to run all three of Biden’s presidential campaigns (in 1988, 2008, and 2020), and he served as then-Vice President Biden’s chief of staff from 2009 to 2011. While not working for Biden, Klain has been a corporate lobbyist and a consultant at various venture capital firms. As a lobbyist, he helped defend corporations being sued for asbestos exposure, ultimately helping to get these corporations a bailout package. He represented airlines in corporate mergers; the mortgage firm Fannie Mae, which played a large role in the sub-prime mortgage scandal leading up to the 2008 economic crisis; the corrupt drug company ImClone, sued for withholding life-saving drugs from dying patients; AOL Time Warner, sued for lying about revenue to boost its stock price; and many more.

Alejandro Mayorkas, Secretary of Homeland Security

From 2009 to 2013, Alejandro Mayorkas was the head of U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services under the Obama Administration before becoming the Deputy Secretary of Homeland Security in 2013. Mayorkas helped oversee the enormous deportation machine of the Obama administration, which deported 3 million undocumented immigrants, often ripping apart families that had been settled in the U.S. for years. In 2016, he joined the multi-million dollar corporate law firm WilmerHale. Just last year alone he made $3.3 million representing clients that included Northrop Grumman, Uber, the Blackstone investment group, PNC Financial Services Group, and many others.

Susan Rice, Director of Domestic Policy Council

Susan Rice has spent most of her career advising on U.S. foreign policy. She worked for both terms of presidents Bill Clinton and Barack Obama. In the Clinton administration, she served on the National Security Council, and as Assistant Secretary of State for African Affairs. During this stint, Rice had leading responsibility for U.S. policy in Africa during the Rwandan genocide, which entailed the murder of around 800,000 people by militia groups. During her years overseeing U.S.-African policy, the Clinton administration became known for its disastrous policy towards the continent, supporting military regimes during bloody civil wars as multinational companies continued to treat the entire region as an endless supply of resources, especially in oil and mining. Susan Rice served under the Obama administration both as National Security Advisor from 2013 to 2017, and before that she was the ambassador to the U.N.. She advocated for ongoing U.S. military intervention in Iraq, Syria and Afghanistan, and Yemen. She played an important role in the U.S.-supported far-right coup in 2014 in the Ukraine that overthrew the pro-Russian government. She was also key to the Obama administration’s so-called “pivot to Asia,” a major military buildup in the South China Sea to threaten China. And like so many Biden appointments from the Obama administration, Rice was involved in approving every person on their kill list to be assassinated by drone strike. These assassinations were so frequent, and killed an estimated 3,797 people, that the Air Force members responsible for controlling the drones from behind a computer screen near Las Vegas suffered from post-traumatic stress disorder. Rice unflinchingly supports what she has called the “unbreakable bond” between the U.S. and Israel, supporting the brutal occupation of Palestine. To top it off, Rice has millions of dollars invested in the fossil fuel industry.

Jake Sullivan, National Security Adviser

During the Obama administration, Jake Sullivan served as Deputy Chief of Staff to Secretary of State Hillary Clinton, and then as Vice President Biden’s National Security Adviser. Since then, he has worked as a highly paid consultant at firms representing everything from leading weapons contractors and financial institutions to multinational corporations and more. One of these institutions is the London and New York–based Macro Advisory Partners, run by former British spy agents at MI6. The company has a secret client list, but its primary activity is advising multinational companies in foreign policy and finance about how to better access markets and resources around the globe. Sullivan played a leading role when Macro Advisory Partners recently advised Uber in its effort to undermine California legislation that classified Uber drivers as full-time employees. Uber successfully maneuvered around the legislation’s orders to continue paying employees low wages with little to no benefits. Similar to the majority of the Biden administration, at the top of Sullivan’s agenda is reestablishing U.S. dominance around the world, especially in relation to China and Russia. In his March 2018 article in Foreign Affairs, Sullivan explains that the U.S. must recognize that it is in a “renewed great-power competition” with Russia and China, that China represents a “fundamental global challenge” to the U.S, which must be confronted in order to maintain U.S. dominance of the “international order.”

Linda Thomas-Greenfield, Ambassador to the United Nations

Linda Thomas-Greenfield served as U.S. ambassador to Liberia from 2008 to 2012. During this time, she helped secure access to Liberian oil for U.S. corporations, primarily Chevron. From 2013 to 2017, she served as the Assistant Secretary of State for African Affairs, continuing her support of U.S. firms and their access to African oil, mining, and other resources and markets. In 2017, she joined the consulting firm Albright Stonebridge Group, founded by former Secretary of State Madeline Albright. Thomas-Greenfield led the African practice there, where she leveraged her experience and connections in African markets to benefit large U.S. corporations.