Whence Power Flows: Corporate-Funded Think Tanks
Another election. Another political transition. Another opportunity for the US to change course regarding its otherwise destructive foreign policy?
Contrary to popular belief, US foreign policy is not the product of the nation’s elected representatives nor is it overseen by the occupants of the White House.
US foreign policy is instead driven by unelected corporate-financier interests. These include some of the largest, most powerful corporations and financial institutions on Earth, in human history like JP Morgan, Google, Bank of America, Facebook, Intel, Exxon, AT&T, Citigroup, Microsoft, Verizon, Johnson & Johnson, Chevron, PepsiCo, Pfizer, Goldman Sachs, Amazon, Merck, Lockheed, Boeing, Monsanto, and GM just to name a few.
They create consensus within and across industries, the political landscape, and within mass media through a network of policy think tanks they fund and chair like the Council on Foreign Relations (CFR), the Brookings Institution, the RAND Corporation, the Center for Strategic and International Studies (CSIS), and the Atlantic Council.
The policy proposed by these think tanks is transformed into bills, sent to Washington with lobbyists, where it is then rubber stamped often with little or no debate and often without US representatives even reading the bills before signing them.
This helps explain why US foreign policy regarding its Transatlantic relations, its confrontation with Russia, its military campaigns stretching from North Africa, through the Middle East, and into Central Asia, as well as its policy of encirclement and containment versus China continues regardless of who Congress consists of or who occupies the White House – often with particular policies being pursued seamlessly not only from one president to the next, but often from one decade to another.
Likewise, the connections these think tanks have with Western media helps explain the singular narratives we see when it is time for the media to sell pre-determined policy to the American public as well as to international audiences.
Thus, in order to understand US foreign policy, one must understand the corporations and financial institutions that truly shape it, rather than examining the alleged motivations and political proclivities of those in Washington merely signing off on this policy.
Understanding what US President Joe Biden will do over the next four years is not a matter of examining his own alleged political platform, his campaign promises, or even what he says on a day-to-day basis, but rather understanding what policy he will be tasked with continuing and understanding that the former are designed to serve as a pretext for perpetuating the latter.
If we find that Biden’s administration is set to continue US foreign policy – including policy that has unfolded over the past four years under US President Donald Trump – with only minor differences in window dressing, this is the reason we should not be surprised.
We can fully expect US foreign policy – from US relations with Europe and Russia, from Africa to the Middle East, and front Central to East Asia – to continue as it has for decades in pursuit of hegemony with political rhetoric used as camouflage, not an actual reflection of real motivation or agenda.
In fact, President Biden’s newly appointed Secretary of State, Antony Blinken, has already made it abundantly clear that not only will the new administration continue US foreign policy in the same direction – including finishing or adding to projects undertaken over the past four years under Trump – but it fully plans to accelerate it in every dimension possible.
Transatlantic Transgressions and Russia
America’s Transatlantic policy is rooted in the geopolitical architecture created at the end of World War II and cemented into place during the decades of the Cold War versus first the Soviet Union and now the Russian Federation which emerged after the former’s collapse.
Russia has historically played a direct role in the Great Power Competition – sometimes as an ally of Western European powers, but almost always as a competitor, and even sometimes as a potential target for colonization itself.
The Soviet Union’s emergence after World War II as a global superpower – owed to the massive military might it accrued during its fighting against Nazi Germany – posed a direct threat to US and Western European designs for the continuation of their respective overseas ambitions, including reasserting themselves over former colonies everywhere from Africa and the Middle East to Southeast Asia and even China.
The Cold War, driven by what US President Dwight Einsenhower referred to as the “military industrial complex,” sought to prevent any sort of accommodation or compromise amid this process of the West reasserting its global primacy.
As part of this process the US and special interests across Western Europe attempted to suppress elements within Western society that might seek to cooperate rather than seek conflict with the Soviet Union and its allies. Operation Gladio – a network of clandestine paramilitary units – would often carry out provocations that would be pinned on Soviet-linked groups, fomenting conflict and preventing cooperation between East and West.
More recently, this has translated into what many are calling the “New Cold War” – this time not the US and NATO against the Soviet Union, but between the US and sympathetic circles in Western Europe along with a growing list of client regimes in Eastern Europe against the Russian Federation.
It was the US who after the collapse of the Soviet Union used “color revolutions” to install client regimes in territory surrounding the Russian Federation, including in areas previously part of the Soviet Union. It was a process that began under US President Bill Clinton, continued under George Bush, and saw a significant resurgence under Obama in 2013 and 2014 when US-backed opposition groups overthrew the government of Ukraine.
It was also around the time of the collapse of the Soviet Union that the US supported Chechen terrorists and their goal of creating an independent state in Russia’s North Caucasus region. The Second Chechen War would unfold in various stages from 1999 to 2009 with Russia still to this day managing the region carefully to police extremism.
Despite the promise of a “Restart” between Washington and Moscow under the US President Barack Obama, a campaign of confrontation and subversion was executed against Russia as it began to rise again on the global stage as a serious international player.
Just as was the case during the Cold War, significant investments have been made to create networks to ensure Western Europe remains on a confrontational footing with modern day Russia rather than move in any direction resembling cooperation.
In many ways we have seen this process fail, and nations like Germany pursuing major deals with Russia including the Nord Stream 2 pipeline.
It is a pipeline that connects Russia directly to Western Europe via Germany, bypassing any nation the US could potentially create unrest in like it did in Ukraine in 2013-2014.
As part of Washington’s goal to isolate Russia, it adamantly opposes the Nord Stream 2 pipeline and any prospect of Russia working closer in collaboration with Western Europe. Despite the obvious self-serving nature of this policy, the US has tried to camouflage it by claiming its desire to obstruct Nord Stream 2 is rooted in concerns over Europe’s “energy security” – implying that Europe, and Germany specifically, is unable to recognize the threat itself.
The US has – just as it did in the Cold War – demonstrated its willingness to attack “allies” as enthusiastically as it attacks its enemies, leveling sanctions against German companies involved in Nord Stream 2’s construction.
The orchestration of staged events is also a tactic that continues to be used today. The alleged poisoning of US-backed Russian opposition figure Alexy Navalny and his “coincidental” evacuation flight to Germany was accompanied by very public statements by the Western media and European politicians calling on the German government to cancel Nord Stream 2 in light of the Kremlin’s supposed assassination attempt.
German state media, Deutsche Welle (DW), would note in their article, “European Parliament calls for halt on Nord Stream 2 construction after Navalny arrest,” that:
The European Parliament demanded that construction be halted on the controversial Nord Stream 2 pipeline, in a resolution passed on Thursday.
It issued the call in response to Russia arresting opposition figure Alexei Navalny upon his return to Russia. He had been in Germany recovering from an attempted assassination with a military grade nerve agent.
Clearly Moscow stood nothing to gain from poisoning Navalny – an incredibly unpopular opposition figure in Russia – especially at a time when Nord Stream 2 is so close to completion. It is also abundantly clear that the US stood everything to gain. When the ploy failed to deter Germany, pressure and sanctions targeting Germany directly were increased, first under Trump and now under Biden.
Both under Trump and now Biden similar calls have been made. During Secretary Blinken’s confirmation hearing, he agreed with Senator Ted Cruz over the “necessity” to stop Nord Stream 2 and confirmed all opinions including additional sanctions and pressure including on Germany itself were on the table.
Worse still, Blinken found himself arguing with US Senator Rand Paul over why he believed NATO should be further expanded to include Georgia and Ukraine – part of a much more aggressive method of encircling and isolating Russia – a method of expanding NATO toward Russia’s very borders that has been pursued by every US president since the fall of the Soviet Union.
From the 1990s when US “color revolutions” were honed into a precision geopolitical weapon – creating an arc of client states around Russia’s peripheries – to today where Ukraine remains destabilized and Belarus, directly on Russia’s border, faces similar US-backed destabilization, it remains clear that regardless of who is in the White House a singular agenda is pursued against Russia and when necessary against European “allies” who impede this singular agenda.
Shaping North Africa and the Middle East
Virtually every aspect of US foreign policy in regards to North Africa and the Middle East also stretches back to the end of World War 2 and efforts to aid in reasserting Anglo-American influence over the two regions ever since.
The overthrow of the Libyan government in 2011 was a project one US president after another oversaw since at least as early as the 1980s – and in particular, through the use of extremists funded and armed clandestinely by the US government.
The overthrow of the Iraqi government spanned from the time of US President George Bush Sr. to his son George W. Bush, culminating in the 2003 US invasion of Iraq, and has resulted in an enduring US occupation of the country ever since, spanning all eight years of the Obama administration, all four years of the Trump administration, and very unlikely to end under Biden who has expressed no plans – even on the campaign trail – to end America’s military presence in the region.
Likewise for Syria, the US has sought to remove the Syrian government from power since Syrian President Bashar Al-Assad’s father held the office. The 2011 proxy invasion of Syria began under Obama and continued under Trump, and under the new President Biden it still occupies eastern Syria illegally – again – with no plans of leaving any time soon.
Yemen faces a similar and enduring conflict driven by US interests and through US and European support for aggressors including Saudi Arabia, Qatar, the UAE, and others.
The current conflict in Yemen – like in Syria – began in 2011 under the Obama administration as a component of the US-engineered “Arab Spring” and evolved into a violent war from 2015 onward, backed by the US and executed by Washington’s regional allies including Saudi Arabia, Qatar, and the UAE.
Together, America’s various wars, proxy wars, and occupations across the Middle East aim at encircling, containing, and eventually collapsing the government of Iran.
Iran – a target of US aggression since the 1970s – has likewise faced decades-spanning plans pushed forward seamlessly from one US administration to the next.
The clearest example of this was the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action (JCPOA), also known as the “Iran Nuclear Deal.” While it was signed in 2013 during the Obama administration – a 2009 policy paper published by the above mentioned Brookings Institution entitled, “Which Path to Persia?: Options for a New American Strategy Toward Iran” made it clear that the US intended to betray the deal, shift the blame on Iran, and use the resulting crisis as a pretext to pursue further aggression with what US policymakers believed would be greater international support.
The paper would explicitly note:
‘…any military operation against Iran will likely be very unpopular around the world and require the proper international context—both to ensure the logistical support the operation would require and to minimize the blowback from it. The best way to minimize international opprobrium and maximize support (however, grudging or covert) is to strike only when there is a widespread conviction that the Iranians were given but then rejected a superb offer—one so good that only a regime determined to acquire nuclear weapons and acquire them for the wrong reasons would turn it down. Under those circumstances, the United States (or Israel) could portray its operations as taken in sorrow, not anger, and at least some in the international community would conclude that the Iranians “brought it on themselves” by refusing a very good deal.’
This was a plan conceived under the Bush administration, the deal proposed and signed under Obama, broken under Trump, with the US left precariously close to war with Iran under Biden.
While many have held on to hopes that Biden will return the US to the Iran Nuclear Deal, it should be noted that US foreign policy in places like Syria including the US-engineered proxy war waged while Biden was Vice President was ultimately designed as one part of a wider strategy against Iran itself.
It was also noted in the 2009 Brookings Institution paper that Syria would have to be removed from the way before any direct confrontation with Iran could be pursued. Not only did Biden play a role in attempting to remove Syria as part of this prerequisite, it was his current US Secretary of State Antony Blinken – then Deputy Secretary of State under Obama – who helped perpetuate that proxy war.
The US proxy war in Syria (and Yemen), along with the continued US military presence in Iraq, is directly linked to US aggression (and planned aggression) against Iran. The idea of genuinely returning to the Iran Nuclear Deal and offering a genuine path out of US-Iranian tensions, and for Iran a path out from under US sanctions, is at this juncture an impossibility.
One of several likely scenarios that will come into play will be Israeli belligerence “sabotaging” the deal. The 2009 Brookings paper repeatedly cites Israel as a useful provocateur that could help goad Iran into a war or carry out highly unpopular and extremely illegal acts of aggression that might prompt an Iranian response and open the door to direct US military intervention.
It would be possible for Biden to “appear” willing to salvage the Iran Nuclear Deal only to have Israel spoil it and leave the US “no choice” but to reluctantly back its Israeli allies.
Helping set the stage for this narrative is Biden appearing to backtrack on some of Trump’s more aggressively supportive policies regarding Israel, which backtracking Israel could use as a pretext for stepping out on its “own” despite virtually every aspect of its military capabilities in the region being tightly integrated with the US’ own presence there.
But despite even this showmanship, Blinken during his confirmation hearing when questioned by Senator Lindsey Graham would affirm his belief that Iran remains the “largest state sponsor of terror” in the world today – a label that will make it impossible to ever genuinely offer a path out of conflict with Iran.
Again we see that regardless of who has been president over the last 30 years or so, US foreign policy in the region continues along a singular path, driven by a singular hegemonic agenda.
Imperial Nexus: Afghanistan
For centuries Afghanistan’s geostrategic location among Eurasia’s largest and most powerful nations has made it a tempting target for empire.
The US war in Afghanistan – starting in 2001 and continuing to this day – has placed thousands of US troops and an extensive network of military facilities on the doorsteps of Iran, Russia and its peripheries, Pakistan, and China, with whom Afghanistan also shares a section of its border.
The US occupation creates the perfect conditions to promote and export radicalism in all directions into the territory of each of America’s competitors in the region.
It also serves as a base for US military capabilities that can be projected in any direction if and when necessary.
The flow of drugs, money, weapons, and fighters (and accompanying extremism) through Afghanistan ensures US-backed militancy in Pakistan’s southwest Balochistan region, Iran’s Sistan and Baluchestan Province, China’s Xinjiang region, and post-Soviet Central Asia remains a constant threat. It is a threat that conveniently overlaps China’s One Belt, One Road (OBOR) initiative – including Gwadar Port in Balochistan, Pakistan and transit routes through Xinjiang, China.
And because Afghanistan is occupied by US troops, the prospects of any of the nations impacted by extremism and instability emanating from Afghanistan intervening in any way and affecting stability in Afghanistan remains unlikely.
Biden’s Secretary of State Antony Blinken would affirm during his confirmation hearing when questioned by Senator Lindsey Graham that a withdrawal from Afghanistan was not likely or conducive to US interests.
Of course, extremism in part exported from Afghanistan into China’s Xinjiang region is only one part of Washington’s ongoing encirclement and containment of China.
To the south the US has used Tibet as a focal point of separatism and a source of political pressure to exert on Beijing since the 1950s.
The US has for decades up to and including today attempted to shape political outcomes in Southeast Asia in order to stitch together a united front against China. This includes through the use of “soft power” and “color revolutions” in which the US builds up opposition groups and even political parties to seize power and steer national policies to favor US, rather than local and regional interests.
Thailand – at the writing of this article – is in the middle of months of US-funded anti-government protests targeting the nation’s current government, the nation’s military, and its constitutional monarchy. Thais historically credit the monarchy – an institution over seven centuries old – for Thailand’s status as the only Southeast Asian nation to avoid Western colonization. It is clear why the US would seek to undermine and remove it if its goal is to overthrow the current political order – now leaning heavily in China’s direction – and install a client regime eager to reverse that.
Thailand along with many Southeast Asia countries counts China as their largest trading partner, investor, source of tourism, and partner in both the development and acquisition of military technology as well as in the development of infrastructure projects including high-speed rail, power production, and communication networks.
The creation and cultivation of US-backed opposition in Southeast Asia is a process that has spanned multiple presidencies.
It was under Bush that many of the National Endowment for Democracy (NED) funded fronts were founded and began their subversive work in Southeast Asia. It was under Obama that the Young Southeast Asian Leaders Initiative (YSEALI) was created to begin creating US-backed cadres of politically-active youths in a bid to transform Southeast Asia into a Western-leaning enclave.
Also under Obama we would see the US-funded and orchestrated protests in Hong Kong begin in the form of “Occupy Central” and the “Umbrella Revolution.”
These protests would continue into the Trump administration where the US attempted to trigger an “Arab Spring” inspired “Asia Spring” which included US-backed anti-Chinese movements in Taiwan, the Philippines, Malaysia, and Thailand – some of which took to the streets including in Thailand.
The protests ended in Hong Kong – but only because of the National Security Law and its strict enforcement. The protests directly linked to them in Thailand continue and are likely to do so until similar laws are passed by the Thai government.
US efforts to complicate the reunification of Taiwan with mainland China have also continued over the decades regardless of who is president. It was under Obama that the US National Endowment for Democracy established a franchise in Taipei called the Taiwan Foundation for Democracy.
One of Trump’s parting gestures before leaving office was lifting restriction on contacts between US officials and the government in Taiwan. It was a gesture US Secretary of State Blinken has vowed during his confirmation hearing to uphold and finalize.
The BBC in its article, “Pompeo: US to lift restrictions on contacts with Taiwan,” would explain:
The ‘self-imposed restrictions’ were introduced decades ago to ‘appease’ the mainland Chinese government, which lays claim to the island, the US state department said in a statement.
These rules are now ‘null and void.’
Taiwan is internationally recognized – including “officially” by the US – as part of China under the “One China Policy.”
Despite officially recognizing the One China Policy, Washington has undermined it at every juncture and regardless of who occupies either Congress or the White House.
Under the Biden administration, the US will most certainly continue its belligerence toward China regarding Taiwan with the new Secretary of State vowing as much during his confirmation hearing before the US Senate.
The South China Sea is another pressure point the US is using against China.
Attempts to leverage overlapping maritime disputes in the South China Sea and transform them into a regional and even international conflict have been ongoing since the Obama administration and the so-called US “pivot to Asia.”
A 2011 piece by then US Secretary of State Hillary Clinton in Foreign Policy titled, “America’s Pacific Century” would specifically refer to “defending freedom of navigation in the South China Sea.”
It was also under the Obama administration that the US organized an international tribunal on behalf of the Philippines over its disputes with China over the South China Sea. The “international” court unsurprisingly sided with the US lawyers and delivered the Philippines a favorable verdict, but Manila refused to use it as leverage against China and opted for bilateral negotiations instead.
The South China Sea – just like the Nord Stream 2 pipeline – is transformed into an imaginary crisis to serve as a pretext for US interference in the region, oftentimes at the cost of the very nations it claims it is attempting to “aid.”
A similar scenario plays out on the Korean Peninsula with South Korea hosting thousands of US troops and anti-missile systems allegedly put in place to counter threats from North Korea, but obviously as part of Washington’s agenda of ringing both Russia and China with such missile systems.
America’s Backyard: Venezuela
And all the way across the Pacific back to the Americas US foreign policy even in its own “backyard” has moved seamlessly from one administration to the next, with US-backed regime change efforts in Venezuela the clearest example of all.
From the failed coup against Hugo Chavez in 2002 engineered under the administration of George Bush, to the continued US backing of opposition groups for the eight years under Obama, through to the declaration and backing of Juan Guido as “president” under Trump, it is unlikely that with Biden now as president anything of substance is going to change in the Americas as well. Secretary of State Blinken is already affirming the administration will continue to recognize US-backed proxy Juan Guiado as “president.”
Not only does US foreign policy in each region of the world continue seamlessly regardless of who sits at the helm in Washington, the policies in each region are interconnected with those in the next.
In many instances, US foreign policy across multiple regions serves toward the primary goal of encircling and containing the vast territory of both Russia and China.
Ultimately this is not just about encircling and containing the physical territory of Russia and China, but rather containing and eliminating interests competing with the unelected interests in the West driving US foreign policy.
Giant corporations like Boeing and Lockheed see China’s COMAC as a future threat. This – and not Trump’s whims – is what had the company recently placed under US sanctions. The same could be said for Huawei vis-a-vis US tech giants like Apple.
There is of course a profit motivation behind perpetual, unending war driven by a continuity of agenda in Washington all in and of itself, but the primary goal is preserving Western corporate-financier hegemony worldwide and eliminating competition wherever and whenever it emerges through any means up to and including military aggression.
Policies that seem disconnected from geopolitics – like America’s role in monetizing “climate change” – can quickly seep into US foreign policy or buttress narratives serving it. A similar scenario is unfolding as part of the US pharmaceutical industry’s role in creating and compounding the COVID-19 socioeconomic crisis.
It is clear that this brand of geopolitics, while viable shortly after World War 2 and well into the Cold War, is no longer sustainable. But it will be the shifting of the global balance of power that forces US policy to change, not a president or a member of Congress coming to this realization, nor any campaign promises made by US politicians.
If history serves as any guide, the US will stubbornly resist this shifting balance of power even to its own detriment.
With China poised to bypass the US as the world’s greatest economic power, and as the Chinese military enhances its capabilities , and as Russia continues creating its own sphere of influence and neutralizing the destructive impact of US foreign policy in places like Syria, Eastern Europe, and Central Asia, the unelected interests driving US foreign policy will increasingly find themselves cut-off from the source of their power: their global-spanning hegemony and the wealth derived from it.
In the future, we may find new circles of interest emerge in the US – interests ready to find a place for America among nations rather than attempt to operate above all other nations. It will be a possible future where the US serves a constructive role in maintaining a global balance of power rather than attempting to constantly tilt it lopsidedly in its own favor. It is a possible future, but not one we will see under Biden, or any future US president, so long as the unelected interests determining their policy for them remain firmly in power.
Reuters – U.S. stands with SE Asian countries against China pressure, Blinken says:
Council on Foreign Relations – Revising U.S. Grand Strategy Toward China:
Guardian – Four navy ships to help protect fishing waters in case of no-deal Brexit:
NEO – US “International Court” Ruling on China Falls Short:
Al Jazeera – ASEAN summit: South China Sea, coronavirus pandemic cast a shadow:
Council on Foreign Relations – Corporate Members:
Brookings Institution – Annual Report, Honor Roll (p. 43):
RAND Corporation – How We’re Funded:
CSIS – Corporate Donors:
Atlantic Council – Honor Roll of Contributors:
US News – Not Unusual: Members of Congress Often Don’t Read Bills:
PBS – WATCH: Antony Blinken’s Senate confirmation hearing for Secretary of State (full hearing):
US National Archives – Eisenhower’s “Military-Industrial Complex” Speech Origins and Significance:
Washington Post – CIA Organized Secret Army in Western Europe (1990):
The Guardian – US campaign behind the turmoil in Kiev:
New York Times – Who Really Brought Down Milosevic?:
The Guardian – The Chechens’ American friends: The Washington neocons’ commitment to the war on terror evaporates in Chechnya, whose cause they have made their own:
DW – European Parliament calls for halt on Nord Stream 2 construction after Navalny arrest:
US Senator Ted Cruz – Cruz Questions Secretary of State Nominee Antony Blinken at Senate Foreign Relations Committee:
US Senator Rand Paul – Sen. Rand Paul Questions Sec. of State Nominee Blinken on Regime Change – Jan. 19, 2021:
Atlantic Council – US poised to boost support for democracy in Belarus:
Brookings Institution – Which Path to Persia? Options for a New American Strategy toward Iran (2009):
Newsweek – A Plan to Overthrow Kaddafi (1981):
New York Times – U.S. Groups Helped Nurture Arab Uprisings:
US Senator Lindsey Graham – Graham Questions Antony Blinken at Senate Foreign Relations Committee Hearing:
US State Department, Office of the Historian – 342. Memorandum for the 303 Committee:
US National Endowment for Democracy – Thailand (2019):
BBC – Pompeo: US to lift restrictions on contacts with Taiwan:
Foreign Policy – America’s Pacific Century (2011):
Reuters – Biden will recognize Guaido as Venezuela’s leader, top diplomat says:
US Senator Marco Rubio – Rubio Questions Sec. of State Nominee Antony Blinken at Senate Foreign Relations Committee Hearing:
Bloomberg – Trump Blacklisting Jolts China’s Ambitions to Take on Boeing:
Reprinted with permission from 21st Century Wire.