Woke Wonk Elizabeth Warren’s Foreign Policy Team is Stacked with Pro-War Swamp Creatures

by | Jan 27, 2020


Elizabeth Warren has promised “big, structural change” on a range of issues related to the economy. Warren has a plan for foreign policy, too, but it appears to be scarcely different from that of the last Democrat to occupy the White House.

A close examination of Warren’s newly assembled team of international advisors presents little hope of change from the military interventionism, regime change strong-arming and drone warfare that characterized the administration of President Barack Obama. 

Earlier this month, Warren foreign policy aide Sasha Baker revealed a list of 34 “friends, colleagues, and advisors” that formed the foundation of the candidate’s foreign policy team. For the first time, observers were offered a clear window into what US foreign policy might look like under a Warren presidency.

According to CNN, these self-described foreign policy professionals have worked through “group text chains and conference calls where they brainstorm responses to urgent international events, help draft campaign statements and policy papers, and flag development.”

Despite repeated assurances that she was leading a “grassroots movement,” no one on this informal team has any record of grassroots anti-war organizing. Instead, the list is filled with 30 and 40-something Ivy League graduates-turned-Beltway careerists. Baker is a perfect example, having served as the Deputy Chief of Staff for Obama’s Secretary of Defense, Ashton Carter.

Team Warren is also filled with Obama Defense and State Department alumni, as well former employees of US regime change outfits such as the National Endowment for Democracy (NED) and the United States Agency for International Development (USAID). Of the 35 people listed as advising Warren, including Baker, nine have spent time at the Pentagon and 13 at the State Department.

Most others have spent time at the big four Democratic foreign policy think tanks, with six from the Center for American Progress (CAP), three from the Century Foundation, five from the Center for a New American Security (CNAS), and five from the Truman Project. Meanwhile, three members of the team worked at the National Endowment for Democracy (NED) or the US Agency for International Development (USAID), Washington’s two main vehicles for funding regime change activity.


The four major DC-based think tanks that Team Warren draws from share one thing in common: aggressive support for sanctions and military interventions from Syria to Korea to Venezuela. 

Perhaps the most hawkish among these think tanks is the Center for a New American Security (CNAS). As The Grayzone reportedCNAS’ top donors include leading weapons manufacturers, NATO, the US and European governments, and titans of the fossil fuel industry. Until early last year, the think tank was directed by Victoria Nuland, a key architect of the 2014 Maidan coup in Ukraine and wife of neoconservative Robert Kagan.

The Center for American Progress (CAP) is led by Neera Tanden, the notoriously short-tempered Clinton partisan who physically assaulted a staffer who dared to ask Hillary Clinton about her support for the war on Iraq.

Under pressure from the pro-Israel lobby, Tanden ousted four staffers over their vehement opposition to a US war on Iran and public criticisms of neoconservatives. Soon after, she hosted Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu at CAP, giggling while the right-wing demagogue fired off a barrage of anti-Arab rhetoric. Around this time, Tanden put forward a private proposal for Libya to use its own oil reserves to rebuild the country after US and NATO bombing destroyed it. 

Like CNAS, CAP is funded by Wall Street, the arms industry and foreign governments. Among its most generous funders over the years is the United Arab Emirates, the Gulf monarchy that has helped Saudi Arabia decimate the civilian population of Yemen in its long-running war. 

In 2018, CAP joined forces with the mecca of Iraq war neoconservatives, the American Enterprise Institute (AEI), to forge bipartisan support for “stand[ing] up to Russia.” The bipartisan Cold War 2.0 initiative apparently entailed a whopping $200,000 donation from CAP to AEI.

Other major non-government sources of support for Warren’s foreign policy team are The Century Foundation, another hawkish, Democrat-linked think tank that has put forward several proposals for regime change in Syria, including one calling for the US re-arm an extremist militia that sawed the head off a teenage captive.

Then there is the Truman National Security Project, a DC outfit that says it “share[s] President Truman’s belief in muscular internationalism.” As The Grayzone reported, The Truman Project played a central role in grooming presidential hopeful Pete Buttigieg for national prominence. It is advised by leading military interventionists like Madeleine Albright and Anne Marie Slaughter, as well as former Department of Homeland Security deportation czar Janet Napolitano. 

Below are dossiers on each person listed as a foreign policy advisor to Warren. After even a cursory survey of this list, a clear portrait emerges of Democrat-aligned Washington think-tankers, corporate consultants and establishment apparatchiks, all united by their deep ideological attachment to the aggressive foreign policy consensus that defined previous administrations. 

Forget about big, structural change. It is time for more wars of regime change, and more IMF structural adjustment policies.

Meet Warren’s Warriors

Jasmine El-Gamel: El-Gamel is based out of Istanbul, Turkey, where she serves as a senior fellow at the Atlantic Council. This pro-war think tank is funded by an array of governments including the US, UK, Saudi Arabia and the UAE. El-Gamel was formerly a Middle East Advisor at the Defense Department. In her own words, she worked in the Obama administration “as an adviser on Syria policy.” 

A frequently cited pundit, she has denigrated Rep. Tulsi Gabbard’s views on Syria by likening them to flat earth conspiracy theories. 

Following the dubious allegations of a chemical weapons attack in Douma, Syria by the Assad government in April 2018, El-Gamel called on the Trump administration to draw up “new ‘red lines’” to include the use of conventional weapons – a policy that would have necessitated an immediate military intervention by the US. Gamel cited an estimate by the Syrian Network for Human Rights (SNHR) that Assad “had dropped nearly 70,000 barrel bombs since July 2012 — and sometimes forced people to watch as children slowly starved to death.” An investigation by The Grayzone has exposed the Qatar-based SNHR as an opposition front group “funded by foreign governments and staffed by top opposition leaders.”

Robert Ford: Currently a senior fellow at the UAE and Saudi-funded Middle East Institute, Ford was Obama’s ambassador to Syria at a time when the US had no embassy in the country and was seeking to topple its UN-recognized government. As The Grayzone reported, Ford was a front line agitator for regime change, “running around the country trying to encourage groups to overthrow the Syrian government” according to former CIA agent Michael Scheuer. According to McClatchy, he was “one of the Syrian rebels’ loudest cheerleaders in Washington.” 

In a 2014 New York Times op-ed entitled “Arm Syria’s Opposition,” he wrote: “The Free Syrian Army must have more military hardware, including mortars and rockets to pound airfields to impede regime air supply operations and, subject to reasonable safeguards, surface-to-air missiles.”

Thanassis Cambanis: Cambanis is a journalist and author who serves as co-director of the Century Foundation’s foreign policy team. His first book “A Privilege to Die: Inside Hezbollah’s Legions and Their Endless War Against Israel” attempts to make the case that Hezbollah is a greater threat to the West than al-Qaeda: “While Hamas and Al Qaeda are certainly dangerous to Israel and the West, Hezbollah and its millions of foot soldiers are the premier force in the Middle East.” 

Cambanis hailed Trump’s airstrikes on Syria in response to the apparently staged chemical attack at Douma as “undoubtedly a good thing.” But he went further than Trump, calling for the US response to be “sustained.” He is married to Anne Barnard, the former Beirut bureau chief for the New York Times, herself also among the most unabashed pro-regime change voices in media. 

Richard Nephew: Nephew has focused on Iran since 2003, when he worked for the George W. Bush Administration. He worked for the State Department on sanctions policy under Obama and served as director of his National Security Council. He has been a non-resident senior fellow at the Brookings Institute for the past five years. In 2017, he authored “The Art of Sanctions: A View from the Field.” According to the Amazon description, Nephew is “a leader in the design and implementation of sanctions on Iran.” The book argues that the “efficacy of sanctions lies in the application of pain against a target.”

Max Bergmann: Bergmann has spent more than eight years at the Center for American Progress, three of which he worked as a Senior Fellow. He has also spent more than five years at the State Department. Today, Bergman serves as director of CAP’s “Moscow Project.” According to the website’s “About” page, the initiative’s purpose is to “analyz[e] the facts behind Trump’s collusion with Russia.” In a section on the firmly discredited Steele Dossier, the Moscow Project states that the document’s “high level of accuracy is rapidly becoming clear.” Following the release of Special Counsel Robert Mueller’s report which found no evidence of collusion between the Trump campaign and the Russian government, the Moscow Project wrote on Twitter that it had nevertheless “documented widespread corruption, obstruction, and, yes collusion.”

Oona Hathaway: Hathaway has taught international law at leading universities including Harvard, Yale, and UC Berkeley before taking a gig as counsel at the Defense Department. She is an editor at Just Security, a publication based out of the NYU School of Law focusing on national security issues, funded by generous grants from George Soros’ Open Society Foundations. In a Just Security piece from April, Hathaway advocated for new forms of lawfare to be applied to propel regime change in Syria. A dedicated liberal interventionist, her academic papers have attempted to offer a “way forward” in order to solve the discrepancy between the “responsibility to protect” and international law through a theory she calls, “Consent-Based Humanitarian Intervention.”

Rose Jackson: Jackson has held three positions over the years with the National Democratic Institute (NDI), the Democratic Party’s wing of the NED that promotes regime change around the globe. Jackson spent nearly two and a half years at the State Department before taking a job as a Senior Policy Advisor at the Open Society Foundation. For the past seven years she has been a fellow at the Truman National Security Project.

Mark Fitzpatrick: Fitzpatrick is a former employee of the State Department and the former director of the International Institute for Strategic Studies – Americas (IISS). IISS’s reputation was tarnished in 2016 when documents were leaked showing it had received covert funding from the royal family of Bahrain. The British think tank has additionally drawn income from major defense contractors, Qatar, the UAE, Germany and the British military, among others. 

IISS has promoted the Syrian High Negotiations Committee (HNC), a Riyadh-based outfit that aimed to lead the political transfer of power from the Assad government, originally with the little-known Riyad Hijab posing as “Prime Minister” until he resigned under pressure from Saudi Arabia. The German newspaper Der Spiegel has reported that Hijab and others originally defected from the government after being bribed by French intelligence and Qatar. Jihadist warlords with militias like Jaish al-Islam and Ahrar al-Sham have filled high-ranking positions within the HNC.

Frank Aum: Aum has been working on Korea since 1998, when he was a speechwriter for the South Korean foreign ministry. A former Pentagon advisor, he helped oversee Obama’s failed doctrine of “Strategic Patience,” which eschewed diplomacy with the DPRK in favor of sanctions in an effort to stir up regime change sentiment from within and further militarization of the peninsula. In response to Trump’s historic meeting at the demilitarized zone with Chairman Kim Jong-un – a clear refutation of the botched Obama doctrine – Aum repeated the canard that the North Korean leader was seeking international legitimacy rather than material concessions. He argued, “Each meeting he has with the US President legitimizes the North Korean leader,” and that he and Trump “can claim a similar public-relations and propaganda victory.”

Daphne McCurdy: McCurdy finished her time as a Fulbright Scholar to work for the Center for International Private Enterprise, one of the four core affiliates of the National Endowment for Democracy that promotes “free market capitalism and global trade.” She then went on to work for the NDI, before moving on to USAID’s Office of Transition Initiatives where she spent nearly two and a half years as the deputy representative for Syria. She has also worked at the State Department, is currently a Senior Associate at CSIS and a 7-year Fellow at the Truman National Security Project. 

On Twitter, McCurdy has claimed that the Turkey-backed Syrian National Army – which consists of former fighters for extremist militias armed by the CIA and Pentagon – cannot “be considered jihadist.” This militia has since invaded Libya under orders from Turkish President Recep Erdogan. Its fighters have pledged to die “for the sake of the Ottoman Caliphate.”

Ilan Goldenberg: Ilan Goldenberg is a self-proclaimed “former ‘deep stater,’” a moniker he likely adopted to denote his work for Defense Secretaries Robert Gates and Leon Panetta, or in reference his time at the State Department. He has spent the past five years at the Center for a New American Security. Goldenberg has opposed immediate withdrawal of US troops from Syria on the grounds that “no one” within the foreign policy establishment supports such a policy.

Varina Winder: Winder spent more than five years at the State Department and is a fellow at the Truman Project. On social media, Winder has expressed her mourning over the deaths of Senator John McCain and former British intelligence officer and White Helmets founder James LeMesurier, called Obama “ridiculously smart” and “absurdly cool,” and reposted praise of Internews, a shady US-supported organization that trains anti-government journalists worldwide.

George Little: George Little has served as both the Press Secretary for the Pentagon and as a spokesman for the Central Intelligence Agency. He has said of CIA Director Gina Haspel, whose record at the CIA has included overseeing agency blacksites as they tortured detainees, “She’s a true intelligence professional and widely respected inside the CIA.” 

Little was also an early proponent of Russiagate, tweeting that Trump acts “like a Putin stooge” nearly a week before the FBI opened its investigation into Donald Trump on July 31, 2016.

Jarrett Blanc: Blanc is a fellow at the Council on Foreign Relations, a position he omits from his Twitter bio. He is also former employee of the State Department.

Bishop Garrison: Garrison has been with the Truman Project for seven years and was a Deputy Foreign Policy Advisor to Hillary Clinton’s 2016 presidential campaign. He is currently a director at Human Rights First, an NGO whose stated purpose is to “ensure that the United States is a global leader on human rights.” It is funded by the Ford Foundation, Open Society Foundation, and Facebook. Joe Biden has said of the organization “I never thought I’d live to see the day when a group of generals was working closely with a human rights group.” It has been similarly praised by John McCain as a “premier institution devoted to the noblest of all causes.”

Clemence Landers: Landers spent more than three years at the Treasury Department, where she worked on the African Development Bank. She has also worked at the World Bank Group. She is currently a visiting fellow at the Center for Global Development, a self-described “think-and-do tank” funded by the United Kingdom, Australia, the European Union and Norway.

Loren DeJonge Schulman: Schulman worked for six years at the Defense Department, a period of time truncated by a stint at the White House where she served as “interim Director for Middle East Policy during US military operations in Libya in 2011.” She has spent the past four years at CNAS.

Joel Braunold: Braunold has spent time at an NGO focused on Israel-Palestine and occasionally writes on topics including, “The Five Rules for Surviving a Long Distance relationship.”

Yochi Dreazen: Dreazen has covered foreign policy for several major news organizations. He has also worked as a writer-in-residence for CNAS and is currently employed by The Raben Group, a “strategic communications firm” with clients including Open Society Foundation, The Rockefeller Brothers Foundation, the United Nations Foundation and a laundry list of corporate clients including Google, Viacom, and Pfizer.

Nicholas Danforth: Danforth is a Senior Visiting Fellow at the German Marshall Fund, an operation birthed from an endowment by the government of West Germany in 1972. It is funded by Germany, Sweden, USAID, the State Department, NATO and the European Union. 

The German Marshall Fund is the progenitor of the Alliance for Securing Democracy, which is responsible for the discredited Hamilton 68 Dashboard, a tool claimed to track so-called “Russian bots.” ASD was the go-to source for anti-Russian information warriors until its influence waned after ASD fellow Clint Watts admitted it was bunk. 

The German Marshall Fund has worked with Facebook to censor pages critical of prevailing imperial narratives. Another project of the German Marshall Fund, the Black Sea Project, has worked with the Kiev Post in a series that whitewashed Ukraine’s history of Nazi collaboration.

Alexandra Bell: Bell has worked for the Center for American Progress as a research assistant. She is focused on nuclear non-proliferation, beginning at the Ploughshares Fund before moving on to the State Department. Today she works as a Senior Policy Director at the Center for Arms Control and Non-Proliferation. 

In opposing Korean peace talks favored by a majority of South Koreans, Bell denounced North Korean leader Kim Jong-un as a “ruthless despot” and bemoaned him receiving the “warmest regards” from President Trump. “He is not a friend, he is not a great leader, and he will not give up his nuclear weapons in return for partial sanctions relief,” she has argued in the National Interest.

Andrea Goldstein: Goldstein has been a Navy Intelligence Officer for more than ten years. She has consulted for CNAS, was on the defense council of the Truman Project, worked as a non-resident fellow at the Modern War Institute at West Point, advised NATO and is currently a Term Member at CFR.

Ken Sofer: Sofer spent six years at the Center for American Progress before moving on to a humanitarian NGO called the International Rescue Committee (IRC) currently led by former UK Labour leader David Miliband. The supposed charity pays Miliband $1 million a year while he hobnobs with Gulf royals and promotes the destabilization of Syria. Henry Kissinger and Madeleine Albright are listed as “overseers” on the IRC’s website. IRC has honored Larry Fink, the CEO of BlackRock — the world’s largest asset management firm known for its ties to the oil industry and defense lobby — with a humanitarian award. 

According to Eric Chester’s book “Covert Network: Progressives, the International Rescue Committee, and the CIA,” “throughout the Cold War, the IRC acted as an essential component of the covert network, the interconnected set of organizations helping the US intelligence community to implement a variety of clandestine operations designed to destabilize the Soviet Union.”

Nick Zimmerman: Zimmerman has worked for the Defense Department and the Obama White House. Specializing in Latin America affairs, he has retweeted posts from Elizabeth Warren insinuating that Venezuelans are fleeing President Maduro’s repressive rule, and done the same with similar claims from the House Foreign Affairs Committee regarding the socialist president of Nicaragua Daniel Ortega. 

Commenting on the sale of US weapons to the far-right Brazilian President Jair Bolsonaro, Zimmerman said “A lot was accomplished in a relatively short period of time, both sides should be commended for that.” In the article, Zimmerman was cited as an employee of Macro Advisory Partners (MAP), a small and shadowy advisory firm serving “business, finance and government.” MAP has been chaired by former MI6 chief Sir Robert John Sawers. 

Khaled Elgindy: Elgindy kicked off his professional career as a program officer at NDI, a position he held for more than two years. He spent nearly a decade with the Brookings Institution, which has been funded by the likes of pro-Israel oligarch Haim Saban and the Qatari monarchy. Today, Elgindy is a Senior Fellow and Director at the Gulf-funded Middle East Institute. 

A former advisor to the Palestinian Authority on negotiations with Israel, Elgindy has attacked Palestinian intellectual and Electronic Intifada publisher Ali Abunimah for being insufficiently supportive of the foreign proxy war to topple Syria’s government.

Michael Hanna: Hanna is a senior fellow at The Century Foundation whose research has focused on Egypt and the Middle East. In 2013, following the brutal military coup of Gen. Abdel Fatah el-Sisi, which removed Egypt’s first democratically elected government, Hanna co-authored a paper for CAP calling for Obama to restore aid to Egypt and initiate “a new bilateral partnership.” More recently, he stepped away from the Democratic Party consensus and called for withdrawing US troops from Syria.

Eric Robinson: Robinson is a former captain in the Army who has worked with the US Special Operations Command and the Office of Director of National Intelligence. He has been employed at Covington & Burling, a top flight law firm that advises multinational corporations including Halliburton. He has also worked intermittently with the McChrystal Group, a management consultancy firm founded by former commander of the Joint Special Operations Command Stanley McChrystal, who presided over US counter-insurgency operations in Afghanistan. 

Emily Blout: Blout is an Iran-focused academic who did a brief stint at the State Department. She writes frequently on protests and internet censorship in Iran. She co-founded Foreign Policy Professionals for Obama and served as Legislative Director for the National Iranian American Council, a liberal lobbying group which helped influence the Iran nuclear deal. 

Following the assassination of Iranian Maj. Gen. Qassem Soleimani by the US, Blout condemned the general in Trumpian terms, describing him as an “evil man with much blood on his hands. He is an enemy of the US.” 

Blout takes a ride-or-die approach to Warren’s candidacy, responding to a montage published by the Republican Party of Warren falsely claiming Native American heritage as “actually a pretty endearing montage.” Her husband, Michael Singer, is a born-again Zionist who was the mayor of Charlottesville during the infamous Unite the Right rally in 2017. The city’s leadership was widely panned for failing to prevent violence from the motley crew of white nationalists and neo-Nazis that took over its streets.

Abby Bard: Bard was a recipient of a Fulbright grant allowing her to study in South Korea. She is currently an Asia policy research associate at the Center for American Progress. Unlike many Democratic colleagues in the Trump era, Bard has advocated detente with North Korea.

Jonathan Stivers: Stivers has held six positions under House Speaker Nancy Pelosi and oversaw USAID’s Asia bureau under Obama. He is currently the Staff Director of The Congressional-Executive Commission on China – also known as the China Commission – a US government agency co-chaired by neoconservative darling Sen. Marco Rubio that is dedicated to ramping up a new Cold War with China. 

The China Commission has called for sanctions on the Chinese government and frequently reposts articles from Radio Free Asia, a US government-funded propaganda outfit whose first incarnation in the 1950’s was funded by the CIA. One annual report by the China Commission cited Radio Free Asia no less than 107 times.

Stephen Tankel: Tankel is a senior fellow at CNAS with a background in counter-terrorism. He has served as a senior advisor at the Defense Department. 

Glyn T. Davies: Davies is a veteran US diplomat who has held three ambassador-level posts, most recently in Thailand. During Obama’s second term, Davies served as the Special Representative for North Korea Policy, helping coordinate six party talks that floundered thanks in large part to the administration’s strategic patience policy.

Michael Fuchs: Today a senior fellow at the Center for American Progress, Fuchs filtered through the ranks at the State Department over the course of seven years and worked as a Special Assistant to then-Secretary of State Hillary Clinton. He also spent two years at The Century Foundation

Max Hoffman: Hoffman is an associate director at CAP, where he has worked for more than eight years. In response to a report from Reuters claiming that Russia sent special forces to aid the Syrian Arab Army in its attempt to liberate Idlib from the Al Qaeda’s local affiliate, Hoffman commented that Russia “is a vicious reactionary power.”

At first glance, Warren’s foreign policy team seems to be exceptionally diverse. It is comprised of Muslims, Jews, Arabs, Asians, and a substantial number of women. Some members have emphasized their identity by listing their preferred gender pronoun on their Twitter bio, just as Warren has.

But a look behind this seeming rainbow reveals a rigidly enforced conformity to the Beltway foreign policy consensus and the imperatives of American empire. In their near-total ideological unity and detachment from the progressive grassroots, the best and brightest of Team Warren offer little promise of a break from continuous war.

Reprinted with permission from The Grayzone Project.
Support the project here.