Biden picks veteran policymakers for diplomatic, security posts

The Democratic administration’s team is composed of veterans with experience under Obama.
Wednesday 25/11/2020
US President-elect Joe Biden’s nominee for secretary of state, Antony Blinken, on November 24, 2020, in Wilmington, Delaware. (AP)
US President-elect Joe Biden’s nominee for secretary of state, Antony Blinken, on November 24, 2020, in Wilmington, Delaware. (AP)

WASHINGTON - In introducing his foreign policy and security team, US President-elect Joe Biden emphasised his multitaleralist approach to international issues as well as his reliance on experienced veterans, many marked by the Obama years in office.

Biden on Tuesday introduced a slate of veteran diplomats and policy-makers who will make up his national security and foreign policy team, including for the positions of secretary of state, national security advisor, homeland security secretary, intelligence chief, UN ambassador and climate change envoy.

In sharp contrast to President Donald Trump, who has often openly distrusted the very government he leads, Biden has expressed a faith in bureaucracy born out of his nearly five decades in Washington.

Surrounding himself with longtime aides and veterans of the Obama administration, many of whom have already worked together for years, Biden has so far rolled out a team of careerists with bursting resumes and little need of a learning curve.

“Collectively, this team has secured some of the most defining national security and diplomatic achievements in recent memory — made possible through decades of experience working with our partners,” Biden said Tuesday as he unveiled his national security team.

“Experience,” but also ties to the Obama administration, are the two main characteristics of Biden’s burgeoning team.

Antony Blinken, US President-elect Joe Biden’s nominee for secretary of state, speaks on November 24, 2020. (AFP)
Antony Blinken, US President-elect Joe Biden’s nominee for secretary of state, speaks on November 24, 2020. (AFP)

His pick for secretary of state, Antony Blinken, worked for Biden in the Senate for years, and held the posts of deputy secretary of state and deputy national security adviser. His choice for national security adviser, Jake Sullivan, was the deputy to that post under President Barack Obama. His nominee for treasury secretary, Janet Yellen, was chair of the Federal Reserve and chair of the White House Council of Economic Advisers. His incoming White House chief of staff, Ron Klain, was chief of staff to two vice-presidents — Al Gore and Biden himself — and was the Obama administration’s Ebola czar.

And Kerry, Biden’s choice to fill the newly created post of presidential climate envoy, was a longtime US senator and his party’s 2004 presidential nominee before serving as secretary of state under Obama.

But a return to the Obama era is not enthusing those on the left of the Democratic party who grew frustrated with the former president’s slow pace of change.

Republicans are also unimpressed with Biden’s hires.

“Biden’s cabinet picks went to Ivy League schools, have strong resumes, attend all the right conferences & will be polite & orderly caretakers of America’s decline,” tweeted Republican Senator Marco Rubio, who may run for president again in 2024.

Biden, however, expressed confidence that “these public servants will restore America’s global leadership and moral leadership.”

Biden said that after he is inaugurated on January 20 and Trump leaves the White House, the United States will “once again sit at the head of the table, ready to confront our adversaries and not reject our allies.”

“It is a team that reflects the fact that America is back, ready to lead the world, not retreat from it,” he said in a jab at Trump’s go-it-alone “America First” policies.

— Multilateralism —

Blinken, Biden’s choice for secretary of state, said the United States cannot solve global problems on its own.

“We need to be working with other countries,” the former State Department official said.

However, outgoing Secretary of State Mike Pompeo denounced Biden’s call for greater international cooperation, saying that Trump had been focused on “real results” and “the reality on the ground.”

“More multilateralism for the sake of hanging out with their buddies at a cocktail party? That’s not in the best interest of the United States,” Pompeo told Fox News.

Citing the defeat of ISIS in Syria and actions to contain China and Iran, Pompeo told Fox News: “We work with nations when we have common interests and we develop coalitions that actually deliver real results and reflect the reality on the ground. That wasn’t what was happening when we came in here to the State Department.”

Pompeo said he had not spoken to Blinken but would “do everything that’s required by law” as part of the transition.

Former Secretary of State John Kerry, who Biden chose as his special envoy on climate change, confirmed that the United States will rejoin the Paris climate accord which, under Trump, it formally withdrew from earlier this month.

Cuban-born Alejandro Mayorkas was named to head the Department of Homeland Security, whose policing of tough immigration restrictions under Trump was a frequent source of controversy.

Avril Haines was nominated to be the director of national intelligence, the first woman to hold the post, while Jake Sullivan was named national security advisor.

Introducing his foreign policy and national security team, the Democratic former vice-president signaled he intended to steer the United States away from the unilateralist nationalism pursued by Trump.

Trump over four years unsettled many US allies in Europe and elsewhere with his antagonistic approach to NATO and trade relations, abandonment of international agreements and warm relationships with authoritarian leaders.

US foreign policy under a Biden administration is likely to take more of a multilateral and diplomatic approach aimed at repairing Washington’s relationships with key allies and pursuing new paths on issues such as climate change.

His promise to embrace alliances, including in the Asia-Pacific region, follows a deterioration in bilateral ties between the United States and China, the world’s top two economies, that has triggered comparisons with the Cold War.

— US retreat —

But analysts said that while the incoming Democratic administration could secure quick reversals in areas such as rejoining the Paris climate agreement that Trump abandoned, it would be more difficult reclaiming the global power relinquished by Washington, a trend that started before Trump.

“Biden, to the extent he reinforces those norms and institutions, will help shore up America’s position,” St. Lawrence University history professor Howard Eissenstat said.

“What he cannot do is change the hard reality that the US is no longer that exceptional: Other countries and regions can and will effectively compete in every sphere.”

Biden will be taking on a much different world from the one he left four years ago as Obama’s vice-president. China has assumed a larger global role, ranging from multilateral institutions to assisting development in Africa and Latin America.

“It might start to look an awful lot like Obama 2.0 rather than Biden if it’s talking a big game about returning to Asia but resources are declining,” said Randall Schriver, who worked as assistant secretary of defense under Trump.

Over the past four years, the United States has taken steps to withdraw from the World Health Organization (WHO) and pulled out of a 2015 nuclear deal between Iran and world powers. Trump questioned NATO’s relevance and resisted taking a tough approach against foreign policy rivals such as Russian President Vladimir Putin, moves that raised eyebrows among allies.

The United States and China have been increasingly at odds during the Trump presidency, as the world’s two biggest economies clashed over trade, Beijing’s handling of the coronavirus and Hong Kong and the South China Sea.

During the election campaign, Biden vowed to take a tough line on China’s expanding influence worldwide, reverse Trump’s decision to pull the United States out of the Paris climate accord and rejoin the Iran nuclear accord if Tehran resumes strict compliance.

“We can’t solve all the world’s problems alone” he said on Tuesday. “We need to be working with other countries, we need their cooperation, we need their partnership.”