Who are the smartest politicians in America
Perhaps, after Trump's four years of drama and chaos, the most remarkable thing about Joe Biden's first personnel decisions is how undramatic and unchaotic they are. Secretary of State becomes a man - Tony Blinken - who really knows foreign policy and knows and values those strange beings known as diplomats who implement America's foreign policy. The national security advisor will be a man - Jake Sullivan - who knows something about security policy and who will work for a president who really wants advice. And the US ambassador to the United Nations will be a woman - Linda Thomas-Greenfield - who has learned the job, a career diplomat who has an idea of what the US can do with this organization.
Compared to the staff who did foreign policy for President Donald Trump, that's a clear difference. While third-rate people wanted to work for Trump in the end, Biden's team is the A-team. Blinken, Sullivan and Thomas-Greenfield are some of the brightest and most experienced foreign and security politicians in Washington. This also applies to Alejandro Mayorkas, who is to take over the office of Secretary of Homeland Security, as well as to Avril Haines, a former deputy director of the CIA, who makes Biden his intelligence coordinator. If Biden wants to achieve his goal of restoring calm and reliability, normality and stability to America's foreign and security policy, then these are the right helpers.
This is particularly true of Tony Blinken - 58 years old, a lawyer and, if the Senate approves him in January, the future US Secretary of State. Blinken has had a typical, flawless Washington career: studied at Harvard and Columbia University, worked on the National Security Council under President Bill Clinton, then on the Senate Foreign Affairs Committee, which then included a certain Joe Biden Jr. When he became Vice President in 2009, Blinken became his safety advisor. In 2014, President Barack Obama promoted Blinken to Vice Secretary of State.
Blinken spent the Trump years mainly making money. Together with defense expert Michèle Flournoy, who held high positions in the Obama administration in the Pentagon and is now traded as future Secretary of Defense, he founded a consulting firm. He was also a partner at an investment company.
Jake Sullivan, Biden's future security advisor, has a very similar résumé. He is 43 years old and also a lawyer. He studied at Yale and Oxford, was chief of the planning staff under Secretary of State Hillary Clinton and succeeded Blinken as security advisor to Vice President Biden. The past four years, in which Trump has ruined America's reputation in large parts of the world, Sullivan has also spent in a kind of exile - as a lecturer at Yale and an employee of a consulting firm.
What connects these two men is not just their professional background. They both also have a close personal relationship with Biden. If they talk, the world will know they are speaking for Biden. That was never the case with Trump, he has often publicly disavowed his ministers and advisers. With Blinken and Sullivan, US foreign policy will become much more reliable.
It helps that Biden, Blinken and Sullivan have a very similar view of the world and the role of the USA. All three are staunch internationalists and multilateralists. They believe that America should be a global order and the western leading power, which not only has to stand up for its own interests, but also for the values of that very West. But they also believe that the US needs allies, partners, alliances and international organizations to do this, and that diplomacy, not military force, should be the preferred means.
Blinken and Sullivan are no bugs, on the contrary. You were instrumental in developing Obama's rather cautious foreign and security policy. Whether it was always successful is a matter of dispute. Among other things, Obama's strategy has resulted in US responses to the slaughter in Syria or to Russia's attacks on Ukraine being very subdued. The world is still suffering from both problems today.
Sullivan also played a major role in the negotiations between the US and Tehran on an agreement aimed at containing Iran's nuclear program. The agreement, which was concluded in 2015, had loopholes, but defused the dispute and presumably prevented a war. Relations between the US and Iran have deteriorated significantly since Trump terminated the deal. It remains to be seen whether Biden can and wants to rejoin the agreement.
For Europe, the names Blinken and Sullivan are good news. Both know the continent. Blinken went to school in France, Sullivan studied in England. That does not mean that from now on there will be no more transatlantic dispute, for example over the level of defense spending. But the days of the gruff "America first" doctrine are over. Biden and his team will see Europe as the most important partner for the USA, NATO as an indispensable alliance and the EU as a guarantor of stability and prosperity - not like Trump as part of a European plot to riot America and the US To ruin the economy.
The nomination of Linda Thomas-Greenfield as UN ambassador is also seen as a positive sign in Washington. The 68-year-old has almost four decades in the US diplomatic service behind her, she was ambassador to Liberia and the State Secretary responsible for Africa in the State Department. Thomas-Greenfield would be the second black woman to serve as UN ambassador. Above all, however, her appointment would be a signal to the deeply depressed diplomatic corps that Biden not only takes the United Nations - and thus multilateralism - seriously, but also does not see America's foreign policy as a playground for large donors or other favorites.
Thomas-Greenfield in New York might even be able to bring an inaugural present. The first decisions of the Biden administration will probably include the return of the USA to the World Health Organization (WHO) and the Paris climate protection agreement.
Biden then wants to entrust another old confidante with the task of making America an important player in climate protection again: John Kerry, like Biden once a senator and then Obama’s foreign minister, is to become the “climate tsar”, the president’s special envoy for climate policy . Why, of all things, 76-year-old Kerry had to be brought out of retirement for this position is unclear. Maybe that's just the advantage of having a good friend who is going to be president of the United States.
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