President-elect Joe Biden’s foreign policy team is taking a conventional shape, one that might irritate some progressives and likewise reassure Republican analysts.
“This the return of the Washington establishment,” retired Marine Corps Col. Mark Cancian, a senior adviser at the Center for Security and International Studies and self-identified Republican, said of Biden’s cast of national security officials.
Biden began the unveiling of his national security team on Monday, with a clear preference for familiar faces with “centrist” reputations: former Deputy Secretary of State Antony Blinken will succeed outgoing Secretary of State Mike Pompeo, while former Hillary Clinton adviser Jake Sullivan emerges as the incoming White House national security adviser — one of the better possible tandems, even from the perspective of conservative observers.
“Antony Blinken and Jake Sullivan are thoughtful, experienced, open-minded and honorable patriots,” Foundation for Defense of Democracies Senior Vice President Toby Dershowitz wrote in an emailed appraisal. “I have no doubt they are mindful of and ready to address the many national security challenges and opportunities in front of them.”
That kind of bipartisan praise proved hard to find during President Trump’s term; the unconventional administration’s hostility to former President Barack Obama’s foreign policy legacy — the 2016 Paris climate agreement and the 2015 Iran nuclear deal were both scrapped by Trump — combined with the contempt for Trump felt by Democratic lawmakers and primary voters to make an acrimonious brew.
“We must meet the world as it is today, not as it was before President Trump’s destruction,” the 2020 Democratic Party platform stated.
That outlook could prove key to transcending some of the other campaign talking points, such as the Iran deal. Although Trump’s team was condemned roundly for withdrawing from the pact and renewing economic sanctions on Tehran, even the most ardent Iran hawks doubt that Biden will surrender the “leverage” accumulated by Trump’s sanctions policy by simply returning to the deal.
“The Iran nuclear deal has proven its failure to the entire world,” Saudi Arabian Ambassador to the United Nations Abdallah Al-Mouallimi said in a televised interview Sunday. “And I don’t think that anybody is going to be naive enough to go back to the same deal.”
Dershowitz, whose team at FDD leveled some of the sharpest criticism of the Iran deal in recent years — and even furnished Trump’s White House National Security Council with a key Iran policy adviser — expressed confidence in Blinken and Sullivan.
“I am certain they don’t underestimate one of these challenges — an Iran that may assume things will pick up exactly where they left off in the prior administration,” she said.
“In the ensuing years, Iran had the opportunity to reverse its abysmal human rights practices, adhere to nuclear caps required under multilateral agreements and use its finite resources to support its population rather than engage in destabilizing malign activities beyond its own borders,” Dershowitz added. “Iran’s failure to change its behavior will surely not be lost on the new Biden team.”
Biden’s nominee to lead the Office of the Director of National Intelligence, Avril Haines, could face some political headwinds from the Left and the Right. Code Pink founder Medea Benjamin lamented this month that “Haines provided legal cover … [for] Obama’s tenfold expansion of drone killings” in her tenure as his deputy CIA director. Republicans might bristle at the fact that she worked under then-CIA Director John Brennan, given their anger over Brennan’s allegations concerning Russia investigation spawned by the 2016 election interference.
Yet most Democrats will rally to her nomination — “Avril’s experience, intellect, values, and work ethic will make her an exceptional DNI,” New Jersey Sen. Bob Menendez, the ranking member on the Foreign Relations Committee, said Monday — and conservative supporters will quietly provide bipartisan ballast.
“What I’ll be telling people on the hill is, I think, Avril Haines is incredibly capable,” said a conservative foreign policy expert who has worked with members of Biden’s team. “I cannot imagine her having a real serious problem on the hill.”
Cancian agreed. “None of them are going to have significant numbers of Republicans voting against them,” he said.