Biden Names Blinken and Sullivan to Cabinet
Antony J. Blinken, a defender of global alliances and President-elect Joseph R. Biden Jr.’s closest foreign policy adviser, is expected to be nominated for secretary of state, a job in which he will try to coalesce skeptical international partners into a new competition with China, according to people close to the process.
Mr. Blinken, 58, a former deputy secretary of state under President Barack Obama, began his career at the State Department during the Clinton administration. His extensive foreign policy credentials are expected to help calm American diplomats and global leaders alike after four years of the Trump administration’s ricocheting strategies and nationalist swaggering.
Mr. Biden is also expected to name another close aide, Jake Sullivan, as national security adviser, according to a person familiar with the process. Mr. Sullivan, 43, succeeded Mr. Blinken as Vice President Biden’s national security adviser, and served as the head of policy planning at the State Department under Hillary Clinton, becoming her closest strategic adviser.
Together, Mr. Blinken and Mr. Sullivan, good friends with a common worldview, have become Mr. Biden’s brain trust and often his voice on foreign policy matters. And they led the attack on President Trump’s use of “America First” as a guiding principle, saying it only isolated the United States and created opportunities and vacuums for its adversaries.
Mr. Biden plans to announce their selections even as Mr. Trump continues his ineffectual push to overturn the election. A growing number of Republicans are calling on Mr. Trump to concede and begin the official transition process.
Mr. Biden is also expected to name Linda Thomas-Greenfield, a 35-year veteran of the Foreign Service who has served in diplomatic posts around the world, as his ambassador to the United Nations, according to two people with knowledge of the process. Mr. Biden will also restore the post to cabinet-level status after Mr. Trump downgraded it, giving Ms. Thomas-Greenfield, who is Black, a seat on his National Security Council. The selections of Mr. Blinken and Mr. Sullivan were reported earlier by Bloomberg News, and Ms. Thomas-Greenfield’s nomination was reported by Axios.
Mr. Blinken has been at Mr. Biden’s side for nearly 20 years, including as his top aide on the Senate Foreign Relations Committee and later as his national security adviser when he was vice president. In that role, Mr. Blinken helped develop the American response to political upheaval and instability across the Middle East, with mixed results in Egypt, Iraq, Syria and Libya.
But chief among his new priorities will be to re-establish the United States as a trusted ally that is ready to rejoin global agreements and institutions — including the Paris climate accord, the Iran nuclear deal and the World Health Organization — that were jettisoned by Mr. Trump.
“Simply put, the big problems that we face as a country and as a planet, whether it’s climate change, whether it’s a pandemic, whether it’s the spread of bad weapons — to state the obvious, none of these have unilateral solutions,” Mr. Blinken said at a forum at the Hudson Institute in July. “Even a country as powerful as the United States can’t handle them alone.”
Working with other countries, Mr. Blinken said at the forum, could have the added benefit of confronting another top diplomatic challenge: competing with China by choosing multilateral efforts to advance trade, technology investments and human rights — instead of forcing individual nations to choose between the two superpowers’ economies.
In public statements and interviews in recent weeks, he has made no secret of other aspects of Mr. Biden’s — and his own — agenda for the first weeks of the new presidency.
He will have about 15 days after inauguration to extend for five years the last major arms control agreement with Russia, a step Mr. Trump initially refused to take because he insisted China be brought into the treaty as well. “Certainly we will want to engage China on arms control issues,” Mr. Blinken said recently, “but we can pursue strategic stability by extending the New START arms limitation agreement and seek to build on it” later.
Mr. Blinken has turned more hawkish on Russia as the extent of its interference in the 2016 election and throughout Europe has become clearer. In a recent interview, he suggested using Russia’s discomfort with its reliance on China, especially in technology, for leverage.
“There’s a flip side” to dealing with Moscow, Mr. Blinken said. President Vladimir V. Putin, he noted, is “looking to relieve Russia’s growing dependence on China,” which has left him in “not a very comfortable position.”
In taking the White House’s top national security job, Mr. Sullivan will be the youngest person to hold that position since the Eisenhower administration. Mr. Sullivan made his name in the Obama administration, finding admirers even among conservative Republicans in Congress while playing a key role in the negotiations leading to the Iran nuclear deal in 2015.
A Minnesota native and Yale Law School graduate, Mr. Sullivan in recent months has helped spearhead a project at the Carnegie Endowment for International Peace re-conceiving U.S. foreign policy around the needs of the American middle class.
In recent years, Mr. Sullivan has taught at Yale Law School and Dartmouth, and moved to New Hampshire with his wife, Margaret Goodlander. Ms. Goodlander was an aide to Senator John McCain, and then a law clerk to Judge Merrick B. Garland and Justice Stephen G. Breyer.
Mr. Blinken, described by some as a centrist with a streak of interventionism, has also sought to lessen refugee crises and migration. On the last day of the Obama administration, the State Department set a cap of 110,000 refugees who would be allowed to resettle in the United States in the 2017 fiscal year. That number has since dwindled to 15,000 in the 2021 fiscal year.
He has said he will look to further assist Guatemala, Honduras and El Salvador — the Northern Triangle countries of Central America — to persuade migrants that they will be safer and better off remaining home.
That is all likely to leave less time and resources for the Middle East, Mr. Blinken has said, although that was the policy area that consumed him in the years after the terrorist attacks of Sept. 11, 2001, and the invasion of Iraq in 2003.
He helped craft Mr. Biden’s proposal in the Senate to create three autonomous regions in Iraq, partitioned by ethnic or sectarian identity, which was widely rejected, including by the country’s prime minister at the time. During the Obama administration, Mr. Blinken was a key player in diplomatic efforts to harness more than 60 countries to counter the Islamic State in Iraq and Syria.
In contrast to some of his pricklier colleagues in the Obama administration, Mr. Blinken chatted with journalists in Baghdad in 2012 for insights beyond what soldiers, diplomats and intelligence officers hemmed inside the embassy compound could provide.
Before taking a job at the State Department’s bureau for European policy in 1993, Mr. Blinken had aspired to be a journalist or film producer. He honed his media skills by becoming a foreign policy speechwriter for President Bill Clinton and later oversaw European and Canadian policy on the White House National Security Council.
Mr. Blinken also has a lighter side that may not be immediately evident when he is seen testifying or meeting foreign diplomats. He plays in a band. He has a tight group of close friends from his days as a student at Harvard and his rise through the Washington foreign policy firmament.
And he is a new father: He and his wife have two very young children at home, and he will be the first secretary of state in modern times to be raising toddlers while serving in office.
Mr. Blinken grew up in New York and in Paris, graduating from Harvard and Columbia Law School. The son of an ambassador to Hungary during the Clinton administration and the stepson of a Holocaust survivor, Mr. Blinken has often spoken of the moral example the United States sets for the rest of the world.
“In times of crisis or calamity, it is the United States that the world turns to first and always,” Mr. Blinken said at a speech at the Center for a New American Security in 2015.
“We are not the leader of first choice because we’re always right, or because we’re universally liked, or because we can dictate outcomes,” he said. “It’s because we strive to the best of our ability to align our actions with our principles, and because American leadership has a unique ability to mobilize others and to make a difference.”