Editorial: Biden builds a solid foreign policy team

©Star Tribune (Minneapolis)

President-elect Joe Biden waves as he departs the Queen Theatre after meeting virtually with the United States Conference of Mayors in Wilmington, Delaware, on Monday, Nov. 23, 2020. - Mark Makela/Getty Images North America/TNS

Global challenges won’t wait for President Donald Trump to accept his clear defeat. So President-elect Joe Biden has been wise not to wait either, especially when it comes to forming his foreign policy team.

Biden’s announcement of several key posts sends a signal to adversarial nations and transnational actors who would seek to seize advantage of the current administration’s dysfunction — as well as to U.S. allies alienated by Trump’s treatment — that a seasoned, sensible team will guide the United States in the next administration.

Leading the list is Antony Blinken, Biden’s choice for secretary of state.

Blinken, a former deputy secretary of state and deputy national security adviser during the Obama administration, is a tenured, trusted Biden adviser, including during the president-elect’s years of leadership on the U.S. Senate Foreign Relations Committee. Steeped in experience and deeply respected in the State Department, Blinken will help implement Biden’s plans to bolster alliances, particularly within NATO and with Asian nations like Japan and South Korea, in part as a counterbalance to the challenges from a rising China and a revanchist Russia.

His experience and expertise isn’t only needed internationally. Internally, State Department morale has been described as at an all-time low after the destructive tenures of Rex Tillerson and Mike Pompeo.

The situation among career diplomats is so dire that it was the subject of a bracing report from Harvard last week that stated in part that, “The United States Foreign Service is confronting one of the most profound crises in its long and proud history. At a time of pandemic, recession, and mounting global challenges, our nation’s career diplomats find themselves without the support, funding, training, and leadership they need to represent the American people effectively overseas and in Washington, D.C.”

Blinken “is coming into an institution that he knows really well so that is an important signal both to our friends and our adversaries that this is someone who knows what he is doing, and it’s also an important signal to the professionals at the State Department that this is someone who has their confidence and has confidence in them,” Mary Curtin, a former envoy who is now diplomat-in-residence at the University of Minnesota’s Humphrey School of Public Affairs, told an editorial writer.

Blinken also clearly has the confidence of Biden. World leaders will know he speaks for the president, which will help him act on the president-elect’s pledges to rejoin the Paris climate accord, the World Health Organization, and, if the conditions are conducive, the Iran nuclear deal.

Also joining Biden’s team will be Linda Thomas-Greenfield as U.S. ambassador to the United Nations (her post will be rightfully restored to Cabinet status, so she’ll also sit on the National Security Council). Biden’s national security adviser will be Jake Sullivan, who served in various national security and diplomatic roles during the Obama administration.

Alejandro Mayorkas will be the first person of Hispanic descent to lead homeland security, Avril Haines will be the first woman to be director of national intelligence, and former Secretary of State John Kerry will serve as a special presidential envoy on climate, a top presidential priority.

The seasoned team will soon realize the seasons have changed since they served in previous administrations, Tom Hanson, a former Foreign Service officer who is now diplomat-in-residence at the University of Minnesota Duluth, told an editorial writer. “It’s a balance of back to a familiar team in Washington, but knowing it is a different situation now,” Hanson said.

Effectively addressing multiple global crises will require U.S. leadership. The opportunity costs of the wrongly delayed transition, which is now finally beginning, should spur the Senate to act with dispatch and decency in the confirmation process. The stakes are too high for the election gridlock in 2020 to extend to governance in 2021.

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©2020 Star Tribune (Minneapolis)