Joe Biden: Foreign Affairs
President Biden faced a number of challenges in foreign affairs. After years of erratic policy decisions under President Trump, Biden aimed to bring a state of normalcy to US foreign policy, rejoin treaties and alliances the previous administration abandoned, and restore the county’s standing in the world. The Biden approach jettisoned Trump’s “America First” nationalism in favor of rebuilding relationships with US allies and bolstering international institutions that Trump denigrated such as NATO and the World Health Organization. President Biden planned for the United States to return to the Paris climate agreement, focus on repairing the damage done to the Iran nuclear deal, and try to tame China’s widening international influence.
Biden’s foreign policy team reflected a return to stability but also, some critics contended, a return to the past rather than a strong forward-looking agenda. While he built a diverse team, Biden also drew criticism for populating it with members of the Obama administration. His choice for secretary of State, Antony Blinken, served as deputy secretary of State and deputy security adviser under Obama. He is a longtime adviser to Biden, having served the former vice president both in the Senate and as his national security adviser in the White House. Blinken is a steadfast proponent of building strong partnerships around the world. “Put simply,” Blinken said in 2016, “the world is safer for the American people when we have friends, partners, and allies.”
Other alumni of the Obama White House are Linda Thomas-Greenfield, a longtime Black diplomat nominated as US Ambassador to the United Nations, Jake Sullivan, slated to become national security adviser, and Samantha Power, chosen to run the United States Agency for International Development (USAID).
Alejandro Mayorkas, who was deputy secretary of the Department of Homeland Security in Obama’s second term, was named to head that department under Biden. He also served as director of US Citizenship and Immigration Services in the Obama administration. He was the first immigrant and Latino secretary of Homeland Security.
Biden chose Avril Haines, who served as deputy director of the Central Intelligence Agency (CIA) and deputy national security adviser under Obama, as his director of national intelligence. She was the first woman in that job.
Biden nominated retired General Lloyd Austin as secretary of the Defense Department. Austin, a four-star general who served in the military for 41 years, ran the US Central Command from 2013 to 2016, the first African American in that position. He will also be the first African American Defense secretary. However, some objected to Biden’s choice because it placed a former military leader in a traditional civilian role. Austin also faced another possible obstacle: the law requires at least seven years of retirement from active military service for a Defense secretary to take up leadership of the Pentagon. Austin would need a waiver from Congress where some lawmakers have expressed hesitation after President Trump sought a waiver for his first Defense secretary, Jim Mattis. Biden was said to lean toward Austin for the job because of his experience with large logistics operations in his previous roles, a skill that will be needed to tackle the slower-than-hoped distribution of coronavirus vaccines.