U.S. Foreign Policy Monitor: What Allies and Partners Need to Know - November 25
The U.S. Foreign Policy Monitor will track the “who,” “what,” and “so what” for the new U.S. administration and Congress. Sign up here to receive every Friday in your inbox.
This week the Monitor is coming out a bit earlier due to the Thanksgiving break in the United States. We are taking a closer look at some of the key figures in the new administration and what these figures have to say about foreign policy and the future of the international order.
On Monday, November 23, the head of the General Services Administration (GSA) finally signed the paperwork allowing Joe Biden to formally launch his presidential transition after an initial delay of almost two weeks. This means that his transition team will now receive government resources and support. Hours after the GSA approval, members of the Biden-Harris transition teams started to reach out to counterparts at the different governmental departments and agencies to set up briefings and coordinate handovers. The transition is expected to kick into high gear now, especially regarding issues pertaining to COVID-19 vaccine development and dissemination plans and national security matters.
Meanwhile, President-elect Joe Biden officially presented six candidates for key foreign and security policy cabinet positions, nominating Antony Blinken to lead the State Department, Jake Sullivan as his National Security Advisor, Avril Haines as Director of National Intelligence, Alejandro Mayorkas to head the Department of Homeland Security, and Linda Greenfield-Thomas to become the U.S. Ambassador to the United Nations. In addition, former Secretary of State John Kerry was introduced as a special presidential envoy for climate, a cabinet-level position, indicating the emphasis the incoming president is planning to put on combatting climate change. All of these nominees served in various positions in the Obama-Biden administration and are well regarded in Washington foreign policy circles.
So What - In Focus This Week
With Joe Biden’s first foreign policy personnel decisions in place, the debate about the future direction of U.S. foreign policy is getting more concrete. While almost everybody in the U.S. foreign policy community agrees that the world confronting the incoming president is very different from the one he faced as vice president, the overarching question seems to be whether the new president will take a more restorative approach to the existing, yet challenged liberal international order or whether his administration will pursue entirely new avenues.
As Tom Wright laid out in the Atlantic, Biden’s “presidency may be the establishment’s last best chance to demonstrate that liberal internationalism is a superior strategy to populist nationalism.” To succeed in this endeavor, Wright argues, the incoming president will have to “make big choices that are attuned to the politics of the moment, in the United States and around the world.”
More than two years ago, the incoming national security advisor, Jake Sullivan, addressed the question of the future international order in an essay for Foreign Affairs. In “The World After Trump” Sullivan argues that the liberal international order is more resilient than doomsayers realize and that it was “built to last through significant shifts in global politics and economics and strong enough to survive a term of President Trump.” He described his more optimistic outlook as a “call to action” for those who believed in the benefits of a liberal international order, while acknowledging that this order also required “an update to account for new realities and new challenges.” The bigger question for America’s allies and partners is how ambitious the new U.S. administration will be in this regard and whether it can succeed in safeguarding U.S. commitments to a revamped international order against future shocks, including domestic ones. For more insight into that question, check out Sullivan’s much-talked about 2019 article on rescuing American exceptionalism.
Who to Watch
Kathleen Hicks currently leads the Biden transition’s Agency Review Team for the Department of Defense. She is also a senior vice president and director of the International Security Program at the Center for Strategic and International Studies (CSIS), a preeminent Washington-based think tank. Hicks joined CSIS after a long career both in- and out- of the Pentagon; starting in 1994 as a career civil servant, she eventually served as President Obama’s principal deputy under secretary of defense for policy. Hicks received her Ph.D. in political science from the Massachusetts Institute of Technology and hails from a military family—both her oldest brother and father are former naval officers, with the latter retiring as a rear admiral.
- As a think tank expert, Hicks has written prolifically on a number of defense-related topics, including: defense strategy and trade-offs; reducing U.S. military commitments; and the potential for bipartisanship in Congress’ approach to foreign policy.
- Considering the erosion of civilian-military relations under the Trump administration, now might be a good time to review Hicks’ congressional testimony on the subject.
- “We Need Joe Biden”—an opinion piece written by Hicks and Michèle Flournoy (a leading contender for the position of Secretary of Defense) during the 2020 campaign cycle.
President-elect Joe Biden recently appointed Ron Klain to serve as his chief of staff. Klain is no stranger to the White House—having already served as chief of staff to Vice Presidents Al Gore (1995-99) and Joe Biden (2009-11). Known for his ability to get things done, President Obama appointed Klain as the “Ebola czar,” an experience that will undoubtably help him as he coordinates the Biden administration’s response to the coronavirus pandemic. Notably, Klain also oversaw Al Gore’s Florida recount as part of the 2000 presidential election. Klain started his career as a wunderkind, graduating from Harvard Law School, he had both clerked for the Supreme Court and served as chief counsel to the Senate Judiciary Committee by the age of 28.
- As an expert political operative and seasoned debate prep advisor, Klain wrote this 2012 Memo to candidates, which includes nuggets such as, “punches are good, counterpunches are better.”
- For an idea of how Klain will approach to current economic crisis, Politico profiled his work to pass President Obama’s economic stimulus package in 2009.
- For insight into the administration’s coronavirus pandemic response, check out this Politico profile of his work as the Obama administration’s Ebola Czar.
What to Read
ON PEOPLE AND THE TRANSITION:
Who is Janet Yellen, Biden’s pioneering pick to lead the Treasury amid a deep crisis?, Heather Long, The Washington Post.
“Yellen led the Fed from 2014 to 2018…Unemployment fell more during her tenure than for any other Fed chair since World War II...Her constant questioning of whether economic models and forecasts are correct helped her become one of the first policymakers to foresee the 2008 financial crisis and the deep problems in the housing market....Yellen has experience handling difficult problems like inequality, racism, climate change and financial regulation. She has called loudly for a ‘culture change’ in economics to make the field less hostile to people who are not White men.”
Biden and Flournoy Have Clashed Over Policy in Past, Michael Hirsh, Foreign Policy.
“Michèle Flournoy is widely considered to be a front-runner to become President-elect Joe Biden’s pick as secretary of defense, the first woman to serve in the post. But Flournoy, a highly regarded career defense official, hasn’t always been on the same side of policy debates as her future boss, and that could potentially affect the Biden administration’s future approach to security concerns around the globe…. Flournoy has become renowned in military circles for her creative approach to maximizing the effectiveness of U.S. military forces with minimal expenditure; …. She also shares with Biden the determination to find new ways to confront the rise of China while at the same time pushing for areas of cooperation on threats like climate change and containing North Korea.”
Biden’s Sleepily Reassuring Appointments, Graeme Wood, The Atlantic.
“If you wonder how [Antony Blinken, Michèle Flournoy, and Jake Sullivan] will govern, just close your eyes and imagine yourself back to 2016… Blinken, Flournoy, and Sullivan are not widely remembered by ordinary, non-Beltway people, because they were hypercompetent public servants who tended not to make hilarious, unforced errors..….Biden had alternatives and could have packed his cabinet with appointees not known primarily for their bureaucratic skill: Mayor Pete Buttigieg or Senator Mitt Romney at State, say, or Senator Tammy Duckworth of Illinois at Defense.…Instead, Biden chose three Democratic policy virtuosos, the exact people you would choose if you wanted to reassure everyone, at the risk of boring them, that the incoming administration will resemble the one that left in 2017, with a modest generational upgrade.”
Biden Pick to Lead Spy Agencies Played Key Role in Drone Strike Program Under Obama, Julian Barnes, New York Times.
“If confirmed, Ms. Haines, 51, will have to rebuild an intelligence community that was openly excoriated by President Trump over its assessment that Russia had interfered on his behalf in the 2016 election and to depoliticize the Office of the Director of National Intelligence...While intelligence chiefs have traditionally been nonpartisan and focused on delivering facts, the past two directors of national intelligence, John Ratcliffe and Richard Grenell, who served on an acting basis, were fierce partisan defenders of Mr. Trump. Ms. Haines co-wrote an article in Foreign Policy this year that raised concerns about the politicization of the intelligence agencies under the Trump administration.”
Biden builds out White House legislative affairs team, Megan Cassella, Politico.
“President-elect Joe Biden announced two more staff hires on Monday for his White House's Office of Legislative Affairs. Reema Dodin and Shuwanza Goff, two Capitol Hill veterans, will join the Biden administration’s legislative affairs team as deputy directors…. ‘The American people are eager for our Administration to get to work, and today’s appointees will help advance our agenda and ensure every American has a fair shot,’ Biden said in a statement announcing the hires. ‘In a Biden administration, we will have an open door to the Hill and this team will make sure their views are always represented in the White House.’”
The Fraught Politics Facing Biden’s Foreign Policy, Thomas Wright, The Atlantic.
“Within Biden’s team, an ongoing, but largely overlooked, debate has been brewing among Democratic centrists about the future of U.S. foreign policy. One group, which I call ‘restorationist,’ favors a foreign policy broadly consistent with that of President Barack Obama… A second group, which I call ‘reformist,’ challenges key orthodoxies from the Obama era. Philosophically, these advisers believe that U.S. foreign policy needs to fundamentally change if it is to deal with the underlying forces of Trumpism and nationalist populism…The progressives who staked out new ground on foreign policy during the primary campaign will be a significant force inside the Democratic Party in a Biden administration. Progressives believe foreign policy should primarily serve domestic economic and political goals….”
How Joe Biden Can Rein in Donald Trump’s Reckless Middle East Policy, Frederic Wehrey, Politico.
“As president, Joe Biden will have to grapple with the aftermath of Emirati adventurism and the habits of other authoritarian Arab allies that have been lavished with American military support, not just under Trump but under previous administrations, as well. Already, there are positive signals that Biden intends to do this by pursuing a policy toward Arab states that is less personalized, less transactional, more values-based and more focused on advancing the welfare of the region’s citizens than accommodating the phobias and ambitions of its ruling elites. For example, some of Biden’s top advisers have expressed skepticism about the sale of offensive American weapons to the Gulf. The early reactions of some Arab regimes to Biden’s election suggest they sense this shift, and they are uneasy.”
“America’s allies can expect completely different treatment than the badgering and battering they have been subjected to by Mr Trump. ‘Allies are going to have pride of place in the hierarchy of priorities’ in a Biden administration foreign policy, Sullivan said in a podcast with the Lowy Institute…. Mr Blinken sees allies as vital in the competition with China, perhaps the biggest foreign-policy challenge of the coming years. He expects to work with ‘like-minded countries’ to ensure that the rules of the game are fair—and allies help give America extra clout: it’s a lot harder for China ‘to ignore 60% of the world’s GDP than it is to ignore a quarter of it.’”
Biden to spotlight CDC officials shunned by Trump, Alice Miranda Ollstein and Adam Cancryn, Politico.
“President-elect Joe Biden is putting scientists in charge and back on the stage to restore trust in the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention… The goal, said Biden’s advisers, is to send a tightly coordinated message that, nearly a year into the coronavirus crisis, the federal government is prioritizing science over politics in driving its pandemic response…. Biden’s advisers anticipate the Covid-19 response will consume at least the first six months of his presidency, even in a best-case scenario.”
Biden Team Highlights Cybersecurity With First Cabinet Picks, Mariam Baksh, Defense One.
“The Biden-Harris transition team has explicitly called out cybersecurity as a priority in naming the first six individuals it plans to appoint or nominate for key cabinet positions. …Mayorkas, Haines, Sullivan and Blinken will serve in roles crucial to cybersecurity policy and have all worked in the Obama administration, which pioneered enduring cybersecurity approaches centered on the development of public-private and international partnerships.”
The Can-Do Power: America’s Advantage and Biden’s Chance, Samantha Power, Foreign Affairs.
“The new administration will rightly give precedence to problem solving at home—ending the pandemic, jump-starting an equitable economic recovery, and reforming fraying democratic institutions. Biden has said he plans to pull the country out of the current crisis by ‘building back better” in a way that confronts economic inequality, systemic racism, and climate change. Yet major structural changes will take time. The Biden administration should therefore also pursue foreign policy initiatives that can quickly highlight the return of American expertise and competence. Here, Biden should emphasize policies that provide clear, simultaneous benefits at home; meet a critical and felt need abroad; are highly visible; and—the missing ingredient in so many U.S. foreign policy endeavors of late—produce tangible outcomes.”
Defense In Depth: Why U.S. Security Depends on Alliances—Now More Than Ever, Kori Schake, Jim Mattis, Jim Ellis, and Joe Felter, Foreign Affairs.
“In January, when President Joe Biden and his national security team begin to reevaluate U.S. foreign policy, we hope they will quickly revise the national security strategy to eliminate “America first” from its contents, restoring in its place the commitment to cooperative security that has served the United States so well for decades. The best strategy for ensuring safety and prosperity is to buttress American military strength with enhanced civilian tools and a restored network of solid alliances—both necessary to achieving defense in depth. The pandemic should serve as a reminder of what grief ensues when we wait for problems to come to us.”
Crafting a Diplomacy-First US Foreign Policy, Anne-Marie Slaughter and Alexandra Stark, Project Syndicate.
“But crafting a diplomacy-first foreign policy to address issues like these … requires fundamentally revamping the relevant US institutions to make diplomacy and development the permanent center of foreign and national-security policy…. Such efforts should begin with a rethink of what security is and whom it is for….national security should actually mean protecting people from the threats – ranging from disease and violence to fire and floods – that affect their everyday lives. The fact that these threats disrupt the most vulnerable communities the most is a result of policy, not chance. Security must therefore begin with developing a set of national and global tools to reduce the risks that these groups face. Diplomacy, on this calculus, starts at home.”
What’s Happening @GMF
- Why Central and Eastern Europe Will Matter for the Biden Administration (article)
- Tomorrow, the World: The Birth of U.S. Global Supremacy (event)
- Charting a Transatlantic Course to Address China (event)
- The Future of the Republican Party – What’s Next? (event)
- Europe Hopes Biden Will Reset on Iran and Tame Turkey (article)
- Transatlantic Economic Cooperation After Trump (article)
- Great Optimism in the EU and NATO as Brussels Looks to Biden (article)
Extra: Four Questions on the Transition Process
This week, Jonathan Katz, a senior fellow with the German Marshall Fund shares some of his experiences as part of the outgoing Obama administration in 2017. Prior to joining GMF, Katz was the deputy assistant administrator in the Europe and Eurasia bureau at the U.S. Agency for International Development (USAID), where he managed U.S. development policy, energy security, economic growth, and democracy, and governance programs in Europe and Eurasia.
Q: In what role were you involved in a previous transition?
Jonathan Katz: I served as the USAID Europe and Eurasia Deputy Assistant Administrator in the Obama Administration and was in that role until January 2017 when Trump's administration took over.
Q: When did the transition work start? And should we imagine everyone working 8 hours a day with their transition partners?
Katz: The transition work started not long after the election concluded in November 2016, and there were general instructions across the U.S. government and at USAID on how to proceed with the transition and to engage the incoming Administration. Of course, a lot the work is carried out by the career civil servants, foreign service and other employees, including political appointees, at USAID and other departments and agencies who end up working with the incoming transition teams. I recall that the Trump team was not significantly visible in engaging the Europe and Eurasia Bureau at USAID in the transition period.
Q: How many people on both sides (incoming, outgoing) were involved in the transition in your department?
Katz: There were multiple staff in our bureau that were responsible for writing, for example, briefing papers that would be available for the next Administration, including leadership at USAID. I don't recall seeing Trump's transition team in other offices/wandering the halls. I engaged more with Trump Administration appointees only after they took up their positions at USAID’s Europe and Eurasia Bureau.
Q: How much overlap was there between transition staff and the staff that then took on positions in the department, when you were involved?
Katz: It took several weeks before the transition occurred and new leadership at the political level in the Bureau was put in place. The challenge facing any new administration is to get your nominees through the confirmation process and also to get security clearances. The security clearance process for some people in the transition process generally starts in November and can easily take several weeks, higher level confirmations can take several months depending on multiple factors, including the nomination and confirmation process and the political makeup of the Senate.
The views expressed in GMF publications and commentary are the views of the author alone.