U.S. Foreign Policy Monitor: What Allies and Partners Need to Know - January 29
Welcome to the U.S. Foreign Policy Monitor where every week we track the “who,” “what,” and “so what” for the new U.S. administration and Congress. This installment of the Monitor looks at key calls between President Biden and foreign officials, executive orders, and some top figures in the cabinet and White House. Sign up here to receive every Friday in your inbox.
So far, the Biden administration has wasted little time in implementing its agenda. Only a few days into his first term, President Biden has already signed nearly 30 executive orders spanning domestic and international policy domains. This included measures to rejoin the World Health Organization and the Paris Climate Agreement, as well as steps to revoke the ban on immigration from various Muslim-majority countries implemented by the Trump administration. A more comprehensive list of executive orders can be found here.
Simultaneously, Congress has continued to confirm key Biden administration appointments—a process that had been delayed by fewer hearings taking place before the inauguration. Yet a handful of prominent posts were confirmed this past week including Llyod G. Austin as secretary of defense (watch Austin’s hearing), Anthony Blinken as secretary of state (watch Blinken’s hearing), Avril Haines as director of national intelligence (watch Haines’ hearing), and Janet Yellen as secretary of the treasury (watch Yellen’s hearing).
Biden also reached out to foreign leaders over the past several days and worked to reassure allies about the U.S. commitment to multilateral institutions. This included calls with NATO Secretary General Stoltenberg, German Chancellor Merkel, French President Macron, U.K. Prime Minister Johnson, and Japanese Prime Minister Yoshihide Suga. With the expiration of New START immediately facing the administration, and the poisoning and arrest of Aleksey Navalny and the SolarWinds hack further rocking US-Russia relations, Biden also spoke with Russian President Vladimir Putin. Despite their differences, both leaders agreed in principle to a five year extension of the arms control treaty.
Who to Watch
Yohannes Abraham is the chief of staff and executive secretary of the White House National Security Council. Abraham previously served as the executive director of the Biden-Harris transition, a key position that entails the day-to-day management of policy, personnel, and operations. Abraham’s precocious career trajectory started weeks after graduating from Yale University, when he joined the Obama campaign as its field director in Virginia. After the 2008 election, he served in a series of White House and Democratic National Committee roles before joining Obama’s re-election campaign as its deputy national political director. Abraham returned to the White House as chief of staff to Senior Advisor Valerie Jarrett, ultimately leaving as deputy assistant to the president and senior advisor to the National Economic Council. Abraham spent the intervening four years in a number of roles, attaining his MBA from Harvard Business School, working as the chief operating officer of The Obama Foundation, and teaching as an adjunct lecturer at Harvard’s Kennedy School.
- Abraham is known for his management prowess. Listen to this episode of Transition Lab to hear about his work as executive director of the Biden-Harris transition.
- Check out this conversation between Abraham and his former boss Valerie Jarrett.
Elizabeth Sherwood-Randall is the White House Homeland Security advisor. Sherwood-Randall got her start in public service as a foreign policy advisor to then-Senator Joe Biden. She proceeded to serve as deputy assistant secretary of defense for Russia, Ukraine, and Eurasia during the Clinton administration. Between 1997 and 2008, she worked in a variety of research positions in the academic and think tank space. A familiar face in the transatlantic community, Sherwood-Randall initially served in the Obama administration as senior director for Europe and was later promoted to the position of White House coordinator for defense policy, countering weapons of mass destruction, and arms control. Sherwood-Randall concluded her tenure in the Obama administration by serving as deputy secretary of the Department of Energy. Raised in California, Sherwood-Randall completed her undergraduate studies at Harvard University. She received her doctorate from Oxford University, where she and her brother—the former president of Disney-ABC Television group—were the first brother/sister pair to each win Rhodes Scholarships.
- Check out this piece from The New York Times’ David Sanger on Sherwood-Randall’s responsibilities in the Biden White House.
- Watch this short series of video interviews produced by Harvard’s Belfer Center that feature Sherwood-Randall talking about everything from smart grids to modernizing the U.S. nuclear arsenal.
- Listen to then-Vice President Biden’s remarks at her swearing-in ceremony as deputy secretary of energy.
What to Read
Blinken Takes Over at State Dept. with a Review of Trump’s Policies, Lara Jakes, The New York Times.
“The Senate on Tuesday confirmed Antony J. Blinken as the nation’s 71st secretary of state…. A centrist with an interventionist streak, Mr. Blinken was approved by a vote of 78 to 22, a signal that senators were eager to move past the Trump administration’s confrontational approach to diplomacy.”
Austin confirmed as first Black defense secretary, Connor O’brien and Bryan Bender, Politico.
“The Senate on Friday confirmed Lloyd Austin to be the new Defense secretary, making the retired Army general the first Black person to run the Pentagon. Austin's nomination was approved in a 93-2 blowout despite…The quick confirmation vote comes amid a push on Capitol Hill to get President Joe Biden's national security team on the job as quickly as possible.”
Biden Team Rushes to Take Over Government, and Oust Trump Loyalists, David E. Sanger, The New York Times.
“[Last week] Mr. Biden [installed] roughly 1,000 high-level officials in about a quarter of all of the available political appointee jobs in the federal government. At the same time, a far less visible transition was taking place: the quiet dismissal of holdovers from the Trump administration, who have been asked to clean out their offices immediately, whatever the eventual legal consequences.”
The Five Blocs In Congress To Watch In Biden’s Washington, Perry Bacon Jr., FiveThirtyEight.
“President Biden started off his tenure with a bunch of executive orders and directives. But to get most really big things done, he will need to go through Congress. So it’s worth looking at the new Congress and where Biden might find support and opposition to his policy goals.
A Lower Bar For the Cyber Czar, Joshua Rovner, War on the Rocks.
“Congress expects a lot of whoever gets the job. The National Defense Authorization Act instructs the director to coordinate national cyber strategy […], serve as the president’s principal cyber security adviser, and act as the chief liaison with industry, academia, and other private sector groups…. According to one report, the Biden administration has chosen Jen Easterly, an Obama administration veteran currently working as head of resilience at Morgan Stanley.”
The Battle Lines Are Forming in Biden’s Climate Push, Coral Davenport and Lisa Friedman, The New York Times.
“As President Biden prepares on Wednesday to open an ambitious effort to confront climate change, powerful and surprising forces [including automakers, large oil companies, and shareholders] are arrayed at his back...But what may well stand in the president’s way is political intransigence from senators from fossil-fuel states in both parties.”
In first call with Putin, Biden marks a return to skepticism from the top, Anne Gearan and Karen DeYoung, The Washington Post.
“President Biden laid out a bill of complaint against Russian President Vladimir Putin on Tuesday, airing allegations of human rights abuses, cyberspying and more while making a hard pivot away from the deference that former president Donald Trump often displayed toward Russia.”
Delusions of Dominance, Stephen Wertheim, Foreign Affairs.
“[Biden] is inheriting a long-standing U.S. grand strategy that is systemically broken and that no tonal adjustment or policy nuance can fix….By seeking global dominance rather than just its own defense, the United States has acquired a world of antagonists... As a result, U.S. foreign policy has failed in its most essential purpose: it has made the American people less safe where they live.”
Biden’s uphill battle to save the Iran nuclear deal, Ishaan Tharoor, The Washington Post.
“Although Biden is committed to re-engagement with Iran, his aides have yet to indicate clearly when and how, suggesting that the ball is in Iran’s court. At his confirmation hearing last week, Secretary of State Antony Blinken said the United States would wait until it was convinced that Tehran was scaling back its revived enrichment operations and returning once more to compliance with the pact.”
Among the Unanticipated Outcomes of the U.S. Election: A Palestinian One, Joshua Mitnick, Foreign Policy.
“…the Palestinian leader has signaled a desire to mend fences with Washington… The 85-year-old Abbas appears to be signaling that he is open to a new U.S.-led peace effort, though mediating a deal between Israel and the Palestinians isn’t viewed by the incoming administration as a likely prospect in the near future.”
What’s Happening @GMF
- A Thirteen-Point Plan to Launch a New and Improved Transatlantic Alliance by GMF Experts (Article)
- A New Transatlantic Era Needs New Institutions by Bruce Stokes (Article)
- State of Transatlantic Relations with Karen Donfried (Audio)
- It Is Time for the United States to Institutionalize Subnational Diplomacy by Benjamin Leffel, Reta Jo Lewis, Corey Jacobson, Luis Renta, and Kevin Cottrell (Article)
- Foreign Policy for the Middle Class? (Event Video)
- The U.S.-EU Relationship in 2021 and Beyond - What Can We Expect From the Biden Administration? (Event Video)
- Seizing the Biden Moment: What the New U.S. Administration Means for Europe (Event Video)
The views expressed in GMF publications and commentary are the views of the author alone.