U.S. Foreign Policy Monitor: What Allies and Partners Need to Know - March 5
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 week the Monitor looks at the Biden administration’s first major military strike and the reaction in Congress. Sign up here to receive the newsletter every Friday in your inbox.
Last week saw the first lethal military operation of the Biden administration, when U.S. airstrikes hit facilities used by Iranian backed militias in Syria. The Pentagon has since assessed that one person was killed and several others injured in the strike, which came in response to attacks on U.S. personnel in the region. The operation was met with criticism from some on the right (for example at the Conservative Political Action Conference, which gathered last week in Florida), but also among Senators from the president’s own party. Senator Chris Murphy (D-Conn.), for example, said that he was not yet convinced by what he had heard from the administration regarding the authorization to strike in Syria. Similarly, Senators Tim Kaine (D-Va.) and Young (R-Ind.) this week introduced bipartisan legislation to repeal some of the long-standing congressional authorizations that have been used by presidents from both parties to justify military strikes in the Middle East. Such efforts are not entirely new, and it remains to be seen whether Congress can muster (and sustain) the will to insert itself more actively in authorizing military operations. There are further indications that congressional Democrats are seeking to change the U.S. approach to the region, as many signaled disappointment with the administration’s muted reaction to a U.S. intelligence report on the murder of journalist and Saudi Arabian dissident Jamal Khashoggi and said they would push for further penalties.
In other news, Secretary of State Tony Blinken made his first major address outlining the administration’s approach to foreign policy (more below).
Who to Watch
Brian McKeon is President Biden’s nominee to serve as deputy secretary of state for management and resources. Prior to his nomination, McKeon worked as senior director of the Penn Biden Center for Diplomacy and Global Engagement at the University of Pennsylvania. A long-time Biden aide, McKeon served for over 20 years in the Senate. A lawyer by training, 12 of those years were spent as chief counsel to Democratic members of the Committee on Foreign Relations. McKeon then joined the Obama administration as deputy national security adviser to the vice president, going on to serve in a number of positions, including as executive secretary and chief of staff of the National Security Council, and principal deputy under secretary of defense for policy. A native of Auburn, Alabama, McKeon earned his law degree from Georgetown University Law Center.
- Catch McKeon in action in this week’s confirmation hearing with the Senate Committee on Foreign Relations.
- While out of government, McKeon contributed regularly to Foreign Policy’s “Shadow Government” blog. Read his work here.
- In 2019, McKeon delivered this congressional testimony about Russia, arms control, and extending the New START treaty.
Kelly Magsamen is chief of staff to the secretary of defense. Prior to joining the Department of Defense, Magsamen worked as the vice president for national security and international policy at the Center for American Progress, a Washington-based think tank. During that period, she also worked as a national security analyst for CNN and as an adjunct lecturer at Johns Hopkins University’s School of Advanced International Studies (SAIS). In 2005, Magsamen first joined government as a presidential management fellow in the State Department’s Office of Near East Affairs. She spent most of the Obama administration working for the National Security Council; first focusing on issues in the Middle East, before serving as senior director for strategic planning. Magsamen spent the final three years of the Obama administration as principal deputy assistant secretary of defense for Asian and Pacific security affairs.
- A leading thinker on issues relating to the Indo-Pacific, Magsamen detailed her vision for a new strategy on China in this report she co-wrote for the Center for American Progress.
- The Biden administration has communicated its interest in re-vitalizing the role of democratic values in U.S. foreign policy. Read this report that Magsamen wrote on the topic.
- Like McKeon, Magsamen was a regular contributor to Foreign Policy’s “Shadow Government” blog. Read her work, here.
What to Read
Rhode Island Gov. Raimondo is confirmed as commerce secretary, David J. Lynch, The Washington Post.
“Raimondo […] will assume command of a federal agency with sweeping responsibilities and an increasingly important portfolio [….] Under President Biden, the department is likely to remain deeply involved in rewriting the terms of the U.S.-China commercial relationship and trying to better insulate U.S. supply chains from interruption.”
Senate confirms Cecilia Rouse as the first Black chair of White House economic council, Jim Tankersley, The New York Times.
“But in interviews and her hearing testimony, Dr. Rouse has made clear that she sees a larger set of priorities as C.E.A. chair: overhauling the inner workings of the federal government in order to promote racial and gender equity in the economy.”
Neera Tanden’s Nomination as Budget Office Head Is Withdrawn, Andrew Restuccia and Alex Leary, The Wall Street Journal.
“Ms. Tanden asked that her nomination be withdrawn in a letter to Mr. Biden in which she acknowledged she had little chance of being confirmed. ‘I appreciate how hard you and your team at the White House has worked to win my confirmation,’ she wrote. ‘Unfortunately, it now seems clear that there is no path forward to gain confirmation, and I do not want continued consideration of my nomination to be a distraction from your other priorities.’”
POLITICO Playbook: The three factions set to face off over Tanden’s replacement, Ryan Lizza, Eugene Daniels, Tara Palmeri, and Rachael Bade, Politico.
“Who will be Biden’s new OMB pick? According to our sources there are competing factions on the Hill and inside the White House pushing alternatives, but three names are worth spotlighting. Shalanda Young, […] Ann O’leary, […and] Sarah Bianchi.”
The road to Joe Biden's foreign policy runs through Bob Menendez, Andrew Desiderio and Nahal Toosi, Politico.
“In just six short weeks in office, President Joe Biden has bombed Syria, sanctioned Saudi Arabia and Myanmar, and taken steps to re-enter the Iran nuclear deal. But if Biden thinks he can make foreign policy decisions without consulting New Jersey’s Robert Menendez, he’s got another thing coming.”
Blinken, Biden outline global strategy with China as key focus by Nahal Toosi, Politico
“Foreign policy is domestic policy, says Blinken, but Beijing looms large….In what was billed as his first major address since taking office, Blinken outlined aspects of the Biden administration’s vision of America’s role in the world. Separately, President Joe Biden on Wednesday released a document of “interim strategic guidance” that laid out similar principles.” Read also New York Times coverage of the speech, Blinken Proposes a Foreign Policy Not ‘Disconnected From Our Daily Lives’.
Colossus Constrained: Renewal at Home Requires Restraint Abroad, Charles A. Kupchan, Foreign Affairs
“But Biden cannot have it all, and he would be wise not to overpromise. With the country’s economy and politics in tatters, the new administration must remain laser focused on domestic renewal, a priority that will inevitably come at the expense of the nation’s efforts abroad.”
Biden’s Tepid Message to Putin, Navalny, and Autocrats, Masha Gessen, The New Yorker.
“Morally, the Biden Administration had to act, because the President ran on the promise of being tough on Russia. More important, he ran on the promise of knowing right from wrong and acting accordingly. But, both morally and legally, Biden is doing little more than the bare minimum.”
“American hubris is always a danger, but so is exaggerated fear, which can lead to overreaction. Equally dangerous is rising Chinese nationalism, which, combined with a belief in American decline, leads China to take greater risks. Both sides must beware miscalculation. After all, more often than not, the greatest risk we face is our own capacity for error.”
Biden’s Narrow Window of Opportunity on Iran, Vali Nasr, Foreign Affairs.
“Maximum pressure during a deadly pandemic appears to have immunized the Iranian public against American soft power. And the more Iranians perceive the United States as a threat, rather than a lure, the more likely they are to support a nuclear program as a necessary deterrent.”
How Biden Is Setting Himself Apart From Trump—and Obama—in the Middle East, Frida Ghitis, Politico.
“So far, Biden seems to be trying to find a balance between these two approaches—one that upholds America’s cherished principles while acknowledging cold realities, and that wields both diplomacy and military action. In a region where America’s commitment to its values is regularly put to its harshest test, he is trying to forge an excruciatingly nuanced middle path.”
Development Depends on More Than Aid, Gayle E. Smith, Foreign Affairs.
“Development finance institutions can break through the logjams that inhibit foreign and domestic investment. They have the convening power to bring together different actors, unlocking capital to make sure resources are flowing to where they are most needed and can have the greatest impact.”
Biden’s bubble risk: A reckoning in markets as the economy recovers, Ben White, Politico.
“Giant bubbles are once again inflating all over the financial world — creating a potential problem for Washington in the coming months.[…] Wall Street pros and Washington policymakers know that some or all of these bubbles could explode in spectacular ways. But nobody really knows what to do about it.”
What’s Happening @GMF
- “America is Back” and a Marathon Week of Diplomacy by Out of Order (Podcast)
- Biden’s China Challenge Starts in Paris and Berlin by Gesine Weber (Article)
- NATO 2030: United for a New Era (Upcoming Event)
The views expressed in GMF publications and commentary are the views of the author alone.