U.S. Foreign Policy Monitor: What Allies and Partners Need to Know - April 9
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. After taking last Friday off, this week’s edition focuses on Russian troop movements along Ukraine’s border, the NSA-level trilateral meeting with Japan and South Korea, and a couple key state department nominations. Sign up here to receive the newsletter every Friday in your inbox.
Following increased Russian troop movements and a build up along Ukraine’s border, the Biden administration signaled its support of Ukraine over the past week. Last Friday, President Biden held a call with President Zelensky affirming “unwavering support for Ukraine’s sovereign and territorial integrity.” Both the U.S. secretary of state and secretary of defense have reached out to their Ukrainian counterparts in what State Department Spokesman Ned Price characterized as messaging “to our Ukrainian counterparts and, implicitly to the Russians as well, that we stand by Kyiv.”
Last Friday, National Security Advisor Jake Sullivan met in a trilateral format with his Japanese and South Korean counterparts. The meeting particularly focused on concerns around North Korea’s ballistic missile program as the U.S. reviews its policy toward Pyongyang. A read out of the trilateral meeting can be found here.
Also, in the wake of reports of a plot to potentially unseat Jordanian King Abdullah II, President Biden held a call with him on Wednesday to underscore the importance of his leadership and Jordan’s role as a critical partner in the region. This was a day after a State Department Briefing commended King Abdullah’s leadership, integrity, and vision, noting he has “the full support” of the United States.
Who to Watch
Brett M. Holmgren has been nominated for assistant secretary of state for intelligence and research, after serving as the deputy for nominations for the Biden-Harris Transition Team, and as co-chair of the Intelligence Working Group for Biden for President. Holmgren joined the campaign following a stint in the private sector as vice president for technology risk management at Capital One Financial. Previously, he held numerous roles at the National Security Council, including special assistant to the president and senior director for intelligence programs, senior policy advisor to the assistant to the president for homeland security and counterterrorism, and director for counterterrorism. He also served as special assistant to the deputy secretary of defense, as well as a political analyst at the Central Intelligence Agency. Holmgren began his government service as a counterterrorism analyst at the Defense Intelligence Agency. He received numerous awards, including the Director of National Intelligence Superior Service Award, the Central Intelligence Agency Director’s award, and the Office of the Secretary of Defense Exceptional Civilian Service Award. He received a bachelor’s degree from University of Wisconsin-Madison and a master’s degree from Johns Hopkins University.
- In March 2020, he co-authored a Just Security article with Benjamin Haas discussing the U.S. government’s response to 9/11 as a model for countering foreign disinformation and interference in elections. Read the article here.
- He has been critical of the politicization of the office of the Director of National Intelligence (DNI) under Trump. In a June 2020 Foreign Policy article, he wrote that DNI John Ratcliffe “has acted more like a White House press secretary protecting Trump’s political interests than a provider of objective intelligence that serves U.S. national security.” Read the full article here.
- For a blast from the past, check out this 2016 interview with his alma mater in which he shares career advice and discusses his work at the White House.
Ambassador Dan Kritenbrink was nominated to be the next assistant secretary of state for East Asian and Pacific affairs. Amb. Kritenbrink is a career member of the senior foreign service and has been serving as the U.S. Ambassador to Vietnam since 2017. Over his career, Amb. Kritenbrink has held such positions as senior advisor on North Korea policy at the State Department, senior director for Asian affairs at the NSC, and DCM at the U.S. embassy in Beijing. He received his master’s degree from the University of Virginia and his undergraduate degree at the University of Nebraska-Kearney.
- Last year, Amb. Kritenbrink gave a speech marking the 25th anniversary of U.S.-Vietnam Diplomatic relations where he noted key issues in the bilateral partnership ranging from security to trade, emphasizing cooperation in the South China Sea and on North Korea.
- While serving as DCM at the U.S. Embassy to China during the Obama administration, Amb. Kritenbrink was summoned by Vice Foreign Minister Zhang Yesui due to President Obama’s decision to meet with the Dalai Lama.
- Also, for something different in American diplomacy, Ambassador Kritenbrink released a rap video with Vietnamese rapper Wowy to celebrate the Lunar New Year earlier this year.
What to Read
On Foreign Policy
Russia’s Buildup Near Ukraine Puts Team Biden on Edge, Amy Mackinnon, Jack Detsch, and Robbie Gramer, Foreign Policy.
“The buildup of forces on the Ukrainian border, along with hundreds of cease-fire violations in Ukraine’s eastern territories controlled by Russia-backed separatists, has alarmed NATO and sparked a flurry of phone calls between senior members of the Biden administration and their Ukrainian and Russian counterparts.”
U.S.-Russian Relations Will Only Get Worse, James Goldgeier, Foreign Affairs.
“Any sustained improvement of relations between the United States and Russia beyond progress on arms control […] would require one of two concessions: either the United States shelves its foundational support for democracy and formally recognizes a Russian-privileged sphere of influence in the former Soviet Union or the Russian president decides his interests are not threatened by greater democracy in the region or by having fully sovereign neighbors. Neither is likely to materialize in the near future.”
Democrats Push Biden to Take Harder Line on Saudi Arabia, Catie Edmondson, The New York Times.
“When Joseph R. Biden Jr. pledged during his campaign to make Saudi Arabia a “pariah” should he become president, congressional Democrats who had been pushing for months to impose sanctions on the kingdom for increasingly brazen, violent behavior breathed a sigh of relief. But nearly three months into his administration, his allies in Congress are pushing Mr. Biden and his team to take a harder line against the country, concerned that what the White House has called a careful recalibration of the United States-Saudi relationship has not gone far enough.”
“[A global minimum tax rate for large companies,] Ms Yellen said, would help ‘make sure the global economy thrives based on a more level playing field,’ and would help end a ‘30-year race to the bottom.’ Though the idea of a minimum tax raises hackles in tax havens in the Caribbean, parts of Europe and farther afield, many other big economies will welcome America’s renewed commitment to multilateralism on tax after the prickly unilateralism of the Trump years.”
Yellen warns that slow vaccine rollout in poor countries poses threat to U.S., global economies, Jeff Stein, Washington Post.
“Treasury Secretary Janet Yellen on Monday called for speeding up the distribution of the coronavirus vaccine in poorer nations, arguing the U.S. and global economies are threatened by the impact of covid-19 on the developing world.”
On People and Domestic Policy
Biden struggling to fill DOJ job that could rein in Silicon Valley, Leah Nylen, Politico.
“President Joe Biden’s search for the Justice Department’s top trust-busting role is being bogged down by ethics concerns, both about candidates who have represented Silicon Valley’s giants and those who have represented critics of the big tech companies. The debate is now imperiling the prospects for the favorite candidate of progressives who are eager to rein in the power of Silicon Valley.”
Janet Yellen and Mario Draghi Have One Last Job, Adam Tooze, Foreign Policy.
“The fact that [Yellen and Draghi] are in the positions that they are in, under the circumstances we currently face, is not a reward for lifetime achievement. It is a wager that they can deliver an escape from the terrifying mess that 2020 landed us in. Can they, in perhaps their last act, vindicate the past half-century of centrist expertise of which they are such prominent exponents? And will that require leaving most, if not all, of its basic organizing assumptions behind?”
The next phase of Biden’s presidency will be harder — and riskier, Dan Balz, Washington Post.
“The early months of [Biden’s] presidency may appear to represent a departure from what his past posture and record might have foreshadowed, but the confluence of need and opportunity met him at the door of the Oval Office and he has decided to take advantage, moving as swiftly and expansively as he can. […] But before Democrats can make [the case that these initiatives have paid off economically], Biden must turn this enormous proposal into law. However well he has navigated the opening months of his presidency, the next phase will be even more challenging.”
Biden’s next big bill could revive — or bury — his bipartisan brand, Burgess Everett And Marianne Levine, Politico.
“Joe Biden’s campaign promise to work with the GOP is crashing into his political reality: It’s easier to just go around the Republican Party and pass his agenda with Democratic votes […] Senate Democrats are preparing to pass yet another massive spending bill with a simple majority and Vice President Kamala Harris’ tie-breaking vote, using the blunt filibuster-proof tool known as budget reconciliation that would require zero GOP buy-in.”
With new immigration role, Harris gets a politically perilous assignment, Sean Sullivan and Cleve R. Wootson Jr., Washington Post.
“In the week and a half since President Biden abruptly appointed Vice President Harris to lead the effort to stem a surge of migrants at the southern border, she has plunged into a crash course on what motivates them to come illegally. […] For Harris, the past three months have been a series of firsts: The first woman to become vice president is also the first Indian American and first Black person to hold that title. Now, she is tackling her first big challenge, taking on a complex problem that has vexed Republican and Democratic administrations for decades.”
What’s Happening @GMF
- Biden Administration Support for Ukraine Is Strong but Is There a Partner in Kyiv? By Jonathan Katz and Olena Prokopenko (Article)
- Preserving the Value of Transatlantic Relations: A View from the Next Generation (Event Video)
- The American Rescue Plan – Biden’s New Deal? (Event Video)
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