Biden’s national security team offers a sharp turnaround. But in which direction?

WILMINGTON, Del. – President-elect Joseph R. Biden Jr. formally launched a national security team on Tuesday aimed at rejecting President Trump’s nationalist isolation.

In his remarks, his candidate for secretary of state said that Americans need “humility and confidence” that depends on allies. The implementation of the nation’s immigration policy is chosen by a Cuban American whose parents were refugees from Fidel Castro. And his new intelligence chief warned Mr. Biden when he spoke that he was bringing him news that was politically “uncomfortable or difficult”.

They were joined by a career foreign officer who will serve as UN ambassador and John Kerry, who ran unsuccessfully for the presidential election 16 years ago and then became secretary of state to President Barack Obama. Mr Biden has been appointed to a new role within the National Security Council to “put climate change on the agenda” after four years, during which the Trump government has tried to get words to come from summit communications and international agreements.

But in Avril Haines’s complaint against the intelligence community, which Mr Trump often saw as a group of “deep-state” renegades who mistakenly linked him to Russia, the opposition to the outgoing administration became clear. “For our intelligence professionals, the work you do – often in the most stringent circumstances imaginable – is just essential,” said Ms. Haines, who was the first woman to serve as director of national intelligence and oversaw 16 separate agencies.

Mr. Biden barely created rivals. Many of his candidates have worked together for years and as “deputies” for the Obama administration, who have ruled the government in the White House, the State Department and the CIA. This also includes the Ministry of Homeland Security, where Alejandro N. Mayorkas, who will oversee immigration policy, was previously Deputy Secretary before Mr. Biden was appointed to lead the department.

Several are close friends. And most would be seen as “liberal interventionists,” who have accused Trump of rejecting America’s traditional role as a key player in both the Atlantic and Pacific alliances.

All of this gave air to a restoration, or at least a class meeting, at Mr. Biden’s Wilmington headquarters.

In his remarks, however, Biden also seemed to acknowledge that the dangers facing the team were vastly different from those addressed under Obama’s presidency. “While this team has unparalleled experience and accomplishments, it also reflects the idea that we can’t meet these challenges with old ways of thinking and unchanging habits,” he said.

Mr. Biden spoke of the need for “fresh thinking”. But achieving this balance will be the biggest challenge, both his own helpers and external experts have noted.

“Your presidency could be the facility’s last, best chance to prove that liberal internationalism is a strategy over populist nationalism,” wrote Thomas Wright, a foreign policy scientist at the Brookings Institute, recently in the Atlantic.

This means resolving a delicate but clear debate within the democratic institution in which Mr Biden has not yet chosen sides. This consists of whether Mr Biden should pursue the foreign policy he could have expected in Obama’s “third cycle” – characterized by caution, improving alliances and avoiding talk of new Cold Wars – or new, new confrontational paths in recognition of the global how much competition has changed over the past four years, starting with China.

In an interview with Lester Holt on NBC News on Tuesday, Mr. Biden tried to dispel the idea of ​​restoring Obama’s policy. “This is not a third Obama term,” he said, because “we are facing a completely different world than the one we faced during the Obama-Biden government.” He added: “President Trump has changed the landscape. It became America first, it was America alone. “

Jake Sullivan, Mr. Biden’s 43-year-old election of national security advisers, which was also presented by Mr. Biden, embodied the new thinking that the elected president referred to. “He has a one-time intellect, experience and temperament for one of the hardest jobs in the world,” he said, noting that at the age of 30, Mr Sullivan led the cessation talks – fire in 2012 in Gaza and the secret opening of talks with Iran. They resulted in a 2015 nuclear deal.

It is Mr Sullivan who has argued most loudly for new Chinese approaches that recognize the changed nature of the challenge. And the appointees who shared a stage in Delaware with Mr. Biden and elected Vice President Kamala Harris have recently made it clear that they regret the Obama years.

These regrets include not responding to the situation of the Syrians attacked by their own government and not acknowledging the extent of Russia’s intervention until the 2016 elections, until it was too late and too slow to respond to the Chinese challenge.

“Any of us, and I start with myself who had any responsibility for Syrian policy in the recent administration, must admit that we have failed,” said Antony J. Blinken, Secretary of State’s candidate in May, one of the most serious of those shots. “We failed to prevent a terrible loss of life,” he said. “I’m going to take something with me for the rest of my days.” He criticized Mr Trump for withdrawing American troops from Syria and “undoubtedly exacerbated the problem”.

The Wilmington stage was conspicuously missing from one of the protagonists, who will probably have the biggest say in the next Syrian debate: Mr. Biden has elected defense secretary. He has not yet named one, although the lead candidate is believed to be Michèle A. Flournoy, who served as Secretary of Defense for politics under Mr. Obama and set up a foreign policy consulting firm in the Trump years, Mr. Blinken, WestExec consultants.

Ms. Flournoy, who has held a number of leadership roles at the Pentagon and was a co-founder of the New American Security Center, could be named next week alongside Janet L. Yellen, former Federal Reserve President, who was widely reported to have chosen Mr. Biden as Secretary of the Treasury. . If selected and confirmed, Ms. Flournoy and Ms. Yellen will be the first women in both roles.

Like Mr. Blinken, Ms. Flournoy sought more of an interventionist approach to the use of American power — and sometimes found herself on the other side of Mr. Biden’s questions, which could ultimately preclude her selection. This included a debate about when the United States should “spin up” soldiers in Afghanistan, where Mr. Biden then and now argued for only a small counterterrorism force.

Blinken argued for firm NATO military action in Libya when Colonel Muammar el-Gaddafi was ousted from power in 2011; Mr. Biden was skeptical. (Colonel Gaddafi was overthrown and eventually killed by the rebels, but the ensuing chaos reinforced Mr. Biden’s instinct for caution.)

Mr Biden’s candidates, preparing for some brutal confirmation battles in two months, avoided every Tuesday’s political debate and focused on their personal stories.

Mr Blinken said his grandfather had “fled pogroms in Russia” and repeated the chilling story of his stepfather, Samuel Pisar, who was the only one of 900 schools in a Polish city to survive the Holocaust and flee a death march in Bavaria. . He was rescued by an American soldier who opened the opening of his tank. Mr. Pisar, Blinken said, just the three words he knew in English: “God bless America”

Mr. Mayorkas spoke of his parents, Jewish emigrants who fled Castro’s Cuba in 1960 and brought him to the United States as an infant. The mission of the Department of Homeland Security was articulated by stating that the era of Mr. Trump’s ban on timber construction and immigration was over: The ministry’s goal is to “keep us safe and promote our proud history as a host country”. he said.

And perhaps the strongest story came from Linda Thomas-Greenfield, the black woman whom Mr. Biden chooses as UN ambassador. One of the high-ranking diplomats who left the State Department was Rex W. Tillerson and Mike Pompeo, two foreign ministers who encouraged rebellion among the diplomatic corps.

“His father couldn’t read and write, but he says he was the smartest person he knew,” Mr. Biden said, describing that Ms. Thomas-Greenfield, who served in Africa, Pakistan, Switzerland and Jamaica, went to high school or college with her family. to walk.

It’s the kind of story that Mr. Biden likes to tell and compare to his own working roots. Ms. Thomas-Greenfield concluded the tale by saying that Southern cooking is a source of American soft power: In her diplomatic missions, she said, “I would invite people from different backgrounds and beliefs” to her kitchen to prepare signature food. hometown of Louisiana. – I called it Gumbo diplomacy.