US President-elect Joe Biden’s nominee for the secretary of state position, Antony Blinken, is expected to work to improve US ties overseas, which took a hit under President Donald Trump’s “America First” policy, which antagonized many key US allies.
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Blinken, 58, is no stranger to foreign diplomacy, having served in various capacities under two different administrations for two decades.
He was deputy secretary in 2015-2017, and before that, served as deputy national security adviser in 2013-2015. The career diplomat was also national security adviser to then-Vice President Biden in 2009-2013.
Born in New York City to Jewish parents, Blinken moved with his mother to France, where he attended the prestigious Ecole Jeannine Manuel high school.
Upon graduation, he earned a bachelor’s degree from Harvard University and a law degree at Columbia Law School in 1988 and practiced law in New York and Paris.
– 25 years of service
During the tenure of President Bill Clinton, he served in the State Department and as a staffer on the National Security Council (NSC) from 1994 to 2001, which included stints as special assistant to the president and senior director for European and Canadian affairs.
He was a senior fellow at the Center for Strategic and International Studies for two years and democratic staff director of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee in 2002–2008.
In 2008, Blinken started working on Biden’s presidential campaign before Biden became Barack Obama’s running mate, and after their victory became a member of the presidential transition team.
When Obama and Biden were in the White House, Blinken was active in the administration’s foreign policy, including Russia’s 2014 annexation of Crimea, the raid to kill al-Qaida leader Osama bin Laden in 2011, and the fight against the terror group Daesh/ISIS.
He also helped craft US policy on Afghanistan, Pakistan and the Iranian nuclear program. In late 2014, he became deputy secretary of state.
– Strong ties with Europe
Blinken has deep roots in Europe and is fluent in French. His ties to Europe are strong, and he firmly believes in the trans-Atlantic alliance.
Praising Europe as “a vital partner” for the US, Blinken slammed Trump’s hostility toward Germany and his plans to withdraw American troops from the country.
“This move is foolish, it’s spiteful, and it’s a strategic loser. It weakens NATO, it helps Vladimir Putin, and it harms Germany, our most important ally in Europe,” he told CNN’s Christiane Amanpour in July.
As a seasoned US diplomat, Blinken is well aware of the US’ need for strong alliances, especially after Trump’s “America First” motto.
“Put simply, the world is safer for the American people when we have friends, partners and allies,” Blinken said in a 2016 speech at the US Embassy in Tbilisi, Georgia.
“Now, more than ever, we must confront our challenges as a united transatlantic community – integrating our diplomatic, military, and economic tools to meet the full range of our shared threats,” he added.
Blinken also believes in US leadership in international institutions, saying in July at US think tank the Hudson Institute: “There is a premium still, and in some ways even more than before, on American engagement, on American leadership.”
– Advocated US involvement in Syria
When Biden was a US senator supporting the US invasion of Iraq in 2003, Blinken was his aide and joined in support.
As deputy secretary of state, he advocated greater US involvement in the Syria conflict and for NATO-led military intervention in Libya in 2011.
“Force can be a necessary adjunct to effective diplomacy,” he wrote in a paper published by Washington-based think tank the Brookings Institution in 2019.
“In Syria, we rightly sought to avoid another Iraq by not doing too much, but we made the opposite error of doing too little. Without bringing appropriate power to bear, no peace could be negotiated, much less imposed.”
Blinken argued that thousands of civilian casualties and millions of refugees from the conflict in Syria destabilized Europe, which he said led to growing Russian, Iranian, and Hezbollah influence in the Middle East.
“If the retreat from Syria announced by Trump proceeds, we will likely see the return of the [Daesh, so-called] Islamic State as well,” he warned.
– Close cooperation with Turkey
As a key NATO ally, Blinken said in 2016 Washington was working in “extraordinarily close coordination in partnership” with Turkey in Syria and against Daesh/ISIS.
He said the US was well aware of Turkey’s concerns about the YPG/PKK, which Ankara calls the Syrian branch of the terrorist PKK, and praised the positive results of Turkey’s cross-border counter-terrorist operation into northern Syria, Operation Euphrates Shield.
Blinken, however, did not specifically answer how the US views the involvement of the terrorist YPG/PKK – also sometimes called the SDF or PYD – which the US has controversially partnered with to fight Daesh/ISIS. Ankara objected many times that using one terrorist group to fight another made no sense.
“We want to make sure that everything that we’re doing in Syria to deal with Daesh, again, is done in full consultation and full transparency with Turkey, and that nothing that we do will undermine Turkey’s security,” he said in an interview in 2016 at the US ambassador’s residence in Turkey.
“To the contrary, we want to make sure that Turkey’s security is actually enhanced by these operations. Clearly, defeating Daesh will enhance Turkey’s security, just as it will enhance our security,” he added.
Blinken denied that the US has supported the YPG/PKK, and instead argued that US support had gone to the Syrian-Arab coalition – the Arab component of the SDF, a group Turkey argues is just another label for the terrorist YPG/PKK.
– Israel/Palestine issue
Both Biden and Blinken have been committed to US support for Israel, but Blinken made it clear that this support should not be used as a leverage to influence Israel’s policies against Palestinians.
“Looking back at the past 8 years, proud to serve a President whose administration has done more for Israel’s security than any before,” Blinken wrote on Twitter on March 22, 2016.
“He [Biden] would not tie military assistance to Israel to any political decisions that it makes. Period. Full stop. He said it; he’s committed to it. And that would be the policy of the Biden administration,” Blinken said in May.
He continued to say that Palestinians “can and should do better and deserve better” but that requires leadership, which would bring people together for the prospect of negotiating.
– India, Pakistan and Iran
If confirmed as the top US diplomat, Blinken’s tenure would likely be positive for India, as he has said strengthening ties with New Delhi would be “a very high priority.”
“It’s usually important to the future of the Indo-Pacific and the kind of order that we all want; it’s fair, stable, and hopefully increasingly democratic and it’s vital to being able to tackle some of these big global challenges,” he told the Hudson Institute this July.
While Indian media started calling Blinken “an old friend” as Biden campaign’s foreign policy adviser, he voiced concerns, however, about India’s discriminations against Muslims.
“We obviously have challenges now and real concerns … particularly in cracking down on freedom of movement and freedom of speech in Kashmir, and about some of the laws on citizenship,” Blinken said in August at the Hudson Institute.
While it remains uncertain whether he can help negotiate a peace agreement between India and Pakistan as he did in 2015, it is also unknown what the Biden administration’s response will be toward Iran and the historic 2015 nuclear deal.
“Iran is restarting dangerous components of its nuclear program, putting itself in a position where it has a greater capacity to develop a nuclear weapon now than it did when it signed the agreement,” Blinken said.
The Iran nuclear deal was one of the top foreign policy achievements of the Obama-Biden administration until Trump unilaterally withdrew the US from the deal in May 2018 and started a policy of “maximum pressure” against Tehran.