Chosen by Joe Biden to head the CIA, William Burns, convinced that Russia was guilty of “aggressive” interference in 2016, predicted that relations between Moscow and Washington would remain “conflicting”.
Joe Biden has announced that he has chosen the former number two in American diplomacy William Burns to take the head of the CIA. “Bill Burns is an exemplary diplomat with decades of experience on the world stage to keep our people and our country safe,” Joe Biden said in a statement released Jan. 11.
If his appointment is confirmed by the Senate, William Burns will become the first career diplomat to lead the powerful intelligence agency. A diplomat for 33 years, notably as United States Ambassador to Russia from 2005 to 2008, William Burns retired from the diplomatic corps in 2014 before chairing the Carnegie Foundation for International Peace, a think tank on international relations.
“He shares my deep conviction that intelligence must be apolitical,” added the president-elect, even as Donald Trump denounces since the start of his mandate the politicization of intelligence agencies.
Unsurprisingly, the Democratic camp welcomed this choice. The influential Republican Senator Lindsey Graham – a former close to the late John McCain, who had lined up year after year behind Donald Trump – also welcomed this on Twitter, announcing that he would support the “remarkable” appointment of this “Seasoned diplomat”, “respected figure in the intelligence community”.
Russia in the crosshairs?
Like most former officials of the US State Department, Bill Burns has not hesitated in recent years to give credit to the theory of Russian collusion, considering that Moscow represented a threat to Washington. In an editorial published in 2017 by the New York Times, the diplomat had thus accused Russia of being guilty of “aggressive” and “deeply disturbing” electoral interference. Bill Burns then predicted that relations between Washington and Moscow would remain competitive and “often confrontational” in the future, saying that Russian President Vladimir Putin was seeking to have greater influence in the world “at the expense” of the United States. He also maintained that Russia dreamed, according to him, of a dominant position in world affairs without regard for “Western values and institutions”.
He also called on the United States to focus on the conflict in Ukraine, predicting that the fate of Kiev would determine “the future of Europe and Russia in the next generation”. Tellingly, he also brushed off the idea of cooperation against Islamic terrorism between the two powers as a “superficially appealing notion”, claiming that Russia’s efforts to help the Syrian government defeat ISIS had made the terrorist threat “much worse”.
His animosity towards Russia had transpired again in an interview with the magazine TeaAtlantic in 2019. In it, he declared that Vladimir Poutin had been able to “sow chaos” in the United States by “acting as [un] good judo expert ”. According to Bill Burns, the Russian leader would have taken advantage of a “stronger opponent” by taking advantage of the “polarization and dysfunction” of the American political system.
Opponent of the “maximum pressure” policy against Iran
Craftsman of dialogue with Iran – which the future Democratic president wants to revive – Bill Burns will tackle the task of turning the page of Donald Trump’s administration on this issue. “The Trump administration’s maximum pressure strategy has been pretty insane,” Bill Burns said at a conference in October before the US presidential election, hailing the “reasonable” position of Joe Biden, then a candidate. But he warned that a return to the nuclear agreement, from which the United States emerged under Donald Trump, was “much easier said than done”, because of “the damage committed in recent years” .
More broadly, the diplomat had warned against the “illusion” of being able “simply, with a wave of a magic wand, to restore America’s relations and influence as we saw them in 2016. […] because the world has changed ”.
Bill Burns is the second Deputy Secretary of State to former Democratic President Barack Obama to be integrated into Joe Biden’s national security team, after Antony Blinken, appointed to head US diplomacy.