Blinken becomes America’s chief diplomat as the United States faces tests on multiple fronts, including: a pandemic that has killed 2.1 million people globally and ravaged economies; a rising and increasingly aggressive China; a Middle East torn by tensions between Iran and its neighbors; and increasing American exhaustion with the war in Afghanistan. He pledged to do “Humility and confidence” the two cornerstones of its approach to work, a reflection of Biden’s team vision for how America should behave in a world where Washington, DC is not the only center of power.
The 58-year-old Senate confirmation hearing went relatively well, with Republicans sometimes express their joy how often Blinken agreed with them.
For example, Blinken said former President Donald Trump was right to take a stronger stance on China, although he disagreed with some of the tactics used by the previous administration. He also said he would support the continuation of some terrorism-related sanctions against the Islamist-led government in Iran, despite the Biden administration’s goal of joining the Iran nuclear deal, which Trump abandoned in 2018.
Still, some Republicans voted against Blinken. They included Sen. Rand Paul of Kentucky, who complained ahead of Tuesday’s vote about Blinken’s past support for US military interventions in places like Libya. He argued that Blinken failed to learn from the chaos that followed such interventions.
“My opposition to Mr. Blinken to being Secretary of State is not so much that I oppose the administration. It’s because I oppose the bipartisan consensus for war, ”Paul said.
Blinken also received a lot of praise ahead of the Senate vote. Senior Democrat on the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, Bob Menendez of New Jersey, said Blinken was “thoughtful” and “able to tackle the most complex issues our country faces, and is committed to engage Congress. ”
Blinken has long emphasized the importance for the United States of working with international allies to advance their interests, including standing up to Beijing. He sharply criticized Trump and the former president’s aides for pursuing more one-sided approaches to diplomacy.
At the same time, Blinken argued that America should be open to cooperation with adversaries like China and Russia, especially on transnational challenges such as the coronavirus pandemic and climate change.
Under Blinken, the State Department is expected to help rebuild the U.S. refugee resettlement program, which Trump has nearly dismantled by drastically limiting the number of refugees admitted each year.
Blinken is well known at Foggy Bottom, where he served as John Kerry’s deputy from 2015 to 2017. This familiarity can help him deal with sagging morale in the State Department: Foreign Service officers and other officials often felt marginalized under Trump, who generally ignored their advice and accused them of being members of a “deep state” determined to thwart his policies.
Trump’s first secretary of state, Rex Tillerson, has often sidelined career leaders and concentrated decision-making in the hands of a few senior staff.
Trump’s second secretary of state, Mike Pompeo, improved morale when he took office, but quickly lost the confidence of many senior diplomats. Her refusal to defend Marie Yovanovitch, the former US ambassador to Ukraine caught up with Trump’s first impeachment trial, was a sore point.
Department employees say they will closely monitor the number of their ranks who rise to senior positions in the State Department and National Security Council under Biden and Blinken.
So far, many of the most important jobs have gone to outside appointees or former career officials who left government before or under Trump. But many key posts remain vacant, including a number of Deputy Secretary of State posts that could be awarded to current career officials.
Blinken has diplomacy in his blood. His father, Donald Blinken, is a former US Ambassador to Hungary, and his uncle, Alan Blinken, was US Ambassador to Belgium.
Blinken was also deeply influenced by his stepfather, Samuel Pisar, an international lawyer who survived the Holocaust and subsequently championed the idea of increasing trade relations as a means of achieving peace between rival powers.