President-elect Joe Biden’s plan to scrap President Donald Trump’s vision of “America First” in favor of “diplomacy first” will depend on whether he’s able to regain the trust of allies and convince them that Trumpism is just a blip in the annals of U.S. foreign policy.
It could be a hard sell. From Europe to the Middle East and Asia, Trump’s brand of transactional diplomacy has alienated friends and foes alike, leaving Biden with a particularly contentious set of national security issues.
Biden, who said last month that “America’s back, ready to lead the world, not retreat from it,” might strive to be the antithesis of Trump on the world stage and reverse some, if not many, of his predecessor’s actions. But Trump’s imprint on America’s place in the world – viewed as good or bad – will not be easily erased.
U.S. allies aren’t blind to the large constituency of American voters who continue to support Trump’s nationalist tendencies and his belief that the United States should stay out of world conflicts. If Biden’s goal is to restore America’s place in the world, he’ll not only need to gain the trust of foreign allies but also convince voters at home that international diplomacy works better than unilateral tough talk.
Trump has insisted that he’s not against multilateralism, only global institutions that are ineffective. He has pulled out of more than half a dozen international agreements, withdrawn from multiple U.N. groups and trash talked allies and partners.
Biden, on the other hand, says global alliances need to be rebuilt to combat climate change, address the COVID-19 pandemic and prepare for future epidemics and confront the growing threat posed by China. The national security and foreign policy staff that he has named so far are champions of multilateralism.
The president-elect's picks for key state department posts – including Antony Blinken, his pick to lead the department – underscore his intent to return to a foreign policy space that they believe was abandoned by Trump.
“Right now, there’s an enormous vacuum,” Biden said. “We’re going to have to regain the trust and confidence of a world that has begun to find ways to work around us or without us.”
Recently, Biden announced a slew of key state department nominees, including veteran diplomats and Obama administration alumni:
- Wendy R. Sherman, Deputy Secretary of State
- Brian P. McKeon, Deputy Secretary for Management and Resources
- Bonnie Jenkins, Under Secretary for Arms Control and International Security Affairs
- Victoria Nuland, Under Secretary for Political Affairs
- Uzra Zeya, Under Secretary for Civilian Security, Democracy, and Human Rights
- Suzy George, Chief of Staff to the Secretary of State
- Salman Ahmed, Director of Policy Planning
- Derek Chollet, State Department Counselor
- Ned Price, State Department Spokesman
- Jalina Porter, Deputy State Department Spokesman
- Jeffrey Prescott, Deputy Ambassador to the United Nations
Price and Porter intend to return to the practice of holding daily State Department press briefings, officials said. Those briefings had been eliminated under the Trump administration.
"This diverse and accomplished team, led by Secretary of State-designate Blinken, embodies my core belief that America is strongest when it works with our allies," Biden said in a statement. "Collectively, they have secured some of the most defining national security and diplomatic achievements in recent memory — and I am confident that they will use their diplomatic experience and skill to restore America’s global and moral leadership. America is back."
"To meet this moment, we need a Department of State that looks like America, led by diverse women and men who will be unafraid to challenge the status quo. That is this team," Blinken added. "America at its best still has a greater capacity than any other country on earth to mobilize others to meet the challenges of our time. These passionate, energetic, deeply experienced nominees will help keep our people and our country safe, secure, and prosperous. If confirmed, it will be the honor of my life to work with them to reinvigorate the power of America’s example."
Five of the 11 are either people of color or LGBTQ. Although most are not household names, all are advocates of multilateralism and many are familiar in Washington and overseas foreign policy circles. Their selections are a reflection of Biden’s intent to turn away from Trump’s transactional and often unilateral “America First” approach to international relations.
Biden intends to rejoin the Paris climate agreement and cooperate again with the World Health Organization. He plans to smooth relations with Europeans and other friends and refrain from blasting fellow members of NATO, and he may return the United States to the Iran nuclear agreement. Still, many Americans will continue to espouse Trump’s “America First” agenda, especially with the U.S. economy struggling to recover from the coronavirus pandemic, civil strife in American streets over racism and the absence of civil political discourse.
Sherman, McKeon, Nuland, Jenkins and Zeya will require Senate confirmation to their posts. Tte others will not.
The Associated Press contributed to this report.