Who is Tony Blinken?

Joe Biden

The person a US president taps to assume the coveted role of secretary of state, the nation's top diplomat, says a lot about that president's foreign policy ambitions and global vision.

Indeed, the selection of Henry Kissinger (Nixon and Ford), James Baker (George H.W. Bush), Hillary Clinton (Obama) and Rex Tillerson (Trump) to head the State Department, provided an early window into the foreign policy priorities — or lack thereof — of their respective bosses.


President-elect Joe Biden has now tapped his longtime adviser Antony (Tony) Blinken to head the US State Department, a sprawling bureaucracy with some 70,000 employees. The nomination of Blinken — an aide Biden has referred to as his "go-to-guy" — suggests that the president-elect has an ambitious foreign policy agenda that he wants to be driven only by a person he knows well and trusts.

What do we know about Tony Blinken and how he might shape US foreign policy?

Global alliances are key. Blinken, who served as deputy secretary of state under president Obama, has long maintained the importance of strong global alliances. It is through revitalizing relationships strained during the Trump years, he has said, that the United States can reassert leadership on the world stage and better position itself to meet a host of pressing challenges: "Even a country as powerful as the United States can't handle them alone," he said this past July.

Indeed, this offers insight into how Biden might tackle key foreign policy issues like China's increasingly assertive policies in Asia and beyond. But Blinken has also argued that traditional alliances need to be redesigned in order to better tackle issues like global health, cybersecurity, and climate change: "Why shouldn't Germany and France work with India and Japan on strategic issues?" he says.

Rebuilding the State Department itself. Under President Trump, who mistrusts non-partisan civil servants, the State Department — which oversees an annual budget of $54 billion (2019) — has fallen on hard times. Career foreign service personnel reported that morale hit rock bottom in recent years amid sharp budget cuts, hiring freezes, and the politicization of the agency. (In 2017, the Atlantic reported that "the normal day-to-day operations at the department had stopped, leaving employees with little to do and anxious about the future.")

Blinken will surely prioritize the refilling of senior State Department positions that have remained vacant under Rex Tillerson (2017-2018) and Mike Pompeo (2018-present), President Trump's secretaries of state. He may even rehire career diplomats who were fired after threatening to expose Trump administration misdeeds, a process that Foreign Policy says led to "the State Department hemorrhaging its own talent."

Blinken the centrist. As deputy secretary of state under President Obama, Blinken was instrumental in laying out America's Middle East policy during the tumultuous years of the "Arab Spring." As civil war gripped Syria — and later Libya — Blinken advocated a more interventionist position, breaking with Obama — and even Biden at times — who favored a more restrained approach.

Indeed, during his years in the Obama orbit, and more recently, Blinken has made no secret of his belief that America should sometimes intervene in foreign conflicts to safeguard human rights. (He has described US retrenchment in recent years as the "progressive cousin" of Trump's "America First" foreign policy.) Blinken attributes his support for humanitarian intervention to his experience as stepson of a Polish-born Jew and Holocaust survivor.

Bottom line: If President Trump's administration aimed to topple the global order and deprioritize America's relations with traditional allies, Biden's choice of Blinken to head the State Department shows that his administration plans to do the exact opposition: deepen engagement with allies and bury the "America first" mantra as quickly and fully as possible.

This time last year, world health experts were speculating about why Africa appeared to have escaped the worst of the global pandemic. Younger populations? Natural immunity created by exposure to past viruses? Something else?

They can stop wondering. Africa is now in the grip of a COVID emergency.

More Show less

Get insights on the latest news in US politics from Jon Lieber, head of Eurasia Group's coverage of political and policy developments in Washington:

House Speaker Nancy Pelosi barred two Republican members from serving on the Jan. 6 commission. What's going on?

Well, the Jan. 6 commission was designed to be a bipartisan commission, taking input from members from Democrats and Republicans. House Minority Leader Kevin McCarthy had the opportunity to make recommendations but the Speaker of the House, Nancy Pelosi, could always veto those recommendations. In this case, she did, saying no to two members, Jim Banks and Jim Jordan, both of whom are strongly aligned with President Trump and who voted against certifying the election results in 2020. The Republicans for the most part see the Jan. 6 commission as an opportunity to score political points against them, and the Democrats say this is going to be a fair, non-biased, and nonpartisan investigation into what happened on Jan. 6, starting with a hearing next week with some of the police officers who were involved in the battle with the protesters inside the Capitol.

More Show less

In his New York Times op-ed, David Brooks says the US is facing an identity crisis — protecting liberal and progressive values at home while doing little to stop autocrats elsewhere. But has the US really abandoned its values abroad just because it's withdrawing from Afghanistan? Ian Bremmer and Eurasia Group analyst Charles Dunst take out the Red Pen to argue that the US can advance democracy without being the world's sheriff.

More Show less

When the Tokyo Olympics begin on Friday, Japan watchers will be following more than just the performance of Japan's star athletes, including tennis star Naomi Osaka. They will also be tracking the political fortunes of Prime Minister Yoshihide Suga, who is taking a big gamble by staging the event — amid a raging pandemic — in the face of strong and longstanding opposition from the Japanese public. What are the stakes for Suga, particularly with elections on the horizon? Eurasia Group senior analyst Ali Wyne explains.

More Show less

YouTube pulls Bolsonaro's rants: Google-owned YouTube pulled down a series of videos on the channel of Brazil's populist President Jair Bolsonaro, accusing him of spreading misinformation about the pandemic. YouTube removed more than a dozen clips for touting quack cures for coronavirus or claiming, in defiance of scientific experts, that masks don't reduce COVID transmissions. Last year, Twitter and Facebook also removed some content from Bolsonaro's feeds for similar reasons. But critics say that YouTube's move is too little too late, because Bolsonaro has been spreading misinformation about COVID since the pandemic began. Many Brazilians hold him personally responsible for the country's abysmal pandemic response, which has led to almost 550,000 deaths, the second worst toll in the world. Will YouTube's move change Bolsonaro's message? His weekly address to the nation, where he converses not only with government ministers but also various conspiracy theorists and loons, is broadcast on YouTube. Surely he doesn't want to risk losing that — or does he?

More Show less

Boycotts! Bans! Protests! Drugs! Think you've got gold medal knowledge about politics at the Olympics? Test what you know with this special Tokyo Olympics Quiz. And to stay current on all the latest political stories at the Games and around the world, subscribe here to Signal, our daily newsletter. Now, without further ado, the first question is...

More Show less

28: The UK and the EU have again failed to agree on post-Brexit trade rules for Northern Ireland, which is part of the United Kingdom. In a 28-page document, the British government had suggested further changes to trade rules that were already negotiated as part of the Brexit settlement, but Brussels was not having any of it.

More Show less

Subscribe to GZERO Media's newsletter, Signal

GZERO World with Ian Bremmer. Watch episodes now

GZEROMEDIA

Subscribe to GZERO Media's newsletter: Signal

GZERO World with Ian Bremmer. Watch episodes now

GZEROMEDIA

Subscribe to GZERO Media's newsletter: Signal