Biden Administration

Biden's Natsec Team Is Conventional in Style—and, Unfortunately, Policy

Joe Biden's natsec team fulfills his campaign promise of a return to normalcy and conventional Washington. That also means maintaining the failed status quo of the post-9/11 era.


President-elect Joe Biden's selection for secretary of defense is rumored but, as of this writing, yet undetermined. The rest of his national security team, however, has been announced ahead of every other slate of cabinet-level nods. For secretary of state, Antony Blinken; for United Nations ambassador, Linda Thomas-Greenfield; for national security adviser, Jake Sullivan; for director of national intelligence, Avril Haines; and for director of homeland security, Alejandro Mayorkas.

It is a list which delivers on Biden's core campaign promise of a return to normalcy and conventional Washington.

The trouble is that this conventionality isn't only a matter of style, which in isolation is plenty welcome. The Biden national security team is shaping up for a thoroughgoing conventionality on policy, too, which means maintaining the failed status quo of the post-9/11 era.

Take Blinken, an old school upper crust diplomat who will undoubtedly be far more interested in actual diplomacy than sitting Secretary of State Mike Pompeo has ever been. Blinken supported the development of the Iran nuclear deal and will likely spearhead the Biden administration's move to jettison the Trump team's disastrous "maximum pressure" approach to U.S.-Iran relations and rejoin the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action. So far, so good.

But Blinken is also fundamentally an interventionist who has yet to learn that the U.S. cannot manage the planet. In his remarks accepting Biden's nomination, he rightly noted Washington "can't solve all the world's problems alone"—but then, he went on to suggest our government can solve all the world's problems if only it partners with other governments.

Thus did Blinken support U.S. military action in LibyaYemen, and Syria. And though he has since regretted the Yemen call, he believes the mistake in Syria was a failure to escalate. He has even attempted to rebrand Biden's 2002 vote to invade Iraq as a "vote for tough diplomacy." It was a vote for war—and after nearly two decades, tens of thousands of casualties, and trillions of dollars, we might at least be spared drivel about how endorsing a war is somehow a move for diplomacy.

Thomas-Greenfield may provide some counterbalance to that oddly military-focused mindset in a top diplomat. After 9/11, she recently wrote in a coauthored article at Foreign Affairs, the State Department became "too narrowly focused on terrorism and too wrapped up in magical thinking about the United States' supposed power to transform regions and societies." Thomas-Greenfield's call there for "greater restraint and discipline" in U.S. foreign policy should be heeded, but whether the U.N. ambassador is able to influence policy (vs. simply communicating it) has varied widely in administrations past.

Next is Sullivan, who also worked on the Iran deal. He was an architect of the Libya debacle when he served under then-Secretary of State Hillary Clinton, a role in which he developed a reputation as a diligent, effective, and pleasant hawk. "On the spectrum of people in our administration, he tended to favor more assertive U.S. engagement" and "responses that would incorporate some military element," Obama adviser Ben Rhodes told Vox of Sullivan in 2015.

Haines for director of national intelligence is a thoroughly establishment choice. She helped build the Obama administration's drone warfare program—"Haines was sometimes summoned in the middle of the night to weigh in on whether a suspected terrorist could be lawfully incinerated by a drone strike," Newsweek reported in 2013. (In 2012, a New York Times exposé revealed the Obama team maintained a secret drone "kill list" and counted "all military-age males in a strike zone as combatants," allowing deceptively low civilian casualty counts.) Haines also supported the Trump administration choice for CIA director of Gina Haspel, who helped lead the CIA unit involved in Bush-era torture.

The final name on the list is Mayorkas at the Department of Homeland Security (DHS). His work to normalize U.S.-Cuba relations during the Obama years is an interesting history and could portend diplomatic progress to come in other antagonistic relationships, like U.S.-Iran or U.S.-North Korea engagement, insofar as DHS is involved. Mayorkas is expected to revive the DHS focus on counter-terror work (which faded into the background of the Trump administration's attention to immigration), but his record is in prosecution and immigration, so it's not yet clear what that will mean for policy.

Beyond normalcy, Biden has campaigned on most (though not all) foreign policy issues as a relative moderate, a liberal internationalist who has learned from the mistakes of the last 20 years. He's said he'll "end the forever wars," and govern from the conviction that "use of force should be our last resort, not our first—used only to defend our vital interests, when the objective is clear and achievable, and with the informed consent of the American people."

Unfortunately, on balance, these appointments will make it difficult for Biden to keep that promise.

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  1. The US going back to handing out money for nothing is not “so far so good”

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  2. >>natsec team

    sounds so badass. hey Bonnie why don’t *you* try investigative journalism? nobody else here at Charity Central wants to

    1. Natsec Team is OK by me, so long ass they don’t kick me in my NutSack too terribly often!

      (I would count endless wars in Afghanistanistanistanistan, for the primary purpose of protecting the GOOD heroin growers from the BAD heroin growers, ass an example of a “kick in the NutSack”, yes, as a primary example).

      1. eat me, you must.

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  3. “He has even attempted to rebrand Biden’s 2002 vote to invade Iraq as a ‘vote for tough diplomacy.'”

    The Iraq War was arguably a mistake. But it does not even begin to compare to the violence and depravity of Drumpf’s draconian war on immigration.


  4. While I appreciate the concerns expressed here, the bottom line is a return to normalcy in style. We need to get back to a stable starting point. Hopefully from that we can work outward more cautiously than we have done in the past. Joe Biden carries some heft on foreign policy and hopefully that will help him avoid headwinds pushing him to get overly involved where that is not needed.

    1. But heft for who? He’s firmly in the employ of the communist Chinese government and if the Obama/Biden era ME policies are any indication our Manchurian President is clearly about global destabilization to weaken the West. But I’m sure all that is a plus for you.

      1. Wingnut babble.

        1. He literally took money from China. Is that not in their employ?

          1. You’re talking about that fake Hunter Biden “scandal”?

            1. Fake? That’s funny right there.

    2. Joe Biden carries some heft on foreign policy

      Bombs and bribes. Hefty ones.

      1. And briefcases full of money

        1. Oops you covered that with bribes. Ugh reading is hard

      2. Joe Biden has been on the wrong side of every foreign policy decision in the last 40 years.

        1. That’s a little thing called heft.

    3. “… Joe Biden carries some heft on foreign policy…”

      That was damn funny.

    4. Joe Biden carries some heft on foreign policy

      Suitcases full of cash, apparently.

  5. It would be nice if we could have a choice other than between “interntationalist warmonger” and “isolationist pacifist”. How about “internationalist pacifist”? Naw that’s just crazy talk.

    1. chemjeff radical individualist
      December.1.2020 at 10:40 am

      The flu doesn’t cause fucking encephalitis

      Hi Jeff we all know you’re rightly outraged by the Trumpapottmi dumbly ignoring the species killer Covid-19 but that is wrong.

      What Causes Encephalitis? Viral encephalitis may develop during or after infection with any of several viral illnesses including influenza,,infection%20including%20West%20Nile%20virus.

      I’m sure you were going to get around to correcting your easily avoided error any time now but I thought I could help you out. Toodles!

      1. Hi Rabbi,
        I was wrong, thanks for pointing it out, you can stop creepily threadstalking me now.

        1. Welcome!

        2. Now Mr. Jeff is concerned that unlike the flu, threadstalking actually causes encephalitis.

          1. Where is good censorship when we need it!

        3. Learn some manners Tubby.

  6. Biden is ignoring the far left with his cabinet picks.

    Wingnut types like Ken Schultz here and redneck AM radio talk radio kept saying that Biden would be “beholden to the far left AOC types”.

    They are wrong again.

    1. From the link:

      They also recommended Sanders to lead the Labor Department, Warren to helm the Treasury Department, Rep. Barbara Lee (D-Calif.) to serve as secretary of State, Minnesota Attorney General Keith Ellison (D) to lead the Justice Department, Rep. Rashida Tlaib (D-Mich.) to oversee the Department of Housing and Urban Development and Rep. Pramila Jayapal (D-Wash.) to lead the Department of Health and Human Services.

      What a group of fucking misfits.

      No wonder the idiots that listen to Fat Rush and Fox News were shitting their pants.

    2. Oh, looky behind curtain #1 (not in this article) – Biden supports the New Green Deal…

      As Buttplug swipes the curtain shut again — Nothing to see there!

      1. He pissed on AOC’s original Green New Deal and came out with his own $2 trillion GND (smaller than the 2020 Trump Welfare Virus Handout Bill)

        He kept the phrase “Green New Deal” because they are too stupid to read the bill itself.

        Fail on your part.

        1. Yup – depending on how you look at it, it is either brilliance or stupidity that Biden chose to use the term “Green New Deal” to describe his plan.

          It is brilliant in the sense that he is trying to convince wobbly progressives to support him by co-opting AOC’s term to describe his plan, which is way scaled down compared to AOC’s.

          It is stupid in the sense that by using AOC’s term, it opens him up to being accused of supporting the exact same things that AOC supports, even though his plan, if you read it, is way different.

          But, as we have all seen, it really does not matter what Biden says or does, the far right wingnuts are going to call him a “socialist” or a “Marxist” or a “communist” or somesuch thing. He could have called his plan “The Most Centristy Centrist Plan for Energy and Climate” and they still would have called him a socialist.

          So I am leaning more towards “brilliant” rather than “stupid” on this one.

          1. So I am leaning more towards “brilliant”

            From the thinker that brought us “The flu doesn’t cause fucking encephalitis”!

          2. Moonbats and wingnuts have a lot in common. As you note they both react to headlines without comprehending important detail.

            The Ken types want so much to believe that Biden would be under the spell of AOC types that they believe anything.

          3. Depends on whether your goal is to develop bipartisan support, or if your goal is to cram through a Democrat plan without any defections.

        2. You mean the “2020 Trump Welfare Virus Handout Bill” — written by a Democrat and Included 87% Democratic proposals???

          When direct lies aren’t enough; there’s always FULL-ON projection… 🙂 lol.. As-if Pelosi didn’t come right out and INSIST it be even more…

          1. And supported by a GOP Senate and GOP POTUS who could easily have killed or changed that bill.

            Trump owns it like Obama owns the ACA.

            1. Sorry; Vast difference — “The Affordable Care Act, also called Obamacare, received no Republican votes in either the Senate or the House of Representatives when it was passed in 2009.”


            2. Speaking of which the [D] House could’ve killed it — But anyone who isn’t partisan blind would’ve known instantly that Democrats NEVER vote against MORE *stealing-stuff* from those (growing fewer by the day) people that *earn* things. After all their entire premise is —
              The POWER to STEAL = WEALTH.

              1. Well they did kill Trump’s effort to get a trillion dollar infrastructure bill passed.

                1. Perhaps on partisan lines — but I’ll give them credit for it! 🙂 Heck I’ll give any credit to CUT UN-Constitutional government no matter how/why it happens….

            3. Did you just make a bailout because of COVID bill comparison to the ACA? The incorrectness of such a comparison is beyond comical.

    3. Uh, why the fuck would Biden take anything the Justice Democrats or Sunrise Movement have to say seriously, when they’ve shown they’ll just job out like they do to Democrats every single time?

      Their hero and savior, Bernie “No Refunds” Sanders, is the ultimate jobber after all.

      1. But they want absolute power, and absolute power comes with unlimited graft, so uncle Joe will sign whatever is put in front of him.

    4. Fuck off you pedophile.

  7. The trouble is that this conventionality isn’t only a matter of style, which in isolation is plenty welcome.

    Yes, good, you’ve illustrated the main complaint about Trump, his style; and shown how shallow those complaints were, now that you complain normalcy ain’t so great.

  8. Barr: No evidence of fraud that’d change election outcome

    WASHINGTON (AP) — Attorney General William Barr said Tuesday the Justice Department has not uncovered evidence of widespread voter fraud that would change the outcome of the 2020 presidential election.

    His comments come despite President Donald Trump’s repeated claims that the election was stolen, and his refusal to concede his loss to President-Elect Joe Biden.

    In an interview with The Associated Press, Barr said U.S. attorneys and FBI agents have been working to follow up specific complaints and information they’ve received, but they’ve uncovered no evidence that would change the outcome of the election. AP


    1. Don’t worry, give it a little time and soon enough you’ll have someone on the right-wing media grift machine accusing Barr of being in the deep state and demanding he be executed for his heresy.

      1. One thing is undeniable; The left supporters sure love to run around making ‘personal’ attacks instead of talking about policy and what it means.

        [WE] mobs rule!!!

        1. You mean like this guy?

          “Anybody who thinks the election went well, like that idiot Krebs who used to be the head of cybersecurity [for Trump]. That guy is a class-A moron.

          “He should be drawn and quartered. Taken out at dawn and shot.”

          1. Holler dog

    2. There was a witness at the Michigan hearing who tried talking to the DOJ and was ignored

      She was a Dominion contractor. If they don’t care about her testimony, they just don’t care about evidence period.

      1. Do you have a link to this story?

        1. I do!


          1. Okay, I made a mistake and I admitted it. What is the point of continuing on like this?

            1. “For this light momentary affliction is preparing for us an eternal weight of glory beyond all comparison, as we look not to the things that are seen but to the things that are unseen” (2 Corinthians 4:17-18).

  9. “suggest our government can solve all the world’s problems if only it partners with other governments” — GLOBALIST GOV-GODS!!!

    The federal government doesn’t have enough POWER is always the “plan” of lefties.

  10. “The Biden national security team is shaping up for a thoroughgoing conventionality on policy, too, which means maintaining the failed status quo of the post-9/11 era.”


  11. Have to see the cute Christian anarchist lady morph into a raging neocon apologist for the Military Industrial Complex.

  12. The top men are here to save us. So how do you save a country about to collapse like Arecibo? By electing Biteme and his crony crew of neo communists? I’m sure the new Comintern will have a five year plan ready on day one. Colluding with marxists across the globe is just their day job.

  13. “They are wrong again.”

    Only to the extent that the GOP retains the Senate.

    Biden’s potential Cabinet picks may be limited ‘to those who Mitch McConnell can live with’

    If Biden prevails, Mitch McConnell apparently expects to wield veto power over the next administration’s cabinet choices.

  14. What the hell did you think “a return to normalcy” meant? Endless wars are endless sources of graft and corruption, endless panics are sources of endless spending. Laissez les bons temps rouler!

    1. What the hell did you think “a return to normalcy” meant?

      The warm, comforting womb of center-left politics where we gripe about details, but approve of the general direction.

      Oh, and an Era where we’re no longer distracted by presidential troll tweets. People don’t understand the kind of pressure blue checkmarks have been under the last four years.

      1. Well from a libertarian perspective Biden will undoubtedly violate the NAP leading to the deaths of hundreds of thousands of innocent civilians in places we don’t really care about. But mean tweets are aggression too. Kind of a toss up.

  15. Biden’s bringing back pony soldiers.

  16. Why did I ever donate to Reason? Never again. The stupidity of this writer is ENB-like.

  17. Forget Biden’s international security picks.
    Be very afraid of Hell bent for social engineering Obama West Wing rehires from John Podesta’s Center for American Progress

    No wonder woke Dems are delighted:
    “The Biden transition team has made an excellent decision to select CAP President and CEO Neera Tanden as their nominee for the position of OMB director. The OMB director not only sets and produces the president’s budget but also coordinates policy across the entire administration—and for this role, I can think of no one better than Neera. Throughout her distinguished career—at the White House, on Capitol Hill, and at CAP—Neera has laid the groundwork for numerous policy successes on the state, local, and federal levels, including the enactment and defense of one of the most important progressive domestic policy achievements of the modern era, ”

    — Sen. Tom Daschle

  18. Joe Biden’s natsec team fulfills his campaign promise of a return to normalcy and conventional Washington. That also means maintaining the failed status quo of the post-9/11 era.

    Oh thank God, maybe Annie Leibovitz can do a photo spread for Rolling Stone.

  19. Was this written on the fly? “Biden’s nomination”? He can’t nominate anybody now.

  20. Trump team’s disastrous “maximum pressure” approach to U.S.-Iran relations

    What disaster?

    1. That’s what I was scrolling down to ask, too.

  21. Libertarians are shocked! Shocked I tell you that their favored candidate is surrounding himself with neocons and war mongers. If only there were some way we could have known.

    1. How degraded and far from its original meaning has “neocon” become.

  22. “He’s said he’ll “end the forever wars,” and govern from the conviction that “use of force should be our last resort, not our first—used only to defend our vital interests, when the objective is clear and achievable, and with the informed consent of the American people.”

    He also campaigned as a continuation of the Obama administration, which rejected that they needed any consent from the representatives of the American people before initiating any kind of armed conflict. Rooting for a Biden victory meant at least acceptance of a more interventionist foreign policy.

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