Antony Blinken’s confirmation on January 26th as 71st The Senate Foreign Minister was almost no event, which resulted in a 78-22 vote. The lack of strong Republican opposition was largely due to the results of the Georgia Senate election earlier this month, which gave Democrats effective control over key Senate decisions and simplified the verification process for candidates in the Biden administration.
Other key State Department members on the Blinken team have yet to be confirmed, but nominations are constantly being announced and work through the Senate’s confirmation system. Some of them previously served in the Obama-era State Department, like Blinken.
No stranger to his diplomatic interlocutors
Shortly after he was sworn in on late January 26, the new foreign minister completed his first calls to key foreign ministerial colleagues in neighbors and related countries: Canada, Mexico, Japan and South Korea. As you can imagine, these calls continued throughout the week, and overseas analysts have a field day everywhere analyzing the exact order in which calls are logged to get a deeper understanding of each country’s geopolitical significance to the Biden-Administration to determine only an employee-generated call sheet based on the availability of foreign executives; and of course to benefit from maintaining the blinking range at home.
No stranger to State Department staff
The format was slightly changed due to the COVID-19 pandemic, but the usual meeting with State Department staff took place at the ministry’s gigantic C Street entrance on January 27th. This year, participation was limited as fewer than 50 employees were admitted as opposed to several thousand in other years. The almost usual pattern of crowd cheers for the incoming leader was evident, albeit greatly reduced, as with virtually every change in leadership a sizable number of disgruntled employees view the arrival of the newest secretary as a form of salvation. In this case, however, there was some sort of homecoming for the former deputy secretary.
With the darkness and uncertainty of the Trump-Biden transition period finally over, most State Department staff were relieved when an energetic but deeply suspicious secretary, Mike Pompeo, left the building for the last time just before inauguration day, similar to you saw the Trump administration’s first Secretary of State Rex Tillerson leave along with his unrealized, but costly, consultant-drawn plans for a corporate-style reinvention and downsizing of the State Department.
Goodbye “America First”
In his address to state officials, Blinken described the tough road he saw with the world ahead of him and watched closely as President Biden’s team would pursue foreign policy after four years of former President Donald Trump’s “America First” doctrine .
Blinken said the United States would return to working with allies on a reciprocal rather than a purely transactional basis after the Trump years. The term “transaction” has taken on an extremely derogatory meaning in the years of Trump politics in US politics, which means that everything was done “Trump-style” to close a single deal with the long-term development of relationships little value was given.
On the subject of America’s global role, Blinken said, “America’s leadership is needed around the world, and we will provide it because the world is much more likely to solve problems and meet challenges when the United States is there.” Hopefully, Blinken said, “America, at its best, still has a greater capacity than any other country on earth to mobilize others for the common good.”
On the subject of morality at the State Department, Blinken said, “We need a strong Ministry for the United States to be strong in the world.” He also planned to “invest heavily in building a diverse and inclusive foreign ministry”. and stated that a key priority for him as Secretary of State is the restoration of morale and confidence, which virtually every new secretary highlights on the first day but which few achieve. Regarding complaints about closed decisions at the highest level, Blinken said he would hear dissenting views and listen to experts “because that is how the best decisions are made”.
While Blinken has impeccable political credentials, there is some confusion about Blinken’s track record as a diplomat. Blinken is not a professional foreign service official, although he served on several levels as a political officer in the state, most recently as deputy foreign secretary in the Obama administration. Instead of moving to various embassies as a professional diplomat, Blinken has instead served on Capitol Hill on the National Security Council and worked in a Washington think tank, all in senior positions normally reserved for representatives at the political level.
Secretary Blinken has promised to resume the Foreign Ministry’s daily press conferences. In addition, during his first days in office, the volume of state media releases about Secretary Blinken’s telephone contact with his global colleagues is extremely high.
After the first wave, it remains to be seen whether the new secretary will allow continued use of the State Department’s public affairs media mechanisms such as Pompeo in his senior year and use them to record his personal diplomatic accomplishments with an ever-growing barrage of press releases that ended up being Tenure almost hourly. Many of these notes were used to give Pompeo credit for routine matters that should hardly be mentioned publicly, let alone for worldwide dissemination.