Joe Biden’s National Security Team Signals an Effort to End the Trump Era

President-elect Joe Biden has announced the nominees for his national security team, and they are reassuring— refreshing, even. Not only are they a diverse group of people who, as Biden says, “look like America,” they are not top Biden donors, nor are they unqualified Biden loyalists, or cronies dripping with conflicts of interest. Neither have they been convicted of lying to the FBI, or charged with fraud. Should they be confirmed, they will not need to depend on on-the-job (on-the-fly) training to get up to speed on jobs for which they are not qualified. Joe Biden’s national security team picks come with skill, experience, global respect, and integrity.

For the past four years under the Trump administration, the U.S. has felt like a henhouse that was being guarded by foxes. Members of Trump’s national security team have moved the protection of our national security increasingly lower on their list of job priorities, choosing instead to further their own interests by furthering those of Donald Trump.

They have released classified information and put U.S. intelligence operations at risk in order to help support Trump’s conspiracy theories. They have removed officials in the administration whom they perceived as disloyal (not to the country, but to Trump). And they have demonstrated that they didn’t have a clue, or a care, what it means to be the keepers of national security. Nor have they had regard for the magnitude of the danger they put Americans in as a consequence.

Joe Biden’s nominee for director of national intelligence, Avril D. Haines, would be the first woman to hold the position, if confirmed. Haines was deputy director of the CIA, as well as deputy national security adviser under the Obama administration. She would also be among the first in four years to bring a solid record of integrity and good judgment, along with her national security expertise, to the role.

“Mr. president-elect,” Haines said after Joe Biden announced her nomination, “You know that I have never shied away from speaking truth to power.”

As for national security advisors, one of Donald Trump’s appointees (there have been six under Trump), Michael Flynn, was convicted of lying to the FBI during its investigation into Russian election interference, about his contacts with Russia’s ambassador. Incidentally, this week, Donald Trump pardoned Flynn.

Joe Biden’s nominee for national security advisor is Jake Sullivan. Sullivan was head of the State Department’s policy planning department, and was later president-elect Biden’s national security adviser while Biden was vice president. Sullivan has voiced his concern for growing authoritarianism around the world, the need to build global coalitions to stem it, and the U.S. role in that initiative.

President-elect Biden’s pick for secretary of state is Antony Blinken, who was deputy secretary of state under the Obama administration, and an aide to Joe Biden when Biden was a U.S. senator. Unlike the current secretary of state, Mike Pompeo, Blinken is not known for alienating U.S. allies or ignoring Congressional mandates. To the contrary, Antony Blinken is known and respected around the world.

After being announced as nominee for secretary of state, Blinken related the story of his stepfather, a holocaust survivor, who, as a boy, escaped from a death march into the Bavarian woods.

“From his hiding place, he heard a deep rumbling sound,” said Blinken. “It was a tank. But instead of the iron cross, he saw painted on its side a five pointed white star. He ran to the tank. The hatch opened. An African-American GI looked down at him. He got down on his knees and said the only three words he knew in English that his mother had taught him before the war. God bless America.”

“That’s who we are,” said Blinken. “That’s what America represents to the world, however imperfectly,” he concluded, expressing his desire to restore the U.S. as a global force for good.

For the role of U.N. Ambassador, president-elect Biden has nominated Linda Thomas-Greenfield, a 35-year Foreign Service veteran. Thomas-Greenfield’s State Department career has included Director General of the Foreign Service, and ambassador to Liberia. She was Assistant Secretary for African Affairs from 2013 until 2017, when Donald Trump fired her as part of his purge of the State Department.

Following Biden’s announcement of her nomination, Thomas-Greenfield tweeted, “My mother taught me to lead with the power of kindness and compassion to make the world a better place. I’ve carried that lesson with me throughout my career in Foreign Service — and, if confirmed, will do the same as Ambassador to the United Nations.”

Biden’s pick for homeland security secretary is Alejandro Mayorkas. Mayorkas, who is Cuban American, also made a reference to his parents, citing his immigrant background.

“My father and mother brought me to this country to escape communism,” he said. “They cherished our democracy, and were intensely proud to become United States citizens, as was I.”

The Biden administration has added a new cabinet position, that of special envoy for climate change, signaling that the Biden administration, unlike the current administration, recognizes that climate change is not a hoax, and that it is a national security concern. Biden has nominated former secretary of state John F. Kerry for the role. On day one of his presidency, Biden, who has stated the importance of addressing climate change and making it a part of global relations, plans to re-join the Paris Climate Agreement, from which Donald Trump withdrew the U.S.

“The president-elect is right to rejoin the Paris Agreement on Day One,” tweeted Kerry following Biden’s announcement of his nomination. “And he is right to recognize that Paris alone is not enough. All nations must raise ambition together, or we will all fail together. And failure is not an option.”

President-elect Biden has been asked whether so many nominees from the Obama administration will, in effect, amount to a third Obama term. Biden responded that the world is different now than what it was before Donald Trump’s presidency.

“This is not a third Obama term,” said Biden, “because … we face a totally different world than we faced in the Obama/Biden administration. President Trump has changed the landscape. It’s become America first. It’s been America alone.”

“America’s back,” Biden said later. “We’re at the head of the table once again. I’ve spoken with over 20 world leaders and, they all are literally, they were pleased and somewhat excited, America’s gonna reassert its role in the world and be a coalition builder.”

We Americans are pleased and somewhat excited, as well. It will be a challenge for the Biden administration to get things done— or even to get its cabinet picks confirmed—should the Senate stay in Republican hands come January 5. Just knowing, however, that it is the end of the Trump era, that we once again have a president who is concerned with our national security, who is a competent man of integrity, and who picks competent people of integrity to serve with him, is enough for now.


Biden announces top foreign policy and national security picks |
CBS Evening News [2020-11-23]

Meet Biden’s National Security Cabinet Picks in 2 Minutes | Bloomberg Quicktake [2020-11-24]

“This Isn’t a Banana Republic,” Except That Trump Thinks It Is

In the week after the U.S. Senate’s acquittal of Donald Trump following his impeachment trial, Trump has begun taking victory laps, and it doesn’t appear he’ll stop anytime soon. In just seven days, he’s given a series of gloating speeches, made copious inflammatory tweets, ordered the firings of several government officials he perceives as having crossed him, and has even influenced the Department of Justice to change the prison sentence of one of his cronies.
Several GOP senators had assured us that the House’s impeachment of him in December would be enough to teach him not to do corrupt things ever again, saying that removal from office for his offenses was not necessary. And the White House insists that Trump’s subsequent actions are not in retaliation for what he sees as unfair treatment by Democrats and their operatives who he thinks are out to get him simply by telling the truth.
Senator Susan Collins (R-Maine) was one of the Senators who justified their vote to acquit Trump by saying they believed Trump had learned his lesson. After witnessing the last seven days, however, Collins remarked that she should have used the word “hoped” instead of “believed.”
When Trump himself was asked what he had learned from the impeachment proceedings, he immediately fired back, “Uh, that the Democrats are crooked, they’ve got a lot of crooked things going. That they’re vicious. That they shouldn’t have brought impeachment. And that my poll numbers are 10 points higher because of fake news like NBC, which reports the news very inaccurately—probably more inaccurately than CNN if that’s possible.”
Yes, the lesson Trump has learned from his impeachment and subsequent acquittal is that he can say and do whatever he wants, without consequence. Furthermore, the GOP will not only back him up, they’ll vilify anyone who gets in his way.
Trump has continued to demonize Senator Mitt Romney of Utah, the one Republican who voted not to acquit Trump on the first article of impeachment, Abuse of Power.
He has suggested that House Speaker Nancy Pelosi, who led the U.S. House impeachment proceeding against him, be removed, calling her, as well as Rep. Adam Schiff, head of the House Intelligence Committee, “vicious and horrible people.”
Just two days after his acquittal, Trump removed Lt. Col. Alexander Vindman from his post as Director for European Affairs for the United States National Security Council. Vindman’s twin brother, Yevgeny, a National Security Council attorney, was removed from his job, as well. Both were publicly escorted out of the White House as if they were being fired for disciplinary reasons.
Trump has since implied that the U.S. Army might take disciplinary action against Alexander Vindman. Vindman was a witness in the House impeachment proceedings against Trump, and, under oath, gave his damning account of Trump’s call to Ukraine that sparked the impeachment inquiry.
“That’s going to be up to the military. We’ll have to see. But if you look at what happened, I mean they’re going to, certainly, I would imagine, take a look at that… I obviously wasn’t happy with the job he did,” Trump said, after earlier saying he probably had never met Vindman…didn’t really know him.
Trump has demonstrated a desire for vengeance against anyone who opposes him or doesn’t reinforce his world view, and he expects that the rest of his government, including the military, will back him up.
A U.S. Department of Defense official has since said that there is no planned investigation into Vindman.
Americans had been wondering how Trump’s supporters would spin Trump’s apparent retaliation against Alexander Vindman. It didn’t take long to find out.
National Security Adviser Robert O’Brien told the Atlantic Council this week, “Number one, they weren’t fired. …Folks might think it feels that way, and, look, it’s great to work at the White House, and everybody wants to work at the White House, but there will come a time for all of us who work at the White House, including me, that (we) will leave the White House.” He then denied that the dismissals were in any way retaliatory.
Except that another witness in Trump’s impeachment hearing, Gordon Sondland, who also provided incriminating testimony about Trump’s actions toward Ukraine, was removed from his post as U.S. Ambassador to the European Union on the same day as the Vindmans’ departure.
An adviser to Trump told CNN that the firings of the major impeachment witnesses were meant to send a message that “siding against the President will not be tolerated. “…Flushing out the pipes,” said the adviser. “It was necessary.”
Siding with the president, no matter what, is apparently what is expected at the White House. It’s the new patriotism, according to the Trump Playbook.
In his defense of the abrupt dismissals of those who had crossed the president of the United States, Robert O’Brien added that the U.S. is “not some banana republic.”
That assertion is questionable, however, when one considers that Attorney General William Barr and others at the Department of Justice intervened this week to overrule and reduce the recommended prison sentence of former Trump advisor Roger Stone. In response, all four federal prosecutors who took the case against Stone immediately resigned or withdrew from the case.
Trump denies that he told Barr to change the sentencing. That may be technically true, though Trump lit up Twitter with complaints about Stone’s sentencing, calling it a “horrible and very unfair situation.”
Trump also withdrew his recommendation for a promotion of former U.S. attorney Jessie Liu. Liu headed the office overseeing the prosecution of Stone. But that’s probably just a coincidence.
In response, and not long after O’Brien’s declarations that we are not “some banana republic,” Senate Minority Leader Chuck Schumer said, “Left to his own devices, President Trump would turn America into a banana republic, where the dictator can do whatever he wants and the justice department is the president’s law firm, not a defender of the rule of law.”

News Wrap: Impeachment witness Vindman removed from NSC post |
PBS NewsHour [2020-02-07]

Trump praises Barr for “taking charge” of Roger Stone case |
CBS Evening News [2020-02-12]