President-elect Joseph R. Biden‘s pick to lead the State Department, Antony Blinken, pledged Tuesday to restore America’s standing in the world following a nontraditional foreign policy approach by outgoing President Trump.
The longtime adviser and confidant to Mr. Biden told a Senate Foreign Relations Committee confirmation hearing that he generally agreed with the Trump administration’s foreign policy on China and the Middle East, but disagreed with how many of the policies were implemented.
While outgoing Secretary of State Mike Pompeo often spoke of restoring his department’s “swagger,” Mr. Blinken struck a very different note in describing his own approach.
“Humility and confidence should be the flip sides of America’s leadership coin,” Mr. Blinken said.
“Humility because we have a great deal of work to do at home to enhance our standing abroad. And humility because most of the world’s problems are not about us, even as they affect us. Not one of the big challenges we face can be met by one country acting alone — even one as powerful as the U.S.”
“Core alliances” he added, were the most effective tool to “counter threats posed by Russia, Iran and North Korea and to stand up for democracy and human rights.”
He said the U.S. under Mr. Biden would not shy away from its traditional postwar responsibilities or break with its traditional allies, even as it rolls back or softens many of Mr. Trump‘s “America First” approach.
Mr. Blinken cited the Abraham Accords as a highlight of the Trump administration’s foreign policy. The series of deals normalized diplomatic relations between Israel and at least four Arab states, marking a significant breakthrough in ending Israel’s isolation and shoring up a united front against Iran.
But the nominee said that although he would like to take a “hard look” at various commitments that were made in cutting those deals, such as opening the door to major arms sales to the region.
“The work that was done to push forward on normalization with Israel I applaud,” he said. “It makes Israel safer, it makes the region safer.”
He took a similar tack on Mr. Trump‘s approach to China, which features a hard line on trade, East Asian security and human rights, as well as an escalating quarrel over the handling of the coronavirus crisis.
“I also believe that President Trump was right in taking a tougher approach to China,” Mr. Blinken said. “I disagree very much with the way that he went about it in a number of varieties, but the basic principle was the right one.”
On Iran, Mr. Blinken said that the Jan. 2019 U.S. strike that killed top Iranian Gen. Qassem Soleimani left the U.S. “less safe.” The attack prompted Iran to retaliate by firing missiles at U.S. military bases in Iraq and nearly led to war.
A former State Department official under the Obama administration, Mr. Blinken told the panel that “the question is not whether taking him out was the right thing to do, it was gaming out what might be the consequences.”
Facing what most expect to be a relatively clear path to confirmation, Mr. Blinken will inherit a host of policy challenges on Iran from its rising nuclear power to military and diplomatic tensions. Mr. Biden has talked of quickly rejoining the 2015 Iran nuclear deal that Mr. Trump repudiated three years ago.
“We have an urgent responsibility to do whatever we can to prevent Iran from acquiring or getting a weapon,” Mr. Blinken told the panel.
Mr. Blinken, 58, previously served on President Clinton’s National Security Council and as the Democratic staff director on the Senate panel when it was chaired by Mr. Biden. He said Tuesday he appreciated now how popular domestic support was vital to foreign policy success.
“No foreign policy can be sustained without the informed consent of the American people,” he said in his concluding remarks. “We can only tackle the most urgent problems our country faces if we work together, and I am dedicated to doing that.”
Mr. Blinken has received bipartisan support from lawmakers and is expected to be confirmed by the Senate in a vote next week.
Incoming chairman of the panel, Sen. Robert Menendez, New Jersey Democrat, told reporters Tuesday that Mr. Blinken is “eminently qualified to be Secretary of State and probably taking the reins — hopefully taking the reins at a time in which the department needs to be rebuilt.”
“He knows the department and our standing in the world needs to be rebuilt,” Mr. Menendez continued, “so I expect he’ll get bipartisan support.”
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