Cyr column: The Biden administration will be different
Columns share an author’s personal perspective.
Joe Biden’s campaign for the White House from the start was remarkably low-key, and the same quality characterizes preparations of the new administration for taking office. The contrast to the outgoing Trump administration is dramatic.
Doubtless, this is by design, at least in part. The outgoing president is remarkable for unpredictable and unpredicted outbursts, regularly involving personnel changes at the top.
The at times almost constant litany of complaints, denigration and plain insults issued forth from the current occupant of the White House, directed at foreign leaders and peoples, has damaged relations with allies of the United States. This atmosphere over the past four years has also created opportunities for enemies and raised uncertainties among the rest of the world’s nations.
Biden has nominated long-time aide Antony Blinken as Secretary of State, and former Fed Chair Janet Yellen as Secretary of the Treasury. The important latter nomination will be the subject of a later column.
Blinken has extensive policy experience, including at senior levels. During the Obama administration, he was Deputy Secretary of State, a particularly demanding management position, and deputy national security adviser.
In these positions, he was heavily involved in military as well as diplomatic challenges, including the moves to contain and destroy ISIS, counter Russia’s invasion of Crimea and conduct the successful raid against Osama bin Laden.
Earlier, Blinken was the Democratic staff director for the powerful Foreign Relations Committee of the United States Senate. Biden chaired that committee during his long tenure as Senator from Delaware.
Biden’s national security adviser will be Jake Sullivan, who had senior State Department and White House experience during the Obama years. He was heavily involved in negotiation of the multinational agreement to limit Iran’s development of nuclear capabilities.
That agreement from the start has been controversial, quickly abandoned by President Donald Trump. The new Biden administration almost certainly will make efforts to rejoin the agreement. The others involved are China, the European Union, France, Germany, Russia and the United Kingdom.
The Iran agreement was a priority of John Kerry, Secretary of State in the Obama administration, who rejoins the new administration as special envoy on climate policy, with Cabinet rank. Biden has pledged to rejoin the Paris Climate Agreement, also abandoned by Trump.
Most important of the new officials of course is Joe Biden himself, who has achieved our top elected office a little over three decades since launching his first, unsuccessful campaign for the presidency. His eight years as vice president during the Obama administration followed three and one-half decades in the Senate.
Obama and Biden developed an effective working partnership, where the latter represented the U.S. overseas as well as serving as point man with Congress. Biden deserves credit for securing passage of economic recovery legislation.
Generally, recent presidents treated their vice presidents as partners. This was true of Jimmy Carter and Walter Mondale, Ronald Reagan and George H.W. Bush, and Bill Clinton and Al Gore.
Each vice president went on to secure the nomination for president, though among these only Bush won the White House. Bush’s vice president, Dan Quayle, also is the exception to the trend for occupants to gain by holding the office.
Modern vice presidents, including Joe Biden, should thank the founder of the modern vice presidency - Richard Nixon.
Nixon also provides a cautionary tale. After winning the White House, he promised to bring calm stability after violent years.
However, he was forced to resign.
Arthur I. Cyr is Clausen Distinguished Professor at Carthage College and author of “After the Cold War” (NYU Press and Macmillan). Contact firstname.lastname@example.org.