Welcome to the Foreign Policy Security Brief.
What’s on tap today: What to do with the Biden administration? Personnel selection for defense and diplomatic postsThe Pentagon is considering cutting support for that CIA counter-terrorism operationsand US President Donald Trump outgoing Syrian envoy discharges his frustrations.
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BREAKING: Morocco and Israel have agreed to normalize diplomatic relations, Trump announced on Twitter. Morocco will be the fourth Arab country to do this after the United Arab Emirates, Bahrain and Sudan. In return, Trump will agree to recognize the controversial Western Sahara as Moroccan territory. This is a developing story.
Who will be driving Biden’s foreign policy behind the scenes?
President-elect Joe Biden has already announced many of his key cabinet-level posts, including secretaries of defense and state secretaries. Beltway insiders, however, keep a close eye on who will take on other managerial roles in administration below the management level – those who often don’t make the headlines but do the preparatory work for foreign policy. Team Biden hasn’t started sharing these tips yet, but here are the ones we’re watching most closely.
Deputy State Secretary. Traditionally, the Deputy State Secretary oversaw a large part of the internal administration of the Ministry of Foreign Affairs. Whoever chooses Biden must help reform and overtake a discouraged diplomatic corps. For four years now, diplomats have been ringing alarm bells about the mismanagement of the foreign service by the Trump administration. During the impeachment saga, career diplomats also faced violent political attacks from top Trump allies, with no public support from Secretary of State Mike Pompeo.
Some of Biden’s top foreign policy advisors have urged the new administration to reform the ministry to strengthen US diplomacy in the new competition between the great powers from China. This responsibility could largely fall on the shoulders of the assistant secretary.
Under-Secretary of State for Defense for Politics. While Ret. General Jim Mattis’ tenure as Secretary of Defense and civil servants said they were excluded from critical policy decisions by the Joint Staff, led by Navy Gen. Joe Dunford and Mattis, himself a retired Navy commander. The office hadn’t had a Senate-approved boss in almost a year and was recently filled with Trump loyalists. Following the selection of another recently retired general, Lloyd Austin, to head the Pentagon, Biden’s team will be under pressure to appoint a strong civilian leader to clean up this post, which has been slacking off since the late Obama years.
NSC Senior Director for Asia. Matt Pottinger, the Mandarin-speaking former reporter for the Wall Street Journal, was incredibly influential in this behind-the-scenes position. His successor could also be a hawk of China – and could be just as influential, playing a key role in shaping a Biden-era national security strategy.
A dynamic to watch: The Biden team already seems to be improving functional portfolios in the NSC. Incoming National Security Advisor Jake Sullivan has pledged to re-prioritize public health to deal with the coronavirus pandemic, and Biden has won former Secretary of State John Kerry as Special Envoy on Climate Change with a lead role at the NSC. Biden will need an influential Asia director to allay Republicans’ concerns that his cabinet members do not have enough experience with China.
State Secretary for Arms Control and International Security. Biden will quickly face the rescue of the last arms control deal with Russia before it expires. The new Treaty on Strategic Arms Reduction (New START), which restricts the arsenal of strategic nuclear weapons in the US and Russia, expires in February. The top Trump administration’s arms negotiators were unable to make any progress on extending or amending the treaty, which puzzled Biden’s last-minute negotiators.
If they can negotiate a tentative renewal, whoever Biden chooses as his State Department’s top arms control officer will play a crucial role in reshaping New START and deciding whether to revive other arms deals with Russia – such as the Intermediate-Range Nuclear Armed forces treaty with Russia, from which Trump resigned in 2019 – or try to forge new ones with China.
State Secretary for Terrorism and Information. Treasury Department financial wonks have become the sharp end of the spear in many of the US’s most ambitious offensives against terrorist organizations, human rights abusers and top officials in Russia and China. The use of targeted sanctions as an instrument of American foreign policy has exploded in recent years and remains – for better or for worse – one of the fastest ways to fight opponents.
The Treasury Department’s Undersecretary on Terrorism and Financial Information takes the lead in this job, which is expected to be an essential tool in Biden’s foreign policy, as it was under Trump.
Will be checked further. The Department of Defense is threatening to cut its support for clandestine CIA counter-terrorism operations in the final days of the Trump administration, Defense One reports, thanks to a political official believed to be a loyalist to the president. The review, led by Acting Undersecretary of State for Intelligence, Ezra Cohen-Watnick, will determine whether U.S. forces deployed on CIA missions should be deployed to counter China and Russia, the Pentagon’s top two priorities .
Former officials fear the move could pull the carpet out of CIA officials who conduct sensitive missions in combat zones like Afghanistan.
Weak in China? Biden is fueling the party lines for cabinet members who are considered less experienced in Asia, despite the national security strategy that distinguishes China as the US’s main national security competitor. Biden made no mention of China in his Atlantic statement or in his speech in Wilmington, Delaware, yesterday when he defended Austin’s election as Secretary of Defense. Former presidential candidate and South Bend Mayor Pete Buttigieg, another newcomer to Asia, is considered a leading candidate to become US ambassador to China.
“My Conservative colleagues have been on the air for weeks arguing that Biden will be weak on China,” Oriana Skylar Mastro, an employee of the Freeman Spogli Institute at Stanford and the American Enterprise Institute, wrote in the Washington Post today. “As a strong supporter of Biden, I hesitate to feed them. But Austin’s nomination suggests they might be right on this matter. “
Biden’s Secretary for Veterans Affairs. Biden is expected to announce Obis McDonough, former White House chief of staff and deputy national security adviser, to head the Department of Veterans Affairs, Politico reports. If selected and ratified by the Senate, McDonough will take on a large federal agency dealing with management issues with the job of distributing coronavirus vaccines to millions of U.S. veterans.
Rice, rice baby. Susan Rice, the Obama administration’s former national security adviser who recently ran for secretary of state, has been won over by Biden as head of the White House Home Affairs Council, the Associated Press reports. Rice, who is also a veteran of the National Security Council and the Clinton administration’s State Department, has spent most of her career in foreign affairs.
Trading venues. Biden is expected to have Katherine Tai, the top trade attorney on the powerful House Ways and Means Committee, as the next US trade agent. If confirmed, Tai will take the job after Trump enforces protectionist trade policies and tries to tear down the international trade order.
Marocc-in, Marocc-out. The return of Pete Marocco, a controversial Trump appointee for the U.S. Agency for International Development (USAID) who wanted to reshape the agency’s programs, took less than a week to return. Morocco had to say goodbye in October after attempting to cut funding for the Office for Conflict Prevention and Stabilization. After only six days at the agency, he was given leave of absence on Tuesday.
John Anderson, a senior religious adviser to USAID, will take on Morocco’s job as an actor. It was not immediately clear why the move was being made.
“This was out of control for CENTCOM. This was the classic: “We’re only here to fight terrorists, let the heads of the Foreign Ministry take care of Turkey, and we can say or do anything we like and our little allies like, and it doesn’t. ” no matter. ‘”
– James Jeffrey, the outgoing Syrian envoy for the State Department, unloads the Pentagon and other administrative officials in a very frank interview with Al Monitor
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Double standards? While no one questions the historic nature of Biden’s election as Pentagon chief, it does raise questions among women in national security – who have seen a top job candidate again – whether there is a gender imbalance when it comes to women Examining defense industry relationships, Military.com’s Oriana Pawlyk reports.
While Michèle Flournoy, a former Pentagon political leader who was once considered a front runner for the top job, was scrutinized for her connections with advisors to Booz Allen Hamilton and WestExec, critics said Austin – the first black Secretary of Defense to make history – was more received homage despite serving on the board of Raytheon, a large arms manufacturer.
The United Nations, Great Britain and France will a global climate summit on Saturday December 12th, on the occasion of the fifth anniversary of the Paris climate agreement.
US distribution of the COVID-19 vaccine should start from December 13th to 18th.
That’s it for today.
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