US President-elect Joe Biden’s appointments to top diplomatic and homeland security posts signal his intent to rebuild America’s much-weakened ties with the international community and to distance his administration from the self-absorption, divisiveness and isolationism that defined the Donald Trump years. He has picked people with significant experience and expertise, who have worked either with him previously, including during the Obama administration. Importantly, their past work reflects cooperative and inclusive approaches. Anthony Blinken, a long-time Biden adviser on foreign policy issues who will be the new Secretary of State, is a strong advocate of global alliances. He will lead the new administration’s effort to rebuild ties with US allies and re-enter global agreements and institutions from which it withdrew under President Trump. Biden has appointed former Secretary of State John Kerry as his special envoy on climate change. This signals the priority Biden accords the climate change issue as Kerry’s full attention will be devoted to the matter. Additionally, Kerry will be part of the National Security Council, which means that for the first time, the US will tackle climate change as a threat to its national security. This a welcome change in the US government’s understanding of national security, and one that should inspire other governments to follow suit.
The Biden team announced so far is inclusive in terms of gender, race and ethnicity. There are several women in it, including Linda Thomas-Greenfield, a career diplomat, who will be ambassador to the UN. In addition to re-entering organisations like UNESCO, UNHRC and WHO, which Trump pulled out of, Thomas-Greenfield faces the challenge of convincing the world that the US is indeed committed to multilateralism and to discharging its responsibilities as the pre-eminent founder-member of the UN. The first hurdle that the new team faces is securing Senate approval for the appointments. This may not be easy, given the hostility Democrats will face from Republican Senators.
The Biden team faces formidable challenges ahead. In addition to bringing together a bitterly divided nation, the team has to undo the enormous damage that the Trump administration did to American institutions, processes, the economy and society. These tasks will be all the more daunting given that the work will have to be done amid the Covid-19 pandemic, which continues to rage in the US. Biden will take charge as President only on January 20. There are no signs of Trump engaging in a course correction with regard to the pandemic in the coming weeks. Hence, the new team will be taking charge of a country even more deeply mired in the pandemic. An inclusive team, such as Biden has put together, gives hope in such a time.