Antony Blinken, one of President Biden‘s longest and most trusted advisers, is set to take the helm of the State Department where he intends to reassert U.S. leadership on the global stage and unravel some of former President Trump‘s foreign policy decisions.
Blinken, a longtime government official who has worked for the Senate and the Clinton and Obama administrations, said his priorities are building up the diplomatic corps and revitalizing core alliances.
“American leadership still matters,” Blinken said during his Senate confirmation hearing.
He’s earned bipartisan praise for his long foreign policy expertise and for his responses during a smooth confirmation hearing on Jan. 19. Sen. Lindsey Graham, R-S.C., who voted against Blinken’s nomination for deputy secretary of state under President Obama, said he supports Blinken this time, calling him “an outstanding choice.”
Under questioning from Graham, Blinken said he agreed that China is involved in committing genocide against the Uyghurs, a minority Muslim population, and that Iran was the largest state sponsor of terrorism. Blinken also told the Honduran migrant caravan heading for the U.S.-Mexico border: “Do not come.”
“We’re on a good start here,” Graham said of Blinken’s responses.
Blinken will be critical to Biden’s intention to reenter the Iran nuclear deal, forge a new direction with Cuba, stop the withdrawal of the U.S. from the World Health Organization, reenter the Paris Climate Agreement, forge a new START nuclear arms treaty with Russia and to stand up to China, which Blinken said poses the “the most significant challenge of any nation-state” to U.S. security.
Blinken said the U.S. should approach the world stage with “humility and confidence.”
Blinken, however, has been criticized for being wrong on foreign policy. He was Biden’s adviser in 2002 when the then-Delaware senator backed the war in Iraq. Biden later called that vote a mistake. Blinken also supported military action in Libya and thought the U.S. should have been more aggressive on Syria, according to the Washington Post.
“I think it would be a grave mistake to confirm a secretary of state who has a demonstrated track record of repeatedly making the wrong decisions when it comes to American foreign policy and national security,” said Sen. John Barrasso, R-Wyo., referencing “failed” Obama-era policies in Libya, Syria and Iran.
Blinken, 58, graduated from Harvard and Columbia Law School. He was a member of President Clinton’s National Security Council staff from 1994 to 2001. He began his long relationship with Biden in 2002 when he became the Democratic Staff Director for the U.S. Senate Foreign Relations Committee, where Biden served as chairman.
When Biden became vice president in 2009, Blinken also moved over to the Administration as Biden’s national security adviser and later promoted to deputy national security adviser to President Obama.
“We would not have gotten out of Iraq in a way that left the government with a fighting chance to make it without Tony Blinken’s hard work,” Biden told the Washington Post in 2013. “He was the go-to guy. He still is the go-to guy.”
Blinken was already confirmed once before by the Senate on Dec. 16, 2014, when Obama nominated Blinken to become deputy secretary of state under John Kerry. The vote was 55-38.
Several of Blinken’s family members also served in Senate-confirmed positions. His father, Donald Blinken, was ambassador to Hungary and his uncle, Alan Blinken, served as ambassador to Belgium during the Clinton Administration. And Blinken’s wife, Evan Ryan, was also confirmed as assistant secretary of state for educational and cultural affairs during the Obama administration.
Blinken has prospered since the Obama administration ended. Ethics and D.C.-revolving door questions have been raised about how Blinken’s companies have become the launchpad for Biden’s Cabinet.
Blinken became an adviser at the private equity firm Pine Island Capital Partners in 2017 and he co-founded WestExec Advisors in 2018. Retired Gen. Lloyd Austin, who was confirmed Jan. 22 as Biden’s secretary of defense, was also a partner at Pine Island and Avril Haines, Biden’s new director of national intelligence, was a principal at Blinken’s WestExec.
Blinken’s financial disclosure forms reveal he’s made nearly $1.2 million in income from WestExec Advisors. His advisory clients included Facebook, Uber, Microsoft and LinkedIn. He was also paid $144,483 for working for the Biden campaign and another $21,666 from Turner Broadcasting where he served as a global affairs analyst for CNN.
Blinken grew up in New York, the son of a prominent global venture capitalist and an arts patron, the Washington Post said during a 2013 profile piece. In 1970, his parents divorced and the following year, his mother, Judith, remarried world-renowned lawyer Samuel Pisar, a Holocaust survivor. Blinken and his mother moved to France and he graduated high school in Paris.
His stepfather’s experience surviving concentration camps has informed Blinken’s belief that America needs to lead in the world.
During a news conference with Biden in November, Blinken told the story of how Pisar was the only one out of 900 children in his school in Poland to survive the Holocaust after four years in concentration camps.
“At the end of the war, he made a break from a death march into the woods in Bavaria. From his hiding place, he heard a deep rumbling sound. It was a tank,” Blinken said of the American military tank.
“He ran to the tank. The hatch opened. An African-American GI looked down at him,” Blinken continued. “He got down on his knees and said the only three words that he knew in English that his mother had taught him before the war. ‘God bless America.'”
Blinken said this is an example of how important the United States is to the rest of the world and how maintaining alliances can be a force for good.
“That’s who we are,” Blinken said. “That’s what America represents to the world, however imperfectly.”