President Trump’s get tough with China policy was the right approach, says newly appointed Secretary of State Anthony Blinken, but the way he went about it was “wrong across the board.”
During an interview Monday with CNN’s Wolf Blitzer, Blinken said the basic principle may have been right, but “we have to engage China from a position of strength and whether it’s the adversarial aspects of the relationship, the competitive ones, or the cooperative ones —which are there in our mutual interests — we have to deal from a position of strength. That means having strong alliances.”
And that is the heart of the new, so-called “Biden doctrine” — building alliances, instead of destroying them.
“That’s a source of advantage for us, not denigrating our alliances,” said Blinken. “It means … showing up again in the world, engaging … because if we don’t, what we pull back, China fills in. It means standing up for our values, not advocating them.”
In other words, walking the talk — something America has not done, in a long time.
“When we see the abuse of the rights of the Uyghurs or democracy in Hong Kong, it means making sure that we’re postured militarily to deter aggression, and it means investing in our own people so that they can compete effectively,” Blinken said.
“If we do all of these things and all these things are within our control, we can engage China from a position of strength.”
The former diplomat — who grew up in Paris and speaks impeccable French, staunchly believes that the US should work with its allies and within international treaties and organizations — has come out strongly in regard to the Uyghur issue, calling them victims of an ongoing genocide.
Yet, these are words that make Beijing bristle with anger, and do little to advance “diplomacy” in the region.
“The president has been very clear that he wants to put … human rights and democracy back at the center of our foreign policy,” said Blinken.
“And so, whether it’s China or any other country where we have deep and serious concerns, this will be something that is front and center.”
We’ve heard that before, of course, from previous administrations. America is the world’s top purveyor of arms, after all.
Asked how he thought it might play out, Blinken hinted at actions to come.
“Well, we have these deep concerns that we will act on, but also act on in concert with other countries, with allies and partners who share the concerns that we have — particularly again about the abuse of human rights of the Uyghurs, but also the abuse of democracy in Hong Kong,” said Blinken.
“China made commitments during the handover from the United Kingdom to China about Hong Kong, about the rights of its people.
“(The impact of) those commitments have not been unfelt.”
No question, the Trump administration faces many urgent mountains to climb on the foreign policy front, including the current situation with Russian opposition politician Alexei Navalny, the military coup in Myanmar and the Iran nuclear stalemate.
One thing Blinken made clear, the days of being soft on Putin and Russia are clearly over.
“Well, first I think when it comes to Mr. Navalny, the fact that … Mr. Putin feels compelled to try to silence one voice, speaks volumes about how important that voice is and how it’s representative of so many millions of Russians who want to be heard, or are fed up with the corruption with the kleptocracy.
“But what we’re doing is first of all, consulting and working closely with other countries who were very concerned about what’s happened not just in Mr. Navalny case, but others who have stood up to exercise their rights.”
While President Trump glossed over this, and other Russian atrocities, Biden appears to be taking a much different tack.
“Second, it seems apparent that a chemical weapon was used to try to kill Mr. Navalny that violates the chemical weapons convention and other obligations that Russia has.
“It violates clear sanctions (and) we’re reviewing that. We’re looking at that very closely, and when we have the results, we’ll take action in the appropriate way,” Blinken said.
“This is fundamentally about Russia, the Russian people, their future. It’s not about us.
“And I think the Russian government would make a mistake in attributing to outside actors — whether it’s the United States, European partners and others — responsibility for what’s happening.”
As for Iran, Blinken — who attended École Jeannine Manuel, a bilingual school in Paris, which was also attended by another Obama administration alumnus, Robert Malley — drew a solid line.
The US will not move an inch, until Iran returns to the original deal struck with the Obama administration. This likely won’t placate Israel, which has been openly sabre rattling over Iran’s progressing nuclear program.
“Well, the president’s been very clear about this,” Blinken said.
“If Iran returns to compliance with its obligations under the nuclear agreement, we would do the same thing.
“And then we would work with our allies and partners to try to build a longer and stronger agreement, and also bring in some of these other issues like Iran’s missile program, its destabilizing actions in the region, that need to be addressed as well.”
Blinken, who spent a six-year term in the Senate as one of Biden’s top aides, has given his assurances that he will consult Israel and Arab allies before the US makes any decisions about re-entering Iran nuclear agreement.
“The problem we face now, is that in recent months Iran has lifted one restraint after another … and the result is, they are closer than they’d been to having the capacity on short order to produce fissile material for a nuclear weapon,” Blinken said.
Blinken did, however, hold out the olive branch.
“The first thing that’s so critical, is for Iran to come back into compliance with its obligations. They are a ways from that, but if they do that, the path of diplomacy is there and we’re willing to walk it.”
Blinken was born to Jewish parents, and his late stepfather, Samuel Pisar, was a Holocaust survivor who wrote a memoir, “Of Blood and Hope,” about how he survived the Nazis, including time at the death camps of Majdanek, Auschwitz and Dachau.
As for the military coup in Myanmar, Blinken admitted America had suffered a worldwide setback in its democratic moral authority, following the shocking attack on the Capitol building in Washington, D.C.
“There’s no doubt that our ability to speak with that strong voice for democracy and human rights took a hit with what happened on January 6th at the Capitol.
“But I’ve got to tell you, I actually see the glass half full on that because, we had a peaceful transition of power pursuant to our constitution,” the 58-year-old said.
“After the grievous assault on Congress, what happened? The members of Congress came back.
“They came back to the Senate, they came back to the House, they came back to the halls of Congress and they did their job pursuant to the constitution to ensure that we had a peaceful transition of power.
“You know, this is well throughout our history. We’ve had incredibly challenging moments, and sometimes we’ve taken own steps backward, but what’s made us different, is our willingness, our ability to confront these challenges with full transparency.”
The latter, of course, has never been America’s forte, but one thing is for certain, a strong and active foreign policy, with an emphasis on diplomacy, is back.
Trumpism, as the world knew it, is dead.
Heavy handed, brutish insults against friends and foes alike, also gone. Bizarre, middle of the night tweets, as well.
For Blinken, it’s better that the US run things, than anyone else.
“I think when the president’s looking at this, there are two basic conclusions … first the world doesn’t organize itself.
“So if we’re not in there and present every single day, trying to do some of that organizing, helping to write the rules and shape the norms that sort of govern the way countries relate to each other, then either, someone else is going to do it in our place, or maybe just as bad, no one does it,” Blinken said.
“And then you have chaos either way … so part one is showing up and being engaged.
“Part two is that one of the big problems that we face and that are actually going to affect the lives of the American people every single day, whether it’s climate, whether it’s a pandemic, whether it’s the spread of bad weapons, not a single one can be addressed by any one country acting alone, even one as powerful as the United States.
“So there’s a premium on co-operation and so a premium on diplomacy, because, how do we get that co-operation from other countries? It starts with our diplomacy.”
As for his personal motivation, Blinken referred to the fact he and Blitzer had family who survived the Holocaust.
“As we’ve talked about before, Wolf, I think for both of our families, previous generations, they saw the United States as that last hope on earth, for them, and for their futures,” Blinken said.
“And it provided that hope. It made it real. And so I have an incalculable debt to my own country for what it’s done for, for my family.
“And I hope that this gives me the opportunity in a very small way to help return the favor, and to make sure that the United States remains that last best hope on earth.”
He also plays the guitar — “mostly blues and rock. Not good enough for bluegrass,” as he tweeted in October — and he likes to jam. In his younger days, he sometimes played jazz gigs.
— with files from Politico, US Embassy