Morning Brief

Biden to Nominate Blinken as Secretary of State

The U.S. president-elect’s picks for U.N. ambassador and national security advisor are also all-but-confirmed.

Then-U.S. Deputy Secretary of State Antony Blinken speaks to the media after a meeting with his South Korean counterpart Cho Tae-Yong at the foreign ministry in Seoul on February 9, 2015.
Then-U.S. Deputy Secretary of State Antony Blinken speaks to the media after a meeting with his South Korean counterpart Cho Tae-Yong at the foreign ministry in Seoul on February 9, 2015. JUNG YEON-JE/AFP

Here is today’s Foreign Policy brief: Antony Blinken will be nominated as U.S. Secretary of State, Guatemala calls for help from the Organization of American States, and Ethiopian Prime Minister Abiy Ahmed gives Tigrayan forces 72 hours to surrender.

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Biden’s Picks For State, United Nations, and National Security Advisor Become Clearer

Foreign Policy can confirm that President-elect Joe Biden intends to nominate Antony Blinken as Secretary of State. The news was first reported by Bloomberg.

The news of Blinken’s impending nomination comes as the Biden campaign plans to formally announce a slate of cabinet picks this coming Tuesday. Some more have already leaked: Linda Thomas-Greenfield, the top U.S. diplomat for African Affairs under President Barack Obama, is lined up as U.S. ambassador to the United Nations, and Jake Sullivan is set to take on the role of national security adviser after holding that same position under then-Vice President Joe Biden.

Blinken you’ll miss it. Although well-respected in D.C. policy circles, Blinken’s relatively low profile would be a departure from previous Democratic secretaries of state: Both Hillary Clinton and John Kerry were national figures with global name recognition when they took the post during the Obama administration.

In contrast to his Democratic predecessors, who may have had their own power bases, Blinken has spent most of his career by Biden’s side. His foreign-policy career began at the U.S. State Department, eventually becoming senior aide to then-Senator Joe Biden on the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, who then made him his national security adviser when he became vice president. His most recent public position was as deputy secretary of state in the final two years of the Obama administration.

Upon leaving public service, Blinken founded a consultancy with Michèle Flournoy. As Flournoy is hotly tipped to become Biden’s secretary of defense, it would bring their professional relationship to the global stage.

In his own words. Blinken gave a broad outline of how he sees the world Biden is stepping into in a Brookings Institution blog post in 2019 coauthored with Robert Kagan. By Blinken and Kagan’s account, today’s “increasingly dangerous world … looks more like the 1930s than the end of history—with populists, nationalists and demagogues on the rise; autocratic powers growing in strength and increasingly aggressive; Europe mired in division and self-doubt; and democracy under siege and vulnerable to foreign manipulation.” They add that new challenges, “from cyberwarfare to mass migration to a warming planet” are problems that “no one nation can meet alone and no wall can contain.”

On China. Speaking to CNN’s Fareed Zakaria in October, he gave a glimpse of his approach to China, focusing, like Biden, on relationships with allies: “The China challenge is less about their strength, rising though it is, and more about our self-inflicted weaknesses,” Blinken said. A Biden administration would “work with our allies and partners and actually assert our values. And that that’s how you engage China from a position of strength.”

The World This Week

On Monday, Nov. 23, the trial of former French President Nicolas Sarkozy on corruption charges begins today in Paris.

The European Parliament’s plenary session begins.

On Tuesday, Nov. 24, Chinese Foreign Minister Wang Yi begins a two-day visit to Japan.

President-elect Joe Biden is expected to announce members of his cabinet. Foreign Policy has previewed some of the positions here.

On Wednesday, Nov. 25, the United States releases its second estimate of gross domestic product for the third quarter of 2020.

Hong Kong Chief Executive Carrie Lam delivers her annual policy address.

Chinese Foreign Minister Wang Yi begins a three-day visit to South Korea.

On Thursday, Nov. 26, the United States observes Thanksgiving Day.

On Friday, Nov. 27, an order by the Committee on Foreign Investment in the United States (CFIUS) ordering social media app TikTok to divest any assets linked to parent company ByteDance comes into effect.

Sun, Nov. 29, Brazil holds its second round of municipal elections. 

What We’re Following Today

Mekele ultimatum. Ethiopian Prime Minister Abiy Ahmed has issued an ultimatum to Tigrayan regional forces: Surrender within 72 hours, or your capital faces bombardment. “Our people in Mekele should be notified that they should protect themselves from heavy artillery,” an Ethiopian military spokesman advised, echoing Abiy’s Sunday statement. Susan Rice, a former U.S. national security adviser and possible Biden cabinet appointee, suggested that an indiscriminate assault on the Tigrayan capital would constitute a war crime.

Brazil protests. Protesters flocked to the streets of Brazil over the weekend to voice their anger over the killing of João Alberto Silveira Freitas, a 40-year-old Black man, by security guards outside a supermarket in Porto Alegre. Brazilian President Jair Bolsonaro has played down the unrest: Appearing to reference it at the G-20 conference, he called it an “attempt to import to our land tensions that have nothing to do with our history.” Video footage shows the guards repeatedly punching Freitas in the head as he is pinned to the ground. Local press reported his cause of death as asphyxiation—bringing comparisons to the death of George Floyd in the United States in May.

China pressure. A draft rule by the U.S. Department of Commerce could restrict Chinese companies from purchasing U.S. technology and other products, if enacted. First reported by Reuters, the rule would name 89 Chinese companies as “military end users,” meaning any U.S. companies must first obtain licenses before doing business with them. The companies targeted include Commercial Aircraft Corp of China, a would-be competitor to Boeing.

Rage in Guatemala. Guatemala’s government has called on the Organization of American States (OAS) to help them “promote dialogue among diverse political forces” after weekend protests cuts to social services turned violent. Protesters set the country’s Congress alight on Saturday while thousands took to the streets. Guatemalan authorities condemned the violence and said in a statement that they had “no other path than to turn to the international community.”

Keep an Eye On 

Vaccine equality. German Chancellor Angela Merkel has called on COVAX, the initiative set up to assist low-income countries in accessing a coronavirus vaccine, to immediately begin talks with vaccine manufacturers in order to secure doses. “I am concerned that there are no negotiations,” Merkel said on Sunday after the G20 summit, pointing out the European Union and United States had agreements with drug makers for a vaccine. COVAX, which was initiated by the World Health Organization and the GAVI alliance, has received support from dozens of countries, although notably not the United States. The initiative has raised $5 billion so far, $600 million of which has come from Germany.

AMLO’s approval. Despite an ailing economy and record murder rates, Mexican President Andrés Manuel López Obrador’s approval rating has hit a one-year high according to a new poll. Some 64 percent of Mexicans support his leadership, an increase from 59 percent in August. Welfare programs for the elderly, students and poorer areas were rated as his most popular policies, while the poll showed Mexicans growing increasingly wary about how he is handling the coronavirus pandemic. López Obrador’s party, currently in control both houses of Congress, faces mid-term elections in June 2021.

Odds and Ends 

While the cruise industry is facing a reckoning in the coronavirus era, one ship taking a ferry route between Finland and Sweden has given an example of resilience. Upon leaving Stockholm the Viking Grace cruise ship ran aground at Mariehamn, a stop on the way to the Finnish city of Turku. None of the 331 passengers or 98 crew were hurt and the boat was dragged off the seabed by two tug boats before making its way to Turku under its own engines.

That’s it for today. 

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Colm Quinn is the newsletter writer at Foreign Policy. Twitter: @colmfquinn

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