The amazing blandness of Joe Biden’s foreign policy team

24 November 2020

10:28 AM

24 November 2020

10:28 AM

What does a Joe Biden presidency mean? We all know the answer. It means that tired but nice-sounding clichés about American leadership are about to dominate political rhetoric again. The management speak of the political class is back. And this time it’s worse than ever.

Yes, Biden confirmed his incoming national security and foreign policy team today. He managed to surprise some observers, but only by being even more predictable than anybody could have anticipated. Susan Rice for secretary of state? No, no, no — just that boring looking white dude and long-time Biden homie Antony Blinken. Another nerdy looking Caucasian Jake Sullivan, is the national security adviser, meanwhile, apparently because he was ‘a lead negotiator in the initial talks that paved the way for the Iran nuclear deal’.

And who could possibly be climate envoy? Why John Kerry of course, Washington’s stalest pale male.

Diversity did get a look in, naturally: Alejandro Mayorkas, the son of refugees, will be the secretary of Homeland Security; Linda Thomas-Greenfield, an African American woman, will be US ambassador to the United Nations. And, in an unprecedented gesture to the transhuman community, Avril Haines, a female robot, will be director of national intelligence.

To herald the new appointments, the Office of President-Elect released a cheesy video, replete with the sort of rousing string music they use in cancer research advertisements, and featuring a barrage of platitudinous statements from all the incoming cabinet members. It’s worth quoting at length:

Today, I’m announcing the first members of my national security and foreign policy team. They will rally the world to take on our challenges like no other—challenges that no one nation can face alone.

It’s time to restore American leadership. I trust this group to do just that.

— Joe Biden (@JoeBiden) November 23, 2020

‘I am the son of refugees,’ says Mayorkas, meaningfully.

‘Among my parents, and their parents are immigrants, refugees, a Holocaust survivor,’ says Blinken, not wanting to be outdone.

‘I believe we can meaningful change through public service,’ chips in the Avril-bot.

‘I am returning to government to help solve the climate crisis,’ says Kerry, with a sincerity that only someone who married into a ketchup fortune can muster.

‘I am going to represent America on the world stage,’ adds Thomas-Greenfield, perhaps wondering why the scriptwriters couldn’t do better.

‘And we are ready to lead on foreign policy and national security,’ chimes in Jake Sullivan, sounding a bit like a dentist who knows he is supposed to care about your dentures.

Then, as the strings rise, the new administration top brass start spouting meaninglessly meaningful leadership slogans.

‘Historic challenges demand historic new approaches,’ says Kerry.

‘Complex challenges demand diversity of perspective,’ says Mayorkas.

‘And global challenges demand American leadership,’ says Blinken.

‘We are prepared to restore respected leadership abroad,’ says Thomas-Greenfield.

‘And dignified leadership at home,’ says another voice, possibly a paid actor filling because the actual team had fallen asleep.

Then the Avril-bot starts us up again: ‘We understand that the United States must lead not just with the example of our power, but the power of our example.’

After a couple more brain-freezing management cliches, the ad concludes with yet one more: ‘America is back at the table.’

What does any of that actually mean? The Washington pundit class almost have all taken to Twitter to say, what a relief it was to have somewhat tedious, coordinated messaging from an administration again. It was as if also they too had been some bland corporate script to read from.

Cockburn, for his part, was reminded of what Orwell said about the purpose of political language — ‘to give an appearance of solidity to pure wind.’ Wind power certainly will be a feature of the Biden administration: it’s going to be a four-year long leadership fart, at least.

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