Senate should press Biden national security nominees

Senate should press Biden national security nominees
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Now that the 117th Congress is in session, one of the first matters the Senate must attend to is offering advice and consent on President-Elect Joe BidenJoe BidenBiden offers support to union organizing efforts Senate Democrats nix 'Plan B' on minimum wage hike Kavanaugh dismays conservatives by dodging pro-Trump election lawsuits MORE’s cabinet nominees. Of particular importance are the nominees for leadership of the country’s national security, foreign policy and intelligence sectors, in order to provide a level of continuity and certainty in these vital matters of state.

Historically these nominations have not been considered controversial, as many nominees had already served in the legislative or executive branches and were familiar entities within Washington circles. But in the hyper-politicized climate of today, partisanship tends to triumph with supporters of the president unabashedly towing the party line while members of the opposing party trip over themselves to see who can harangue the nominee the hardest.

One of the negative consequences of this is that serious policy questions and considerations are sidelined, something that is especially needed as the Biden administration gets underway. When it comes to vetting the next senior leaders of our defense and diplomatic policies, senators of both parties should take a deep dive not just into the nominee’s plans if confirmed, but understand what parts they played and what they have learned from recent American failures.


The U.S. military is still in Afghanistan and Iraq — two major theaters of combat that started nearly 20 years ago — and our forces are spread through countries across the world under the auspices of the war on terror. These have proven costly in terms of funding and bloodshed, destabilized parts of the Middle East and North Africa and remain largely unpopular with the American public.

Further, we have tens of thousands of active duty forces deployed in Europe and Asia under agreements and circumstances related to the geopolitical conflicts of the last century and that have hardly been scrutinized in decades.

President TrumpDonald TrumpSacha Baron Cohen calls out 'danger of lies, hate and conspiracies' in Golden Globes speech Sorkin uses Abbie Hoffman quote to condemn Capitol violence: Democracy is 'something you do' Ex-Trump aide Pierson planning run for Congress MORE is the only political figure who successfully reached national office while criticizing the status quo of America’s role as global policeman, and polling during the 2020 election indicates that this was not a significant factor in his defeat. The gap between the Washington establishment and the American public on these issues still exists, and it is the responsibility of Congress to address it.

Antony BlinkenAntony BlinkenChina traps the US into negotiations, then breaks its promises Overnight Defense: Biden sends message with Syria airstrike | US intel points to Saudi crown prince in Khashoggi killing | Pentagon launches civilian-led sexual assault commission Florida Republicans push Biden to implement Trump order on Venezuela MORE, Lloyd AustinLloyd AustinCan a common bond of service unite our nation? Politics, not racism or sexism, explain opposition to Biden Cabinet nominees Pentagon releases training materials to address extremism MORE and Avril Haines, Biden’s respective picks for secretary of State, secretary of Defense and director of National Intelligence were all deeply involved in forming and executing America’s international and security policies over the last two decades. Blinken served in the Clinton administration and was a senior official in the State Department and White House under President Obama, playing a significant role in the continuation of our involvement in Afghanistan and Iraq, as well as developing policies for regime change in Libya, intervention in Syria and responding to Russia’s invasion of Crimea.

Gen. Austin retired from the Army in 2016 as the head of the U.S. Central Command, where he oversaw all U.S. military activities in the Middle East and South Asia. He directed the military’s counter-ISIS strategy in Iraq and Syria, including the controversial Syria Train and Equip program, which ended in abject failure. Haines worked on the Senate Foreign Relations Committee for then-Sen. Biden (D-Del.) during the height of the war in Iraq, then started at the National Security Council (NSC) in the Obama White House. In 2013, she was appointed deputy director of the CIA, around the time of ISIS’s outbreak in the Middle East and the marked increase in Russia belligerence.


The fingerprints of all three nominees are on recent failures in U.S. foreign policy, and the staff they appoint if confirmed will largely be familiar faces from the Obama and Clinton eras. These administrations were defined by a liberal internationalism that sought to use American economic, diplomatic and military power to promote democracy and human rights around the world, engaging the United States in small-scale military conflicts in places like Somalia and the Balkans while straining relations with less-democratic states like China and Russia.

Such idealism led to new foreign assistance programs, the growth of defense guarantees to countries that have little impact on U.S. national security, and what is generally referred to as “nation building” — attempts to create democratic governments in states with few of the historical institutions or culture to support such a system.

These were costly initiatives that often took our foreign policy in the wrong direction and did little to enhance our national security; lessons that ideological loyalty and hubris have unfortunately kept from being learned. In a place where the phrase “people are policy” is a universally accepted axiom, it is paramount that the leaders appointed to the highest offices and responsible for the biggest decision can learn from experience and will commit to a more practical, interest-focused strategic framework.

Congress must put aside partisanship and ideology to make sure the nominees to lead these executive institutions are aligned with the concerns and values of the American people.

Robert Moore is a public policy advisor for Defense Priorities. He spent nearly a decade on Capitol Hill, most recently as the lead staffer for Sen. Mike LeeMichael (Mike) Shumway LeeCPAC, all-in for Trump, is not what it used to be OVERNIGHT ENERGY: Key vote for Haaland's confirmation | Update on oil and gas leasing | SEC update on climate-related risk disclosure requirements Haaland on drilling lease moratorium: 'It's not going to be a permanent thing' MORE (R-Utah) on the Senate Armed Services Committee. Follow the organization on Twitter @defpriorities.