Joe Biden, the-president elect, on Tuesday said America was “back, ready to lead the world” at an event to unveil his new foreign policy team that marked a clear break from the isolationist administration of Donald Trump.
Speaking in Wilmington, Delaware, alongside his first six cabinet nominees, Mr Biden stressed that his national security appointments — all of whom held senior roles in Barack Obama’s administration — would usher in a new era of multilateralism after it was supplanted by Mr Trump’s “America First” approach.
“It’s a team that reflects the fact that America is back, ready to lead the world, not retreat from it,” Mr Biden said. “Once again sit at the head of the table. Ready to confront our adversaries and not reject our allies. Ready to stand up for our values.”
Mr Biden was speaking less than 24 hours after the Trump administration agreed to begin the formal transfer of power even as Mr Trump has refused to concede defeat after losing the presidential election earlier this month.
Shortly after Mr Biden unveiled the team, Mr Trump briefly defended his approach to foreign policy during the traditional Thanksgiving turkey-pardoning ceremony.
“As I say, ‘America First’ — we shouldn’t go away from that,” the president said.
Mr Biden described his foreign policy nominees as a team that embodied his “core belief that America is strongest when it works with it allies,” as he unveiled his secretaries of state and homeland security as well as his national security adviser, director of national intelligence, US ambassador to the UN, and climate envoy.
In prepared remarks, the nominees echoed Mr Biden’s rebuttal of Mr Trump’s approach to foreign policy, which resulted in strained relationships with some traditional US allies.
“America is back, multilateralism is back, diplomacy is back,” said Linda Thomas-Greenfield, Mr Biden’s pick for US ambassador to the UN, a role that will be upgraded to a cabinet-level position in the next administration.
Two former aides from Mr Biden’s time as vice-president will take the top two foreign policy jobs, with Tony Blinken and Jake Sullivan being nominated as secretary of state and national security adviser, respectively. John Kerry, secretary of state during Mr Obama’s second term, will become climate envoy.
While Mr Blinken, Mr Sullivan and Mr Kerry are white males, Mr Biden was keen to stress the diversity of his other picks. Avril Haines, who has been tapped as director of national intelligence, will be the first woman to head the intelligence community, while Ms Thomas-Greenfield is African-American.
Mr Biden described Ms Haines as “a professional” rather than a traditional politician with a varied career that saw her study theoretical physics, repair cars and run a bookstore-café.
“If she gets worried of a threat coming to our shores, like another pandemic or foreign interference in our elections, she will not stop raising alarms until the right people take action,” he said, implicitly criticising the Trump administration over claims it took insufficient action in response to Covid-19 and Russian meddling in the 2016 US presidential election.
If confirmed, Ms Haines will lead an intelligence community roiled by repeated personnel shake-ups and accusations that Mr Trump installed partisan loyalists to top jobs, including the incumbent director of national intelligence John Ratcliffe.
She said she was determined to deliver accurate information to Mr Biden even when it might be “inconvenient or difficult” for him to hear.
Mr Trump was known for his regular criticism of the US intelligence community, likening them to “Nazi Germany” during his first presidential campaign and later suggesting that his intelligence chiefs should “go back to school”.
Mr Biden introduced Alejandro Mayorkas as “the first Latino and immigrant” to lead the Department of Homeland Security.
Mr Mayorkas, who was born in Cuba, said he was ready “to advance our proud history as a country of welcome” in a thinly veiled criticism of the Trump administration’s attempts to tighten immigration controls.
Mr Blinken recounted the life story of his late stepfather, Samuel Pisar, a Polish Jew who survived the Nazi death camps.
“At the end of the war, he made a break from a death march into the Bavarian woods. From his hiding place, he heard the rumbling sound of a tank,” recounted Mr Blinken.
He added: “He ran to the tank . . . an African-American GI looked down at him. He fell to his knees and said the only three words he knew in English that his mother had taught him: ‘God Bless America.’ The GI lifted him into the tank, into America, into freedom.”