‘Obama 2.0’: Joe Biden’s National Security Team Filled with Obama Administration Retreads

WASHINGTON, DC - FEBRUARY 09: US President Barack Obama speaks to the media during a meeti
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With President-elect Joe Biden’s national security team nearly filled out, one thing is clear — the incoming administration is looking at lot like Obama 2.0.

All Biden’s top national security picks are familiar faces from the last Democrat administration. Former Secretary of State John Kerry is now back as Biden’s international climate czar. Former Deputy Secretary of State Tony Blinken is back as the nominee for secretary of state.

Former National Security Adviser to the Vice President Jake Sullivan is coming back as Biden’s national security adviser. Former Deputy National Security Adviser Avril Haines is coming back as the nominee for director of national intelligence.

Former Assistant Secretary of State for African Affairs Linda Thomas-Greenfield is coming back as Biden’s U.S. ambassador to the United Nations. Former Central Command Commander Army Gen. (Ret.) Lloyd Austin has been nominated to become Biden’s defense secretary.

Even former National Security Adviser Susan Rice is back, although this time in a domestic policy capacity. So is former White House Chief of Staff and former Deputy National Security Adviser Denis McDonough — as Biden’s pick to run the Department of Veterans Affairs.

There may be even more Obama retreads. Axios reported this week that former U.S. Ambassador to the United Nations Samantha Power may be making a comeback as well.

Voices across the political spectrum are expressing their concerns about what Biden’s foreign policy will look like, given the legacy of the Obama administration.

“I think right now, what we’re looking at is a Biden administration that’s going to go right into Obama 2.0,” said Hal Lambert, founder and CEO of Point Bridge Capital and longtime Republican donor, on Newsmax. “They’re there, quite frankly as I’ve seen other people say, to manage the decline of the United States.”

Rachel Stohl, vice president of the nonpartisan Stimson Center, tweeted: “While I welcome the return of competent, compassionate leaders, we cannot settle for Obama 2.0 – especially when it comes to drones.”

The Obama administration entered the U.S. into an Iran nuclear deal that many Republicans criticized as weak and alienating to Middle East allies. The Obama administration also engaged in two new wars in Libya and Yemen. It withdrew but then was forced to resend U.S. troops to Iraq to fight the Islamic State to prevent the collapse of Baghdad. The Obama administration also continued the war in Afghanistan, despite pledging to end it. Obama also famously failed to reinforce his “red line” in Syria and dithered on providing lethal aid to Ukrainian forces after Russia invaded Ukraine.

In addition, the Obama administration’s much-vaunted “Asia pivot” — by which the U.S. would focus more of its time and resources on East Asia — never got off the ground, and the administration failed to stem China’s aggressiveness in the South China Sea. Chinese President Xi Jinping famously promised Obama that China would not militarize disputed land features in the body of water, only to build them into islands and place weapons on them.

Sen. Marco Rubio (R-FL), a China hawk, criticized Biden’s nominees and said he had “no interest in returning to the ‘normal’ that left us dependent on China.”

Sen. Tom Cotton (R-AR) also tweeted a screenshot of Biden’s op-ed in the Atlantic explaining his choice of Austin for defense secretary and highlighted that mention of “China” — the nation’s top national security threat — was nowhere to be found.

Even a Chinese propaganda outlet, the state-run Global Times, cheered Biden’s picks:

Biden’s cabinet picks are likely to take a more rational and pragmatic approach toward China, given their past experience in handling foreign affairs, Chinese observers noted. Despite the changing geopolitical environment, these veteran US officials are expected to return to conventional Democratic approaches to foreign affairs, which will be much more predictable, some observers said.

Blinken and Sullivan are more concerned about alliance than about the China policy, seeing alliance as a foreign policy priority for the next four years. They tend to see China as a “strategic competitor” rather than an “all-out enemy,” Da Wei, director of the Center for Strategic and International Security Studies of the University of International Relations in Beijing, told the Global Times on Tuesday.

Two conservative papers also speculated that Biden’s national security picks meant a return to the Obama-era policy.

The conservative paper Washington Times said in an editorial that it is “clear that as Biden fills out his roster, he would like nothing better than to return to the moment when Donald Trump dashed Democrats’ dreams by winning a chance to ‘make America great again.'”

“Once the past four years are history, he intends to press ‘restart’ on the Obama drama,” it said. “Rock fans will recall a line The Who made famous: “Meet the new boss, same as the old boss.” It came from a song titled ‘Won’t Get Fooled Again.’ Maybe we just did.”

Another conservative outlet, Washington Examiner, wrote in an editorial that Biden’s national security picks suggest three things.

“First, that Biden will desperately try to return America to the disastrous Iran nuclear deal. Second, that the European Union will be happy. Third, that Xi Jinping, the most powerful Chinese leader since Mao Zedong, is feeling pretty good right now,” it said.

There is also criticism from Biden’s left from those not thrilled with the prospect of an Obama 2.0 foreign policy.

Joshua Keating, a senior editor at the progressive outlet Slate wrote:

“So far, the members of Joe Biden’s foreign policy team are all veterans of Barack Obama’s administration. They’ve pledged to revive Obama-era initiatives like the Iran nuclear deal and the Paris climate agreement that Donald Trump tried to undo, as well as recommit to long-term U.S. alliances. Some U.S. foreign policy critics from the left and the libertarian right are less than fully enthusiastic about this team. They don’t particularly relish a return to the approach that led to the intervention in Libya, a ramped-up drone war, and a troop surge in Afghanistan, and are concerned that all the talk of ‘America is back‘ broadly suggests an embrace of the interventionist worldview that predated Trump.

Barbara Ransby, director of the Social Justice Initiative, to Democracy Now! criticized Biden’s picks as cosmetically diverse, but not ideologically diverse. She noted that Biden could have picked people who have been “international solidarity activists” as U.S. ambassador to the United Nations, instead of Linda Thomas-Greenfield.

Thomas-Greenfield is African American. However, Ransby said, “What concerns me also is the presentation of this as a cabinet as ‘firsts.’ … . I don’t necessarily just want people that look like me, I want people who are really going to make a difference.”

“Diversity is fine, it’s necessary…but it is woefully insufficient,” she said. “This kind of looks like Obama 2.0 in some respects.”


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