Obama Aide Nominated as Kerry's No. 2 Compares U.S. Foreign Policy to It's a Wonderful Life
WASHINGTON -- Just 12 days after his boss nominated him to be No. 2 at the State Department, White House Deputy National Security Adviser Tony Blinken appeared before a Senate panel to argue that administration foreign policy strategies are working.
President Obama nominated Blinken, who's been active in Democratic Party politics since fundraising for Michael Dukakis in 1988, after Deputy Secretary of State Bill Burns, a diplomat for more than three decades, retired Nov. 3.
Blinken worked on the National Security Council in the Clinton administration, was staff director at the Senate Foreign Relations Committee when Obama and Joe Biden were senators, worked on Biden's 2008 presidential campaign and jumped on board Obama's transition team.
During his six years behind the scenes in the Senate, Blinken told the Foreign Relations Committee today, he watched lawmakers such as Richard Lugar (R-Ind.) and Chris Dodd (D-Conn.) "work together in the best tradition of bipartisan American foreign policy to strengthen American diplomacy and advance our interests and values around the world."
Blinken's father used to be ambassador to Hungary, his uncle was ambassador to Belgium and his wife, Evan Ryan, whom he met in the Clinton administration, was confirmed last year as assistant secretary of State for educational and cultural affairs. Ryan worked in communications for Secretary of State John Kerry's presidential campaign.
"For the past six years, I’ve relied on Tony in the White House, where I’ve come to have extraordinary respect for his knowledge, judgment, and inclusive approach to developing and implementing our foreign policy," Obama said in the Nov. 7 nomination announcement.
"I recognize that, if confirmed, I will play a different role. Part of my current job at the White House is to explain and defend this administration’s policies – including with Congress. If confirmed, my new job would bring a different responsibility – to work with this committee and the leadership of the State Department to advance our foreign policy and the national interest around the world," Blinken said today.
He proceded to list administration foreign policy accomplishments, from the recent climate-change deal with China to "American diplomacy in action" at the Africa Leaders Summit in Washington this summer.
"In a few weeks, just before Christmas, many of us will engage in an annual ritual: watching It’s a Wonderful Life on television. We all know what happened to Bedford Falls when George Bailey was out of the picture," Blinken said. "I think it is self-evident where the world would be without American leadership on all the challenges I just mentioned."
But some senators asserted that the administration policy, which Blinken helped forge and promote, was as much of a fantasy.
He could not assure Ranking Member Bob Corker (R-Tenn.) that Congress will get a say on any impending nuclear agreement with Iran.
"The moment you suspend sanctions you break apart the international coalition; they know that," Corker said. "Do you not think on the front end that Congress should play a role?"
Blinken said the administration would "effectively work together" with Congress to ensure the deal is implemented, adding there "may be schemes" in which "Congress acting in certain ways would be more effective."
"Right now it's going to be difficult to get where we want to go; as we speak we're not there," he said of nuclear negotiations ongoing in Vienna as the administration faces a Nov. 24 deadline.
"It's literally a minute to minute, hour to hour thing," Blinken added, promising in "days ahead we will continue to be in very close consultation" with lawmakers. "Any deal we achieve has to effectively cut off Iran's path to a bomb."
"The operative words here are 'good deal vs. bad deal,'" said Sen. Jim Risch (R-Idaho). "Our understanding of what a good deal is differed greatly from what the State Department's was… no deal is substantially better than a bad deal."
"Once that bad deal happens, you can't get genie back in the bottle."
Sen. Ben Cardin (D-Md.) pointedly asked Blinken, "Will you continue to speak up for Israel's obligation to defend its citizens?"
Blinken vowed the U.S. would "always be there" for Israel, "even if it's alone."
"To do something in a place of worship is even beyond the pale of what we've seen before," the nominee said of Tuesday's synagogue slayings, noting that "President Abbas condemned it."
"These murders represent the extremism that threatens to bring the region into a bloodbath," he said, pressing the administration's peace process. "Majorities want peace; we want to work toward that."
Sen. Ron Johnson (R-Wis.) asked, "Have you, have this administration learned from past mistakes?"
Johnson then reminded Blinken of his defense of Obama calling ISIS a JV team.