“Personnel is policy” is a decent maxim as a guide to indications as to the directions a new administration will take. A president-elect’s prospective appointees generally have histories and perspectives that are well-known. Whom he chooses tells us something about how he intends to govern.
I can’t imagine a better choice for Treasury Secretary than Janet Yellen. A gifted economist who knows her way around Washington, she is probably the most liberal individual Biden could have picked without risking potentially crippling pushback from Senate Republicans.
I’m less than enthusiastic about Biden’s foreign policy choices, which are completely unsurprising. (I would have loved to be surprised by, say, Connecticut’s Sen Chris Murphy, or by Ben Rhodes, deputy national security adviser under Obama.) Both Anthony Blinken and Jake Sullivan are charter members of the Washington foreign policy establishment, memorably nicknamed “the blob” by Ben Rhodes. The core belief of the blob is that the United States is the indispensable provider of global security and hence must maintain its worldwide military dominance. That premise, of course, tends to get us into lengthy, costly wars, as in Iraq and Afghanistan. It also requires the maintenance of a hugely bloated “defense” budget, much of which could better be spent on domestic needs.
Blinken recently expressed deep regret that the Obama administration had not acted more forcefully in the Syrian civil war. It’s not clear what Blinken had in mind, but if it was something other than a significant commitment of troops, with a potential for a military confrontation with Russia, I would be curious to hear from him. I would have been more reassured if he could express regret over his strong support for our disastrous intervention in Libya. Michele Flournoy, Biden’s reported choice for defense secretary, also supported the Libya misadventure, and, like Blinken, supported the invasion of Iraq and the Obama surge in Afghanistan. She has also criticized Obama’s restraint in Syria.
Of course, people change, and learn from their mistakes. I’m not too worried that a Biden administration will be eager for new overseas military action. (Biden himself opposed both the Afghanistan surge and the Libya intervention.) Certainly, the Biden foreign policy will be a vast improvement over “America First.” Still, I would have preferred surprise over predictability in Biden’s foreign policy choices.