WASHINGTON — Antony Blinken, tapped by President-elect Joe Biden to serve as America's 71st secretary of state, would carry the most valuable asset a diplomat can have when meeting other world leaders: the confidence of the U.S. president.
Biden and Blinken's history of working together since the early 2000s means America's allies and rivals will know that the person they are dealing with speaks for the president. That's not always the case.
President Donald Trump famously told his first secretary of state, Rex Tillerson, via tweet to stop "wasting his time trying to negotiate" with North Korean leader Kim Jong Un, a day after Tillerson spoke in Beijing about seeking talks with the regime. Five months later he was fired and Trump went on to meet with Kim.
And the brutal Democratic primaries between Barack Obama and Hillary Clinton in 2007 to 2008 fostered doubts early on about whether the former first lady and New York senator had the full confidence of the new president when he took office and she became his top diplomat.
Blinken, if confirmed by the Senate, won't face those hurdles.
"When he meets with world leaders, it will be incontrovertible that he will be speaking for a president for whom he's worked over the course of many years," said Robert Malley, president and chief executive officer of the International Crisis Group, who served in the Obama administration.
Biden praised Blinken on Tuesday for helping lead U.S. diplomatic efforts in the fight against Islamic State, managing alliances in Asia and addressing refugee issues during his time in the Obama administration. And he highlighted their close ties.
"Tony's been one of my closest and most trusted advisers," Biden said in introducing most of his national security team. "He will rebuild morale and trust in the State Department. And he starts off with the kind of relationships around the world that many of his predecessors have had to build over the years."
But that also means Blinken, 58, will carry some of the baggage that comes with Biden's almost five-decade history in politics, much of which was in the Senate, where he led the Foreign Relations Committee before serving as Obama's vice president.
Former Defense Secretary Robert Gates infamously said in his 2014 book that Biden was "wrong on nearly every major foreign policy and national security issue over the past four decades." During the 2020 campaign, Gates — who served as defense secretary to George W. Bush and Obama — apologized for that remark, calling it a "bad mistake."