By Jackson Richman
As President-elect Joe Biden forms his upcoming administration, certain positions should spark interest in the Jewish and pro-Israel community. Whoever is nominated would likely signal the direction that the next White House would take on issues relevant to America and Israel, anti-Semitism and the Iranian threat.
Already in place is a 13-member coronavirus task force made up of medical and health professionals. Biden has chosen as his chief of staff Ron Klain, 59, who was chief of staff for former Vice President Al Gore and for Biden when he was vice president in the Obama administration.
Klain, who is Jewish, was also charged with countering the Ebola breakout in the US in 2014.
Below are possible candidates for positions in a Biden administration:
US Secretary of State (requires Senate confirmation)
Chris Coons: The US senator from Biden’s home state of Delaware is on the Senate Foreign Relations Committee and has reportedly expressed interest in the job. Coons supported the Iran nuclear deal, but opposed the Obama administration’s abstention on the UN Security Council Resolution 2334 in December, 2016, condemning Israeli settlements, thereby allowing the resolution to pass.
Coons has cautioned against Israel possibly applying sovereignty to parts of the West Bank.
As someone known to work with both sides of the aisle, Coons would likely get confirmed even if the GOP maintains control of the Senate.
Tony Blinken: One of Biden’s senior foreign-policy advisers, Blinken was US deputy secretary of state and deputy national security advisor in the Obama administration. Beforehand, he was Biden’s national security advisor.
A GOP Senate would likely be receptive to Blinken, as he said during the campaign that a Biden administration would keep some US sanctions on Iran and reiterated Biden’s stance that the US would not return to the 2015 Iran nuclear deal unless Iran returned to compliance.
Tom Donilon: He served as former US President Barack Obama’s second national security advisor. In this role, he had a cordial relationship with Israel. If nominated, expect the GOP Senate to confirm this foreign policy veteran.
William Burns: Burns had a 33-year diplomatic career under Democratic and Republican administrations. Currently the president of the Carnegie Endowment for International Peace, in May, 2019, Burns wrote an opinion piece in the Washington Post slamming the Trump administration’s approach to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict before its peace plan was released the following January, saying that the White House’s approach “appear[s] to be animated by a set of terminally flawed assumptions and illusions.”
In August, however, Burns wrote that Israel and the United Arab Emirates normalizing ties was “a significant achievement, with considerable potential if — and it’s a big if — it is tethered to more serious diplomacy on either the Israeli-Palestinian issue or the challenge posed by Iran.”
Burns criticized the Trump administration’s effort to snapback UN sanctions against Iran as “not only silly, but guaranteed to further embarrass and isolate the US, further alienate our closest allies, and further risk collisions with Tehran.”
Those sanctions were ultimately snapped back after the US failed to get the UN Security Council to indefinitely extend the UN arms embargo on Iran.
Whether a GOP-controlled Senate would confirm Burns is hard to predict.
Susan Rice: If the GOP holds onto the Senate, Rice, who served as national security advisor in the Obama administration, won’t likely be a candidate due to Republican objections about her record from the controversy in the aftermath of the 2012 attack on a US diplomatic post in Benghazi, Libya, which left four Americans dead, to her record on Israel and Iran.
She withdrew from consideration to be the nation’s top diplomat during Obama’s second term due to the Benghazi controversy.
Secretary of Defense (requires Senate confirmation)
Michèle Flournoy: If confirmed, she would be the first female leader of the Pentagon. In an interview with the Jerusalem Post in 2018, she slammed President Trump for withdrawing US troops from Syria. She said that while the Trump administration had used strong rhetoric against Iran, it hasn’t really engaged on the ground in Syria to counter Iranian influence or to counter Shiite militias.
She added, “Who is looking out for Israeli interests in negotiations about a resolution in Syria? Someone needs to think about what will be on Israel’s borders in the end . . . Shiite militias with [Islamic Revolutionary Guards Corps] connections? Another Hezbollah? This would be unacceptable. So what will it look like?”
Flournoy, who declined an offer to be US deputy defense secretary under Trump, supported the Iran nuclear deal.
“The only thing that would be worse than a malign Iran across the region would be a nuclear-armed malign Iran across the region,” she continued. “For the decade of the deal, that is not going to happen.”
Ash Carter: He served in this role under Obama and had a cordial relationship with Israel, despite the Jewish state’s objections to the Iran nuclear deal. Carter was confirmed under a GOP-led Senate in 2015 before the deal was completed later that year.
Pete Buttigieg: The former mayor of South Bend, Ind., and Democratic presidential candidate was an intelligence officer in the US Navy Reserve, serving in Afghanistan for several months in 2014.
His stances on conditioning US assistance to Israel and calling the 2019 US recognition of the Golan Heights an “intervention in Israeli domestic politics” could hurt his chances of confirmation by a GOP-led Senate.
Tammy Duckworth: Currently a senator from Illinois, she is a US Army veteran who served during the Iraq War, suffering combat wounds that caused her to lose both of her legs and some mobility in her right arm. She was reportedly considered as a running mate for Biden.
Duckworth would more likely be considered to lead the US Dept. of Veterans Affairs, given her experience at the VA and her having served as the director of the Illinois Department of Veterans Affairs.
National Security Advisor (no Senate confirmation required)
Tony Blinken: While Biden’s top foreign-policy advisor during his campaign could be considered for secretary of state, it’s more likely he would be the top candidate for national security advisor.
Jake Sullivan: Sullivan succeeded Blinken as Biden’s national security advisor and, along with Burns and other senior US officials, reportedly met with Iranian officials in 2013 in order to foster a possible nuclear agreement with the regime. If Blinken becomes secretary of state, then Sullivan could be the frontrunner for national security advisor.
Ben Rhodes: If Blinken becomes secretary of state, expect Rhodes to be considered for national security advisor. During his time in the Obama administration, Rhodes was known to be responsible for creating an “echo chamber” to promote the Iran nuclear deal.
US Ambassador to the UN (requires Senate confirmation)
Pete Buttigieg: While he may be an unusual choice to be the US envoy to Turtle Bay, Buttigieg has been touted as someone getting a top position in a Biden administration. This may be the position he is rewarded with for dropping out of the Democratic presidential primary and endorsing Biden just before the Super Tuesday primaries in March.
Wendy Sherman: She has almost no chance of confirmation if the GOP holds onto its Senate majority, given Sherman’s major role behind the US nuclear deals with North Korea and Iran.
US Ambassador to Israel (requires Senate confirmation)
Robert Wexler: The former Florida congressman was reportedly considered for the role in the Obama administration. He campaigned for Biden. Wexler’s support for the Iran nuclear deal could give Republicans pause if they keep control of the Senate.
Norm Eisen: The Democratic counsel during the US House Judiciary Committee’s impeachment inquiry of Trump, Eisen served in the Obama administration as an ethics czar and US ambassador to the Czech Republic.
With strong ties to the Jewish and pro-Israel community, Eisen could be a contender for the role of US envoy to Israel if he’s not named to another prominent post, such as White House counsel.
A GOP-controlled Senate could reject Eisen solely because of his role during the impeachment inquiry.
Steve Israel: The former New York congressman campaigned for Biden and is respected on both sides of the partisan and ideological spectrum, including within the Jewish and pro-Israel community. However, even if a GOP-controlled Senate would confirm him, his opposition to the Iran nuclear deal could cause Biden to pass up on him.
Eliot Engel: After being upset in a primary earlier this year, Engel, chairman of the powerful US House Foreign Affairs Committee, will be unemployed for the first time in 21 years. As a strong Democratic ally of Israel, he could be in contention for the ambassador role and would likely be easily confirmed by a GOP-controlled Senate.