Will he play Lip Service as US Secretary of State?
By Ricky Browne
Antony Blinken appeared out of seemingly nowhere to become US President Joe Biden’s Secretary of State. As such he holds one of the most important US government posts, and is helping to direct American foreign policy in the post-Trump world.
Blinken has been a close national security and foreign policy adviser to Joe Biden for almost 20 years, and was in the situation room on the day that President Barack Obama and others watched US troops kill Osama bin Laden in Afghanistan.
Blinken, 59 years old, is fluent in French, once considered the language of diplomats. Having lived in Paris as a child, he speaks the language with barely an accent.
Blinken comes from a wealthy background, growing up in Manhattan’s Upper East Side and then in Paris. In New York he went to Dalton, an exclusive private prep school and in Paris attended École Jeannine Manuel, a bilingual school. For university he went to Harvard University for his first degree, followed by the Colombia Law School.
JEWISH SECRETARIES OF STATE
Blinken’s maternal grandparents were Hungarian Jews, and his stepfather Samuel Pisa was a Polish Jew who survived the Holocaust.
Blinken is the second Jewish person to be US Secretary of State, since Henry Kissinger under Richard Nixon’s administration in 1973 – unless you count Madeline Albright, who was Secretary of State under Bill Clinton.
Albright, the first woman to be US Secretary of State, was Jewish on both sides of her family, but expressed surprise when this was reported on by The Washington Post. Three of her grandparents were killed in the Holocaust, but she was brought up as a Roman Catholic and then switched to the Episcopalian Church.
But even if you do count Albright, Blinken — the 71st US Secretary of State — would be the second person who is Jewish by both origin and religion to hold the office.
RELATIONSHIP WITH BIDEN
Blinken was an aide for Biden for years, including six years for Biden in the senate, and also when he was Vice President to Obama. He also served as deputy secretary of state under the Obama administration.
Given such a long association, Biden and Blinken are considered to have a ‘mind meld’ when it comes to matters of foreign policy.
His family has long been associated with foreign policy under Democrat presidents. His father served as US ambassador to Hungary during the Clinton administration, while his uncle served as US ambassador to Belgium. His stepfather, a holocaust surviver, was previously an adviser to President John F, Kennedy, and also advised French presidents.
Had he not gone into diplomacy, Blinken reportedly wanted to be a filmmaker. Alternately, he may have become a rock star. He has three songs on Spotif yunder his band’s name ABlinken (sounds like Abe Lincoln) – including Patience and Lip Service. The lyrics to the second of these songs is a departure from the more buttoned-up approach of most foreign secretaries in their day jobs.
The song is about a romantic encounter, and contains the line:
“and then I came onto you but you said let’s just be friends, baby, baby lip service tonight.”
Hopefully he want be as restricted in talking to other states, as one line in the song suggests”: “I wanted to tell you, but I was so afraid.”
The lyric “I’m ready to surrender”, is another line that could cause consternation in some circles.
The song has a certain Lola quality to it and can be heard on YouTube here: https://music.youtube.com/watch?v=bqb7AQ3u2x8&list=RDAMVMbqb7AQ3u2x8
The song has had at least 40,000 views on YouTube, earning 620 likes and about 85 dislikes.
Inexplicably, comments to the song were turned off.
But that wasn’t the case for another video of him singing I’m a Hoochie Coochie Man with a band in a Washington bar. The video was almost as popular on YouTube as the Lip Service tune, earning 29,111 views, with 275 likes and 22 dislikes.
“Hell to the year! Our Sec of State is a rocker” wrote Jackson Champeau in the comments.
Other’s expressed concern over how he played the guitar, “He’s a lefty?” asked Basit Shabbir.
Other’s were concerned about his possible cultural insensitivity. “Where’s the outrage over Tony’s use of BlackVoice? How dare an Anglo exploit The Blues with such an insensitive caricature?” said C F in a comment.
Blinken’s world view is strongly influenced by the Holocaust, which his stepfather survived. One story he has told frequently was reported by the Jewish Insider:
“One day as they were hiding out, they heard this deep rumbling sound, and as my stepfather looked out, he saw a sight that he had never seen before — not the dreaded Iron Cross, not a swastika, but on a tank a five-pointed white star. And, maybe in a foolhardy way, he rushed out toward it. He knew what it was. And he got to the tank, the hatch opened up, and a large African American G.I. stared down at him. And he got down on his knees and he said the only three words that he knew in English, that his mother had taught him before the war: ‘God bless America.’ And at that point, the G.I. lifted him into the tank, into freedom, into America. That’s the story that I grew up with — about what our country is and what it represents, and what it means when the United States is engaged and leading.”
Blinken is the cofounder of WestExec Advisors, a consulting firm that is built on a foundation of international affairs experience. The company was created in 2017, at the end of the Obama administration.
HAWK OR DOVE?
In a tweet on April 30, Blinken said: “America is back. As@POTUS said, “America is rising anew. Choosing hope over fear. Truth over lies. Light over darkness.” This spirit of hope and revitalization has driven the first 100 days of our foreign policy and will continue to do so.”
But some may wonder if it ever really left – though the language may be now more measured, will there be any radical change in policy?
It appears that Blinken will err more to the hawk side than dove side, continuing the Trump policy in some ways (speaking tough with states like Iran and Venezuela), talking tougher with states like Russia and China and trying to strengthen relationships with long-time allies in Europe.
About Russia, Blinken said in February “the days of the United States rolling over in the face of Russia’s aggressive actions… are over.” He added on an interview with the BBC, that the US “will respond” if Russia “acts recklessly or aggressively”. That would be a departure, not only from Trump, but also from Obama, who didn’t react strongly against Russia taking back Crimea from the Ukraine under his administration.
On China he recently said that countries should be careful about the nature of Chinese investment – which sounds like a continuation of the Trump policy, where countries were advised not to allow Huawei to invest in their communications infrastructure, for example.
“Whenever anyone tries to undermine [the rules-based international system] by not playing by the rules; by not making good on commitments it’s made, then we will stand up and say ‘no, we don’t accept that,’” Blinken said in his BBC interview.
In a statement on his Twitter account in January, Blinken said: “The sweeping arrests of pro-democracy demonstrators are an assault on those bravely advocating for universal rights. The Biden-Harris administration will stand with the people of Hong Kong and against Beijing’s crackdown on democracy.” But little has happened since then of the American side.
Relations with the UK may be at arms’ length. A trade deal agreement between the US and UK “could take some time”, he said today. Northern Ireland is a primary consideration.
On Iran, he said he didn’t know if the country was serious about containing its nuclear ambitions.
Overall, it appears that Blinken’s main priorities will be maintaining relations with allies in Europe, containing Russia and China ambitions and dealing with the Arabian situation.
That could mean that the US will continue to side-line the rest of the developing world, including Africa, Latin America and the Caribbean. Asia may only get attention linked with the policy decisions of China.
So, by and large, it appears that US Foreign Policy won’t be much different from previous policy – and will kick the can of development issues in what used to be called the Third World – further down the road, by sticking to familiar territory.
In February, Blinken tweeted: “It is more important than ever that the U.S. shows up and leads — the well-being of the American people hangs in the balance. As I close on my first full week @StateDept, I am honored and humbled by how the team is hitting the ground running.”
Like the Trump era, it appears that US foreign policy will continue to be about “America first”.