President-elect Joe Biden appoints diplomat Linda Thomas-Greenfield as US Ambassador to the United Nations, as his administration begins its project to restore US world leadership.
Thomas-Greenfield had a decades-long career in the United States Foreign Service, as United States Ambassador to Liberia and later as US Assistant Secretary of State for African Affairs during the second term of the administration of Barack Obama. At the start of the Trump administration, President Donald Trump’s new leadership at the State Department tried to push her, part of a larger purge of career foreign service officials. Thomas-Greenfield retired in September 2017. She led the Africa practice at Albright Stonebridge Group, a company headed by former Secretary of State Madeline Albright.
“We have no time to waste when it comes to our national security and our foreign policy,” President-elect Joe Biden said on Monday in a statement announcing the key members of his foreign policy and national security team. “I need a team ready from day one to help me reclaim America’s place at the head of the table, rally the world to tackle the biggest challenges we face and do advance our security, prosperity and values. This is the heart of this team. “
Thomas-Greenfield still faces Senate confirmation, but bringing in a veteran like her to represent the United States at the UN indicates the new Biden administration is counting on seasoned leadership to help mend some of the diplomatic ties America’s strained. Thomas-Greenfield had also recently co-wrote an editorial in Foreign Affairs on how to restore the State Department, including the rehabilitation of the Foreign Service ranks, that were exhausted under Trump.
In this editorial, Thomas-Greenfield and fellow diplomat William J. Burns called out the lack of diversity within the US diplomatic corps. “A national security crisis.“The appointment of Thomas-Greenfield, a black woman, appears to be a step towards this goal, and the commitment of the Biden-Harris administration to a cabinet that looks like America.
Trump made the UN-US relationship even more difficult. Biden is looking to bring back some stability.
Some American presidents have had better relations with the United Nations than others. But Trump’s was particularly strained, especially since he withdrew from multilateral agreements like the Paris climate accords, and later, from the first UN health agency, the World Organization. of health. Oh, and all that “America First” talk at the UN General Assembly hasn’t helped.
Yet Trump’s first ambassador to the UN, former South Carolina Governor Nikki Haley, has managed to strike a balance between Trump’s “America First” worldview and a Republican foreign policy. more traditional, and found constructive workplaces at the United Nations, including on United Nations reform. But Haley was replaced by Kelly Craft, the former U.S. Ambassador to Canada and a major GOP donor, who had limited foreign policy experience. The UN Ambassador, who was a Cabinet post during Haley’s tenure, did not stay that way during Craft’s time at the UN.
Biden is once again raising the UN Ambassador to Cabinet, the transition confirmed in their announcement of Thomas-Greenfield’s appointment. It is a sign of a re-engagement with multilateral institutions.
Thomas-Greenfield’s appointment also reflects Biden’s rhetoric on the importance of re-engaging American alliances and partners. Thomas-Greenfield has deep diplomatic experience, someone who will come into the job understanding the compromises needed in a bureaucratic body like the United Nations and what the United States needs to do to start rebuilding trust in multilateral institutions.
And the challenges that the next American ambassador to the UN will face are enormous. The United Nations just celebrated its 75th anniversary this year, meeting remotely due to the Covid-19 pandemic. The UN has sometimes struggled to cope with this unprecedented moment of a global pandemic and economic crises, both have halted (and in some cases even reversed) progress on poverty, hunger and inequality. Climate catastrophe is still looming, as are conflicts in places like Yemen, Syria, and now Ethiopia.
Beyond, China took advantage of the vacuum in US leadership at the United Nations during Trump’s tenure, something a new Biden administration will now have to navigate as it embarks on its comprehensive rehabilitation project.
A Biden administration means the United States is more likely to become a reliable partner on issues such as climate change and global health. This brings some stability back to the United Nations – although normalcy is probably still a long way off.