Beijing, Blinken said, “Warily guards against the growing pull of extremist ideology among its youth.”
That deluded praise stood and stands in stark contrast with the terrible reality of China’s counterterrorism strategy. A reality of concentration camps, forced sterilization, forced relocation, and servile labor. True, the massive scale of those abuses was not fully clear in 2015. But it was nevertheless apparent and should have been deeply concerning. Blinken, with his TS-SCI+ security clearance, should never have offered those comments. Nor should he have praised, in that same statement, China’s “ambitious plans to advance Asian connectivity through overland and maritime routes. It’s committed tens of billions of dollars to building roads and rails to better connect its factories and markets in Asia and Europe,” and “Its development of infrastructure in Central Asia can be fully complementary to our own efforts.”
This is rare delusion — a denial of reality which suggests ignorance as to the nature of the Chinese Communist Party threat. Not, then, a good recipe for America’s next chief diplomat. The basic point Blinken should have grasped long ago: Xi Jinping has never sought to complement or cooperate with the U.S.-led liberal international order. Instead, Xi’s sustaining record attests to an effort to displace that order with one which serves the Chinese Communist Party in exclusion of all others.
Perhaps Blinken has learned some lessons since the Obama era. In a 2016 speech, Blinken made good points on the pressure points that the U.S. can impose on China vis-a-vis the deployment of a more advanced missile defense system to South Korea. Notably, however, as with other Obama administration officials, he was reluctant to reference the U.S. military role in upholding international order (he mentioned the Navy only once — nor did he admit the terrible underfunding of the Navy that the Obama administration presided over).
This matters because the U.S. military is the most potent pressure point against Beijing’s strategic ambition. Moreover, Blinken’s record leads me to believe that China will fare well when it tries, and tries hard, to quickly suck the Biden administration back into the Obama-era appeasement circuit. Certainly, Secretary of State Blinken’s selection will meet the same warmth in Beijing that accommodates Biden’s national security adviser Jake Sullivan.
How about Blinken’s record on Russia?
In November 2014, months after Russia had invaded Ukraine and seized Crimea, and after GRU-directed and armed rebels had downed a passenger airliner and let its innocent passengers rot, Blinken was asked in Congress whether the Obama administration would provide lethal aid to Ukraine.
Blinken responded, “The question of defensive lethal assistance has never been off the table. It remains on the table. It’s something that we’re looking at, and, indeed, the vice president will be in Ukraine in the next few days, and I’m sure that will be a topic of discussion.”
That vice president was, of course, Joe Biden. And for all the Russian assaults on Ukrainian positions that preceded and succeeded Blinken’s words, that lethal aid never arrived. Until, that is, President Trump entered office. This is not to suggest that Blinken alone is responsible for the failure to support Ukraine against external aggression. Or to assert that Trump’s Ukraine record is stellar — he blew that record with his shakedown of President Volodymyr Zelensky. But it does give one example as to why foreign adversaries will sense greater opportunity with a Secretary of State Blinken than they do with Secretary of State Mike Pompeo.
Another concerning example of Blinken’s foreign policy toward Russia comes with his record on Syria.
Perhaps the greatest foreign policy stain on the Obama administration, the Syrian civil war has cost hundreds of thousands of innocent civilian lives since it began in 2011. But rather than act to pressure the Russian intervention in support of Bashar Assad, an intervention which turned the war in Assad’s favor at terrible cost to its people, Blinken joined the Obama administration’s chorus of dithering. Red lines were ignored by America, instead painted by Vladimir Putin and Assad in civilian blood and lung matter. And at the cost of America’s global credibility.
Blinken never seemed to get the strategic reality or its costs here. Shortly after the ISIS November 2015 Paris terrorist attacks, then-Deputy Secretary of State Blinken suggested that Putin’s Syrian engagement would leave him no choice but to compromise on Assad’s future. Considering that Blinken had access to the best U.S. intelligence reports, that suggestion was as idiotic in 2015 as it is today. Putin has never seen his Syrian intervention through its own national prism but as a stepping stone to a far broader Middle Eastern agenda. This should have been obvious.
Quick take: Team Biden doesn’t look like it’s going to be to China and Russia what the Truman administration was to the Soviet Union.