Who is on Biden’s foreign-policy team, and what are their positions?

According to a Politico article in June, the Biden campaign’s foreign-policy apparatus has expanded to more than 1,000 people.

U.S. Vice President Joe Biden gestures after disembarking from a plane upon landing at Ben Gurion International Airport in Lod, near Tel Aviv, Israel March 8, 2016 (photo credit: REUTERS/BAZ RATNER)
U.S. Vice President Joe Biden gestures after disembarking from a plane upon landing at Ben Gurion International Airport in Lod, near Tel Aviv, Israel March 8, 2016
(photo credit: REUTERS/BAZ RATNER)
WASHINGTON – With 106 days to go until the US presidential election, both candidates are mostly invested in domestic issues and debating the COVID-19 response, the economy and race relations.
But like any other presidential campaign, foreign policy is expected to be a significant part of the debate as well. China policy is the most crucial foreign-policy issue this election cycle, given the COVID-19 pandemic, trade tensions and fears over personal-data and intellectual-property theft. Other issues, such as Middle East policy, with a focus on Iran, are also expected to shape the foreign-policy debate between President Donald Trump and former vice president Joe Biden.
According to a Politico article in June, the Biden campaign’s foreign-policy apparatus has expanded to more than 1,000 people. The top adviser is Tony Blinken, who has been with Biden for 20 years. In the early 2000s, Blinken was appointed as the staff director for the US Senate Foreign Relations Committee while Biden was its chairman.
In 2009, when Biden was vice president, Blinken served as his national security adviser. He later became deputy national security adviser from 2013-2015 under president Barack Obama and deputy secretary of state from 2015-2017.
Early in Biden’s primary campaign, Blinken was tapped to lead his foreign-policy team as the top adviser. Experts in Washington speculate that if Biden gets elected, Blinken would probably hold one of the administrations’ senior positions, either as secretary of state or as national security adviser.
In recent weeks, Blinken addressed the US-Israel relationship several times and said Biden as president would keep disputes with Israel out of public view.
“Joe Biden believes strongly in keeping your differences as far as possible between friends, behind doors, maintaining as little distance in public as possible,” he said in a webinar organized by a pro-Israel Democratic Party group, Democratic Majority for Israel.
Blinken reiterated Biden’s commitment to resuming assistance to the Palestinians, adding that he would abide by congressional restrictions conditioning much of the aid on the Palestinian Authority ending payments to Palestinians who have killed or wounded Americans and Israelis. He repeated Biden’s position that he would not condition aid to Israel.
“He is resolutely opposed to it,” Blinken said. “He would not tie military assistance to Israel to any political decisions it makes, full stop.”
Last month, he said Biden “would not tie military assistance to Israel to things like annexation or other decisions by the Israeli government with which we might disagree.”
Another long-time Biden associate is Jake Sullivan. He was instrumental in shaping the 2015 Iran nuclear deal. In an op-ed for NowThis News in January, Sullivan defended the agreement.
“Under the deal, Iran’s nuclear program was in a box, it was frozen,” he wrote. “Under the deal, there were no rocket attacks killing Americans in Iraq… Today, Iran is attacking shipping in the Gulf and threatening the rest of the region.”
Sullivan has gone a long way with Biden and Hillary Clinton. He advised Clinton during her 2008 primary bid and later Obama in his general-election bid. When Clinton was appointed secretary of state, Sullivan served as her deputy chief of staff and director of policy planning. When Clinton left the administration during Obama’s second term, he served as Biden’s top security aide. In 2016, he again advised Clinton during her presidential campaign.
Sullivan and two other former officials, ambassador to Israel Dan Shapiro and under secretary of state Wendy Sherman, are playing a role in shaping the Democratic Party’s foreign-policy platform. They were appointed in January by Democratic National Committee chairman Tom Perez.
Last week, the committee advanced a draft of the foreign-policy chapter, which expresses “ironclad” commitment to maintain military assistance to Israel while opposing the annexation of parts of the West Bank. It was approved by unanimous consent. A final vote on the entire platform is expected on July 27.
The draft reiterates the US commitment to maintaining a “qualitative military edge” as a part of the 2016 Memorandum of Understanding (MOU). Additionally, it supports a negotiated two-state solution “that ensures Israel’s future as a Jewish and democratic state with recognized borders and upholds the right of Palestinians to live in freedom and security in a viable state of their own.”
The document also notes the party’s opposition to “any unilateral steps by either side – including annexation – that undermine prospects for two states.”
“We believe that while Jerusalem is a matter for final status negotiations, it should remain the capital of Israel, an undivided city accessible to people of all faiths,” it reads. “Democrats will restore US-Palestinian diplomatic ties and critical assistance to the Palestinian people in the West Bank and Gaza, consistent with US law.”
Additionally, it states that the party opposes any effort “to unfairly single out and delegitimize Israel, including at the United Nations or through the Boycott, Divestment, and Sanctions Movement [BDS], while protecting the Constitutional right of our citizens to free speech.”
Michele Flournoy, who served as under secretary of defense for policy in the Obama administration, is also close with Biden circles, and Washington think-tankers mention her name as a possible secretary of defense if Biden gets elected.
“The next five years will be pivotal for US national security,” Flournoy wrote in an op-ed that she co-authored last month for the Defense One website.
“The coronavirus pandemic lays bare the fragility of our health security,” she wrote. “Climate change threatens generations of Americans. We must build a new American foreign policy fitted to the global challenges we face.”
Carlyn Reichel, Biden's foreign policy speechwriter from 2015 to 2017, and Brian McKeon, a longtime adviser to the former VP, are also involved in foreign policy matters. McKeon has been working with Biden on and off since 1988 on various roles. While Biden was VP, he served as his deputy national security adviser from 2009 to 2012, where he advised on all national and homeland security matters.
Jonathan Schanzer is a senior vice president at the Foundation for Defense of Democracies (FDD) think tank in Washington. If Biden is elected, he would focus on domestic affairs, with American politics likely still contentious and in disarray, along with a pandemic that may still linger, he told The Jerusalem Post.
“Biden would thus resemble Obama or [former president] George W. Bush, who were intent upon addressing challenges at home,” he said. “But with Obama and Bush, challenges abroad soon took precedence. It was the contours of those challenges – 9/11, the Arab Spring, the Iran nuclear program – that ultimately drove their policy responses. Biden should brace for a similar disruption.”
 China and Iran will lead the schedule on foreign policy, Schanzer said.
“Recently, the Palestinian-Israeli conflict has dominated headlines, suggesting that it could be a major issue in a future Biden presidency,” he said. “But this issue is far less compelling when compared to the aggressive rise of China and the specter of a nuclear Iran. From the perspective of national security, it simply does not have the same urgency.”
Currently, there are debates within the Biden camp between centrist and progressive advisers, Schanzer said.
“The end result of these debates could ultimately determine Biden’s Iran policy, particularly whether to reenter the deeply flawed 2015 nuclear deal or find another path,” he said. “Another debate between isolationists and globalists is also taking place. It is probably too soon to know the outcome of these debates.”
FDD scholars have had the opportunity to engage with advisers within the Biden camp on a range of national security issues, Schanzer said, adding: “Thus far, those discussions have been heartening.”