No Refunds

In his Minneapolis Southwest High School senior yearbook, fellow students named Jake Sullivan, Joe Biden’s pick for national security advisor, “most likely to succeed.”

At 43, the wonkish Sullivan is the youngest in decades to serve as head of America’s national security—a pressure for which, a former schoolmate assures, Sullivan is worthy. 

Speaking to Minneapolis local media, Katy Sen recalled her English teacher’s revelation that only one of her earlier students could write a paper first time and without error, while his peers had to re-write their drafts—Jake Sullivan. 

Ms. Sen remembers Sullivan, one year her senior: “He’s just somebody that can handle pressure,” she said. “He just picks up on things quickly, and I think he just has this strong commitment to public service.” 

Sullivan has degrees in politics from Yale, and Oxford. At Yale Law, he edited the Yale Law Journal. Hillary Clinton, with whom he travelled to 112 countries, calls him “discreet, earnest, and brilliant.” 

A deputy chief of staff at the State Department under Obama, Sullivan climbed to then-Vice President Biden’s national security advisor, and now rests U.S. foreign policy on his shoulders. 

Like his prospective colleague, Tony Blinken, Biden’s secretary of state, Sullivan threads his hawkish tendencies with the prospects of middle-class Americans, but only insofar as he consults their opinions, and concludes their interests entwine with his own. 

Sullivan’s fundamental belief is that the interests of the American middle class are umbilical to a U.S. foreign policy in which America returns to the Obama era of “liberal interventionism.”

A report Sullivan co-authored for the Carnegie Endowment for International Peace spent two years asking middle-class Coloradoans, Nebraskans, and Ohioans how they thought U.S. foreign policy affected them. 

The findings recognize that globalization and trade policies have damaged the American middle class, but then claim:  

There is simply very little public support for Trump’s revolution in U.S. foreign policy and its call to turn back the clock on globalization and international trade, constrain legal immigration, gut foreign aid, abandon U.S. allies, or abdicate U.S. leadership on the global stage.

A better foreign policy, it states, preserves “trade openness” and “sustains U.S. leadership in the world” avoiding the “ambitious ends” of regime change and “transformation” of nations through military intervention—“transformation” perhaps a charitable description, if one is Iraqi, Libyan, or Afghani. 

Carnegie’s donors include Boeing, Northrop Grumman, the U.S. Navy, and Air Force, and the Defense Intelligence Agency, so, no surprise the report shapes its research to a predetermined outcome. 

Nebraskans, according to Carnegie, support peacetime defense spending (a majority of all Americans do) yet would sacrifice their own economic wellbeing in favor: “The need for a strong national defense overrode economic considerations for them,” the report states. 

Tony Blinken, as mentioned in an earlier piece, performs the same ritual of shaping research to one’s preconception, in his promise to better explain any future war to the American people, rather than avoid that war in the first place. 

President Trump wouldn’t be president without American-authored destruction in Iraq, Afghanistan, Libya, and Yemen.

As Hillary Clinton’s deputy chief of staff, Jake Sullivan helped craft Libyan policy which, in October 2011, took out Muammar Gaddafi, transforming the oil-rich and prosperous North African nation into a failed state riven by civil war. 

That intervention cost the lives of four Americans murdered by Islamic militants in Benghazi. 

Back in August 2011, Sullivan lauded his then-boss Hillary Clinton’s Libyan approach from “start to finish.”

“She was instrumental in securing the authorization, building the coalition, and tightening the noose around Gaddafi and his regime.”

A decade on, a once stable and prosperous Libya rumbles through anarchy and near destruction, with entire cities leveled, a thriving slave trade, and a migrant crisis. 

As Clinton’s 2016 foreign-policy brain, Sullivan crafted the “no regrets” line on Libya, saying Libya was not a “failure” but a “work in progress.”

A Biden presidency will place deeper impetus on its foreign agenda, given the likelihood of congressional reality blocking any consequential domestic ambitions.  

The New Yorker gushes at the prospect. Biden could be one of the “great foreign policy presidents.” A pillar of that greatness resting on restoring the Iran Nuclear Deal, which Sullivan and Blinken helped broker. 

President Trump junked that agreement in 2018 backed by Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.) who called it “a deeply flawed agreement.” 

Sullivan told Politico, a Biden Administration will “rally the rest of the world behind us” and pressure Iran back into “compliance” with the nuclear deal, an indication that President Trump’s unparalleled and unreported successes in brokering peace between a score of Arab nations and Israel are moot. 

In the eyes of the cognoscenti and of Democrats, Biden’s success rests on his dissolution of President Trump’s achievements. 

In late 2019, President Trump announced his intention to withdraw all U.S. troops from Syria, to a bipartisan shriek in Washington, D.C.

Although 49 percent of Americans agreed, a third did not, the bulk of that pro-war support coming from Democratic voters. Only 26 percent of Clinton 2016 voters joined overwhelming percentages of Republicans and Independents to support withdrawal, while 59 percent opposed. 

These figures are near-identical when considering Trump’s intention to halve the number of U.S. troops in Afghanistan. In 2011, 67 percent of Democrats supported removing U.S. troops from Afghanistan “as soon as possible.” 

Yet, the progressive wing Biden vanquished en route to the nomination, still occupies that anti-war sentiment of recent. Having unseated President Trump, the Bernie Sanders cadre now contends with Biden’s back-to-the-past foreign policy team—(a team of even greater consequence if, in January, Democrats fail to capture the Senate through Georgia.)

Without the Senate, the Bernie wing’s dream of a “FDR-sized” Biden presidency it helped craft is cast in concrete and shuffled overboard. 

Progressive Democrats might have deposed President Trump, but in return for their fealty they get little more than the muscular meddling of American adventurism in the Middle East, and domestic stalemate—conditions priming the Republican capture of the House in 2022, and President Trump’s return in 2024. No refunds. 

For Biden, and his hires Sullivan and Blinken, “America is back”—for those outside their milieu, that statement portends more dread than jubilation. 

About Christopher Gage

Christopher Gage is a British political journalist.

Photo: Mark Makela/Getty Images

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