Tony Blinken fails up

Tony Blinken, President-elect Joe Biden's nominee for secretary of state, with then Secretary of State John Kerry at the State Department in Washington in 2016 (SIPA USA)

Michael F. Brown

The Electronic Intifada   /  November 24, 2020

President-elect Joe Biden will nominate Tony Blinken, his long-time foreign policy and national security adviser, to be his secretary of state.

Blinken and Biden both supported the 2003 US invasion of Iraq, perhaps the most catastrophic policy decision since the US war on Vietnam.

The New York Times – whose bogus reporting on “weapons of mass destruction” paved the way for the Iraq war – is describing Blinken as “a centrist with a streak of interventionism.” That perfectly encapsulates the kind of respectable Ivy League warmongering that passes for foreign policy “expertise” in Washington.

Blinken has been involved in other disasters: He supported the 2011 US war on Libya, which through (as usual) a series of unanticipated consequences turned the country into a failed state with open slave markets.

He then played a key role in pushing the Obama administration to arm rebel groups in Syria as part of an effort to bring about regime change, fuelling a proxy war that displaced millions of people.

Many of those US-supplied weapons ended up in the hands of Al-Qaida.

Too often Democrats fail up rather than face career consequences for their deadly decisions. Medea Benjamin, a cofounder of Codepink, rightly notes there seem only to be “rewards” for “supporting the worst foreign policy disaster in modern history” in Iraq.

Matt Duss, who advises Senator Bernie Sanders on foreign policy, however, praised the choice, maintaining that Blinken has “regularly engaged with progressive grassroots.”

This is not the Duss I recall meeting in Washington, DC, some 13 years ago. Trying to market Blinken to progressives won’t fly with those who recall his teaming with Biden to push the Iraq war.

I don’t know if Duss is seeking a job at the State Department but, if he is, this is a tweet from weakness rather than strength.

It is true that in many ways Blinken will appear less toxic than Mike Pompeo, Foggy Bottom’s current principal occupant.

But make no mistake, Blinken will bring his own worldview, biases and interventionist tendencies that Duss and progressives should not overlook.

These biases will have profound implications for Palestinians.

On Palestinian rights, Biden and Blinken will too often overlap with the most supportive administration of Israeli expansionism in US history.

Blinken is not going to urge Biden to reverse US recognition of Jerusalem as Israel’s capital or move the US embassy back to Tel Aviv. Biden, in fact, has already said the embassy is staying put.

Now that President Donald Trump has fulfilled much of Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s wish list, Blinken is unlikely to press the Israeli government on how it is going to ensure freedom and equal rights for Palestinians.

Those who happily fund Israeli segregationists – as Blinken touts – generally don’t press hard to end discriminatory practices.

Yes, Blinken may turn out to accept the boycott, divestment and sanctions movement for Palestinian freedom and equal rights as a free speech right.

US law is quite plain on that front and the Democratic Party platform accepts free speech – even on BDS – as a constitutional right.

That said, Biden and Blinken can be expected to continue in Trump-like fashion to conflate the movement’s calls for equal rights for Palestinians with anti-Semitism. Instead, on the first day, Blinken should reverse Pompeo’s designation of BDS as “anti-Semitic.” But I don’t see him doing this.

They are less likely to criticize human rights groups for limited embraces of BDS as Pompeo has recently done, but they will seek – like Pompeo – to discredit the Palestinian-led nonviolent movement.

US policy will continue to oppose Palestinian violence and nonviolence; the only “good” Palestinian in US eyes being one who accepts the status quo and engages in fake “state-building” efforts in lieu of seeking actual liberation.

Blinken will look assiduously for the next Salam Fayyad. But this US-led charade shouldn’t be allowed a second round. Institutions are important, but freedom comes first.

I see no capacity in Blinken to stand up to Netanyahu or to tell the truth to Americans about the apartheid reality Israel has constructed for Palestinians.

Blinken, I expect, will not tread the apartheid ground that even John Kerry weakly broached as Barack Obama’s secretary of state.

In May, Blinken told the lobby group Democratic Majority for Israel during an online event that Biden “would not tie military assistance to Israel to any political decisions that it makes, period, full stop.”

There could not be a clearer signal to Netanyahu that he is dealing with an incoming administration that has no real intention to stop Israeli expansionism.

Will Blinken and Biden speak out against settlement expansion? Yes. Will they take concrete action against it? Blinken’s reassurances to DMFI makes clear that they won’t.

More progressive alarm

Reacting to news of Blinken’s nomination, Congresswoman Rashida Tlaib noted that Pompeo “has moved to suppress BDS, a peaceful protest movement protected by the First Amendment.”

“I hope that Mr. Blinken and President-elect Biden’s administration will change course from Trump’s State Department and not target or suppress support of Palestinian human rights,” she added.

She was immediately accused of anti-Semitism by some who pretend to be unaware that the free speech right most in jeopardy in the US is the right to call for boycotts to hold Israel accountable for its violations of Palestinian rights.

More than 200 bills have been introduced around the country to try to limit that right, and 30 states have legislation in effect.

Advocates for an expansionist Israel have grown used to Trump making real their apartheid fantasies. Now they will double down on the practice of slandering as an anti-Semite anyone who so much as nods toward freedom and equal rights for Palestinians.

The most openly discriminatory and white supremacist White House in decades has tried to smooth the way for this anti-Palestinian approach by endlessly conflating equal rights for Palestinians with anti-Semitism. It can’t be allowed to take hold, but it’s highly doubtful Biden and Blinken have the principles necessary to denounce the practice.

If the way Americans look at Israel’s actions is to change then progressives must be forceful in highlighting the anti-Palestinian animus and discrimination at the heart of the last four years of Trump-Netanyahu policies. And then they must press Biden and his team with the same sort of intensity they brought to bear against Trump.

Anything less would be to fail to learn the lessons of the Obama administration, namely that Democrats must be pushed on Palestinian rights as they won’t do the right thing of their own volition.

Michael F. Brown is an independent journalist; his work and views have appeared in The International Herald Tribune,, The San Diego Union-TribuneThe News & ObserverThe Atlanta Journal-ConstitutionThe Washington Post and elsewhere