Washington The selection of Joe Biden as the next US ambassador to the United Nations, a veteran low-ranking officer in the diplomatic corps, reflects the president-elect’s intention to return to a more traditional role in the world body as well as to introduce an olive branch to the beleaguered diplomatic corps.
If the Senate agreed, neither Linda Thomas Greenfield would be the first African American nor the first woman, not even the first African American woman, to serve as the United States’ ambassador to the United Nations. But it is nonetheless a pioneering diplomat. Thomas Greenfield joined the State Department more than three decades ago, when black women were rarer in the US diplomatic service than they are today.
That makes it the most experienced diplomat of the six people Biden appointed to top positions in the national security arena on Monday. Her tenure at the State Department rivals that of former UN ambassadors such as Richard Holbrooke, John Negroponte and Thomas Pickering, all of whom are white.
Thomas Greenfield’s background places it well in implementing Biden’s goal of returning the United States to a role as a leading power in the global body, after four years of administration that had little benefit to multilateralism or international organizations.
“My mother taught me to lead with kindness and compassion to make the world a better place,” she said in a tweet on Monday. “I have carried this lesson with me throughout my career in the diplomatic service – and if confirmed, I will do the same as ambassador to the United Nations.”
Biden’s office on Monday announced his intent for Thomas Greenfield, who currently heads his State Department transition team, to keep the job at the rank of minister.
She is a 35-year-old veteran of the State Department, who served as ambassador to Liberia, director general of the diplomatic corps and chief diplomat in Africa before being forced out during the early months of the Trump administration.
While she would not be the first African American to serve as an American envoy to the United Nations – Andrew Young, who held the position during President Jimmy Carter’s administration, bears this distinction – Thomas Greenfield’s choice is a sign to Biden supporters that his diverse message and plan that raising the level of diplomats is not just talk.
Biden also appointed two white men, Anthony Blinken and Jake Sullivan, to senior positions in his administration – respectively, Secretary of State and National Security Adviser, so the appointment of Thomas Greenfield would provide balance. Susan Rice, who was also under consideration for the position of Secretary of State, was the first African-American woman to hold the United Nations position, but she was not a foreign service employee, even though she held a senior State Department position in President Bill Clinton’s administration.
Unlike the Secretary of State, the US ambassador to the United Nations is often the most well-known foreign policy portfolio in the presidential administration. The influence of these ambassadors has diminished and diminished depending on the nature of the president and secretary of state, but Democratic administrations have traditionally relied on them more than Republicans.
Thomas Greenfield’s direct ancestors – all women – have this split: Rice, Samantha Power, Nikki Haley and Kelly Craft.
When then-President-elect Barack Obama named Rice to the post after his election in 2008 and announced that the position would return to the cabinet after eight years during the George W. Bush administration, he did so at the same time he announced that the main contender, Hillary Clinton, would be his secretary of state.
At the United Nations, Rice was clearly influential in the Obama administration, and Bauer followed suit by replacing Rice when she was appointed National Security Adviser and kept the cabinet rank. Haley, the former governor of South Carolina, won some plaudits during Trump’s early years in office, but faced persistent reports of clashes with the president’s first secretary of state, Rex Tillerson. Kraft, by contrast, has played a far less important role since taking on the UN job.
Even before the move was announced publicly, the prospective nomination of Thomas Greenfield, along with Blinken’s, was welcomed by a number of former Democratic foreign policy appointees.
Former Secretary of State Madeleine Albright, whose consulting firm Albright Stonebridge, now nominated for her consulting firm, Albright Stonebridge, said Thomas Greenfield is a “worthy colleague and veteran diplomat who will restore the leadership of the United States and its cooperation at the United Nations.”
“That would be an exceptional team,” said Power. “(They) bring modesty, professionalism, judgment, and decades of foreign policy experience to these essential jobs. America will be of good service.”
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