Mr. Biden’s Director of National Intelligence Avril Haines and Secretary of State-nominee Antony Blinken are veterans of the Obama administration, while Defense Secretary-nominee Lloyd J. Austin III was appointed by President Barack Obama as chief of the Pentagon’s Central Command. Yet the nominees found broad areas of agreement with Republican senators who were Trump administration loyalists.
Mr. Blinken, who for decades has been Mr. Biden’s chief foreign policy adviser, told Sen. Lindsey O. Graham (R-S.C.) that he agreed with the outgoing administration’s determination that China’s repression of its Uighur minority constituted genocide and that any U.S. agreement with the Afghan Taliban should be “conditions-based.” He assured Sen. Ted Cruz (R-Tex.) that the United States would leave its embassy to Israel in Jerusalem and seek to prevent the completion of the Nord Stream 2 pipeline from Russia to Germany. In response to Sen. Marco Rubio (R-Fla.), Mr. Blinken called Venezuelan ruler Nicolás Maduro “a brutal dictator” and said the new administration would continue to recognize opposition leader Juan Guaidó as the country’s rightful leader.
More important, the incoming Democratic officials confirmed a bipartisan consensus about the mounting challenge to the United States from China. “President Trump was right in taking a tougher approach on China,” said Mr. Blinken, later adding that Republican Sen. Mitt Romney (Utah) had been prescient in seeing “the challenge presented by Russia across a whole series of fronts.” Ms. Haines said “China is a challenge to our security, to our prosperity, to our values across a range of issues” and pledged to Sen. Ben Sasse (R-Neb.) to “make it a priority from my perspective to make sure we are allocating the right resources” to it.
Mr. Blinken stressed that he disagreed with Mr. Trump’s tactics for addressing Beijing. But on that, too, he may find agreement with many Republicans, who quietly squirmed when the former president heaped praise on Xi Jinping and Vladimir Putin and excused or ignored their human rights crimes. Mr. Trump vetoed bipartisan congressional legislation mandating an end to U.S. support for Saudi Arabia’s intervention in Yemen; Mr. Blinken said the new administration would act on that “in very short order.” For her part, Ms. Haines said the intelligence community would comply with another law defied by Mr. Trump, which mandates a public report on who in the Saudi regime was responsible for the murder of journalist Jamal Khashoggi.
The greatest area of potential disagreement between the Biden administration and congressional Republicans, judging from the hearings, is policy toward Iran. Mr. Blinken confirmed that if Iran came back into compliance with the nuclear accord repudiated by Mr. Trump, the United States would, as well. However, both he and Ms. Haines said they believed Iranian compliance was “a long way” off; and Mr. Blinken offered none of the Obama administration’s hope for Iranian moderation, agreeing that Tehran remained the world’s greatest sponsor of terrorism and should face sanctions accordingly.
No doubt Republicans will find other objections to Mr. Biden’s foreign policy. But there is a clear basis for bipartisan agreement on the need for the United States to stand up to China, as well as Russia and other autocracies — and on the principle that coddling their dictators is not the way to go about it.