The Washington PostDemocracy Dies in Darkness

Opinion Here’s a change: A national security team with integrity, experience and skill

Linda Thomas-Greenfield, President-elect Joe Biden's choice to become the next U.S. ambassador to the United Nations, speaks in Wilmington, Del., on Tuesday. (Joshua Roberts/Reuters)

PRESIDENT-ELECT Joe Biden’s choices for his national security team will please those who hope, as we do, that he will quickly replace President Trump’s chauvinist and self-defeating “America First” policies with a return to liberal internationalism, with its focus on building and leading alliances and promoting democratic values. But the nominations also ought to encourage anyone who values experience, expertise, integrity and fundamental competence in U.S. government leaders.

The last two men Mr. Trump installed as directors of national intelligence were partisan hacks who devoted themselves to purging his perceived enemies and releasing classified information that the president thought bolstered his conspiracy theories — regardless of the cost to U.S. intelligence operations. The successor nominated by Mr. Biden, Avril D. Haines, is a thoroughgoing professional who served as the CIA’s deputy director and as deputy national security adviser under President Barack Obama.

Mr. Trump’s second secretary of state, Mike Pompeo, boasted about his “swagger” as he alienated the United States from its closest allies, disregarded congressional mandates and dismissed an inspector general who investigated his use of department resources for personal ends. His nominated successor, Antony Blinken, a former deputy secretary of state, is a thoughtful and soft-spoken consensus-builder who already has strong relationships in foreign capitals and in Congress.

Mr. Trump’s first national security adviser was convicted of lying to the FBI about his contacts with the Russian ambassador. Mr. Biden’s choice, Jake Sullivan, is another seasoned hand who headed the State Department’s policy planning department before serving as Mr. Biden’s national security adviser while he was vice president. Linda Thomas-Greenfield, who is nominated as U.N. ambassador, is a 35-year veteran of the Foreign Service who headed the State Department’s Africa bureau during the Obama administration.

The nominations could be portrayed as the return of a foreign policy establishment that led the United States to failure in the Middle East and elsewhere. But Mr. Biden’s team has reflected deeply on the shortcomings of the Obama administration and the ways in which the world has changed in the past four years. In an essay published last year, Mr. Sullivan said the United States must reassert its global role, but in new ways: It must fashion “a different kind of leadership, giving others a greater voice along with greater accountability.”

Mr. Sullivan and Mr. Blinken have both written of the urgent need to build coalitions to counter the authoritarian models and mounting belligerence of China and Russia. They suggest the Biden administration will be more assertive than Mr. Obama was in promoting democracy and human rights. At the same time, Mr. Biden’s naming of former secretary of state John F. Kerry as special envoy for climate change shows that the escalating threat will play a central role in U.S. diplomacy.

“America is back, ready to lead the world,” Mr. Biden said Tuesday in announcing the appointments. As his nominees know, delivering on those words will be a formidable task in Mr. Trump’s wake. He leaves behind deep doubts about U.S. capacity, trustworthiness and resolve. Still, if they are confirmed, beginning next year, the United States will have national security principals who are capable, conscientious, well-versed in the issues they will face and not vulnerable to being undercut by presidential tweets. That’s a big step toward recovery.

Read more:

Antony J. Blinken and Robert Kagan: ‘America First’ is only making the world worse. Here’s a better approach.

Max Boot: Biden unveils a national security team without grifters, trolls or fanatics

Josh Rogin: The election has already changed the politics of U.S. foreign policy

Colbert I. King: Whether he goes or stays, Trump has done damage that can’t be forgiven

Dana Milbank: Trump came in promising so much winning. He’s going out with so much whining.