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On Sunday, word got out that President-elect Joe Biden was set to nominate Tony Blinken, his longtime foreign policy consigliere, to become the next secretary of state.
Out came the profiles. The New York Times called Blinken, seemingly with approval, “a defender of global alliances.” The Washington Post said that Blinken was one of a suite of Biden foreign policy and national security picks with “decades-long careers working at the highest levels of government, and a deep respect for institutions.” There were items about the rock band he fronts, and an old video of him and Grover—yes, the Sesame Street legend—talking about refugees made the rounds, to much delight.
Into this happy scene came American Prospect editor David Dayen, who had the audacity to link to a story from his outlet about what Blinken’s been up to recently:
Here’s a good summary of the facts in the above story from the Prospect‘s Jonathan Guyer:
Blinken launched WestExec Advisors with fellow Obama national-security chiefs in 2018. WestExec’s very name—a reference to the avenue that runs along the White House—suggested that its founders were trading off of their recent experience in the Oval Office and were angling for positions in the next administration. Blinken became a partner at a private equity firm named Pine Island, too. It was quite a change for someone who spent most of his career in government and had served most recently as Vice President Biden’s national-security adviser (2009–2013) and as deputy secretary of state (2015–2017). He and Michèle Flournoy, a former senior defense official, registered the firm in Delaware and had a party to open their downtown D.C. office suite with honchos from the Obama administration.
Who was the firm advising? WestExec staffers cited nondisclosure agreements and declined to name clients. But in conversations with members of the firm, I learned that Blinken and Flournoy used their networks to build a large client base at the intersection of tech and defense. An Israeli surveillance startup turned to them. So did a major U.S. defense company. Google billionaire Eric Schmidt and Fortune 100 companies went to them, too.
Whatever you think of the Blinken pick overall, this certainly seems relevant, at the very least. Our future secretary of state spent the last few years getting rich off of his White House ties and raking in money from defense contractors and tech bigwigs? I’m glad I know this and can add it to the other (bad) things I know about Blinken. Thanks, American Prospect!
Not everyone was so grateful. The replies to Dayen’s tweet are a virtually endless chain of people tearing into him for having the audacity to say a critical word about a Biden nominee. “I don’t care,” one representative reply reads. “Making money isn’t a crime, get over it.” Dayen highlighted one particularly eye watering response:
Yes, the choices for all Washington types are either “cash in through corporate shadiness” or “starve.” No middle ground, I don’t make the rules.
Dayen’s tweet also attracted notable attention from Vox’s Aaron Rupar, who has gained a ginormous following thanks to his dedicated Trump clipping service:
Rupar later walked his tweet back, saying he had been “too glib,” but his initial reaction was telling enough. Dipping your hands in the endless money spigot of Washington lobbying is just being part of society! Get off the man’s case.
What are we to make of all this? What I make of this is that it’s going to be a very long four years indeed. Here we have an instance of a highly respected journalist posting some deeply reported information about a man set to become one of the most powerful people on the planet, and he is instantly deluged by people who find it useless at best and offensive at worst that he is raising questions about a Democrat. Doesn’t David Dayen know that Blinken’s on the right team??? And this is for a boring white guy, not any of the people Biden is already choosing to blaze a trail at the top of the American empire.
It is going to be so much of this for the next four years—so many excuses for why we we shouldn’t look too closely at people in power, so much deflection, so much—forgive me for using this #resistance-poisoned phrase—whataboutism. The Democrats are back in charge! We get to have fun with their music choices and watch them hang out with Grover again!
Speaking of that cuddly refugee video with Grover—and it pains me to bring him back into this, since he is the best Sesame Street character and we shouldn’t hold it against him—this nugget, buried deep down in the New York Times story about Blinken’s selection, seems relevant:
Mr. Blinken, described by some as a centrist with a streak of interventionism, has also sought to lessen refugee crises and migration. On the last day of the Obama administration, the State Department set a cap of 110,000 refugees who would be allowed to resettle in the United States in the 2017 fiscal year. That number has since dwindled to 15,000 in the 2021 fiscal year.
But I guess we shouldn’t think too hard about that, should we?
Update, 3:14 p.m. ET: Yep, just four years of this:
The many working parents who get killed by American drone strikes in the next four years will definitely look up at the sky and say, “at least a dad helped do this to us.”