Jake Sullivan Wants to Make U.S. Foreign Policy Work for Americans

foreignpolicy.com
8 min read
fairly difficult
Jake Sullivan, Biden's "once-in-a-generation intellect," is facing a once-in-a-generation challenge.
Jake Sullivan, U.S. President Joe Biden's national security advisor, has always loved a good debate. As an undergraduate at Yale University, he placed third in the nationals; at the University of Oxford, where he was a Rhodes Scholar, he finished second in the world debating championship. He got started in politics by handling debate prep for Amy Klobuchar when she made her successful run at the Senate, and he later did the same for Hillary Clinton and Barack Obama in their runs for the White House.

Now, inside the White House, Sullivan is still debating—with himself. Having once been a champion of the traditional foreign-policy consensus, he is now questioning how national security can be reframed first and foremost to address domestic needs. For years, a cultlike narrative has followed Sullivan, who at 44 is the youngest top national security official in the Biden administration and the youngest national security advisor in almost 60 years; everyone speaks of his rare combination of precocious talent, maturity, and devotion to country. Plus, in a town of sharp elbows, he's a genuinely nice guy. Comparisons already abound between Sullivan and Brent Scowcroft, former national security advisor to Presidents Gerald Ford and George H.W. Bush, a man who is considered the gold standard in strategic thinking about foreign policy.

When Biden introduced Sullivan as his pick to lead the National Security Council (NSC), he called him a "once-in-a-generation intellect." He's now got to apply that to what many consider a once-in-a-generation challenge, as a deeply divided country seeks to redefine its role in the world and wrestle with a strategic challenge—the rise of China—the likes of which it has never seen.

In his first few weeks, Sullivan has already faced an avalanche of foreign-policy challenges. He's gone toe-to-toe with combative Chinese officials, seen a coup in Burma, a massive Russian hack of U.S. companies and federal agencies, and a North Korean ballistic…
Elise Labott
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