Biden national security adviser criticizes Obama's foreign policy for not focusing on middle-class Americans

Jake Sullivan on Joe Biden’s response to COVID, unrest in America

Biden campaign senior policy adviser Jake Sullivan joins Chris Wallace on ‘Fox News Sunday.’

Incoming national security adviser Jake Sullivan, a former staffer in the Obama administration, admitted that the previous president’s foreign policy did not "elevate and center middle-class concerns." 

He recently told NPR that the Obama administration did not do enough to tie foreign policy to domestic concerns, particularly concerning economic initiatives. 

"I believe that the fact that we did not elevate and center middle-class concerns in our foreign policy and national security meant that we were not delivering for the American people as well as we should have, that we can learn from that, and then we can do better as we go forward," he said. 

"What Joe Biden is proposing, and what I am reinforcing as the national security adviser, is that every element of what we do in our foreign policy and national security ultimately has to be measured by the impact it has on working families, middle-class people, ordinary Americans here in the United States," Sullivan continued. 

Sullivan was a top staffer to former Secretary of State Hillary Clinton before serving as national security adviser to then-Vice President Joe Biden.

Sullivan served as senior policy adviser for Clinton’s 2016 campaign, and since her loss to President Trump’s "America first" platform, he’s written about the need to put the middle class at the center of foreign policy debates. 

Still, Sullivan said that as a "sustained rebuttal to Trumpism," Biden’s administration looks to return to deeper engagement with foreign allies. The focus will show "that engagement in the world … can deliver the kinds of tangible results — by protecting people from pandemics, reducing the worst effects of climate change, increasing the protection against the kinds of abuses we see from China and other economic actors. We can do these things," he told NPR.

Like Trump, Biden’s foreign approach would work to build leverage over China. Unlike Trump, Biden’s foreign policy won’t amount to a go-it-alone trade war that produces aggressive tariffs, Sullivan said. 

"One of the things they pushed for was access for major U.S. financial institutions to do business in China. And the question I would pose is, what does that have to do with jobs and wages here in the United States, making it easier for the likes of JPMorgan or Goldman Sachs to, to be able to carry out financial activities in Beijing or Shanghai?"

Biden recently told The New York Times he will not immediately revoke Trump’s 25% tariffs on about half of Chinese goods coming to the U.S. or the Phase 1 agreement that requires China to buy $200 billion in additional U.S. goods and services between 2020 and 2021. But he is going to consult with allies to review the existing agreement with China. 

"The best China strategy, I think, is one which gets every one of our — or at least what used to be our — allies on the same page. It’s going to be a major priority for me in the opening weeks of my presidency to try to get us back on the same page with our allies," the president-elect said earlier this month. 

Asked about Biden’s remarks, Sullivan told NPR: "[Biden's] objection to Donald Trump was not trying to seek leverage against China. It was doing it in a way that actually hasn't produced results."

"One of the major examples of that is that the United States has gone it alone in its trade fight with China, rather than rallying other like-minded democracies, other market economies that collectively comprise 50 to 60% of the world's economy, where if we got all of them lined up and went to China with a common agenda to say, 'We won't accept these subsidies, this intellectual property theft, this dumping,' we would be in a position to get China to either change its behavior, or we could collectively impose costs on China for not doing so," he continued. 

As for how that might impact middle-class Americans, Sullivan pointed to China’s censorship of the NBA last year. Chinese authorities cut circulation of Houston Rockets’ games within the country after the team’s manager expressed support for pro-democracy protests in Hong Kong.


"The United States is going to ensure, for example, that we have the kind of free and open Internet where people can engage in commerce and speak freely and not have to worry about surveillance by foreign authoritarians, or not have to worry that the businesses that they either work for, or purchase from, are having to change their practices in fundamental ways to conform to the authoritarian tendencies of other governments. Those are things that affect Americans," he said. 

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