American Exceptionalism:

How does US National Security Advisor Jake Sullivan think?
American Exceptionalism:
July 4, 2021

Jake Sullivan is the youngest official in the Biden administration and the youngest national security advisor in nearly 60 years. President Biden and senior Democrats have praised him as a figure who combines competence and talent, sincerity and dedication, at the same time. In this context, Sullivan’s most significant experience, as well as features of his strategy within the United States National Security Council, can be summed up as follows:    

1- National security and foreign policy expertise: Sullivan served as Biden’s foreign policy advisor while he was Vice President under President Obama. He also worked as an advisor to President Obama and was Director of Policy Planning from 2011 to 2013. When Hillary Clinton left the administration during Obama’s second term, Sullivan served as Biden’s national security aide.

2- Hillary Clinton speaks highly of Sullivan: Hillary Clinton, in her detailed explanation of Sullivan’s strengths, sees him as a true diplomat. He understands how to listen, bring people together, and strategize towards a goal. He “not only has the intellectual firepower, he has the people skills.”

3- Reshaping US national security: Jake Sullivan is the youngest official in the Biden administration and the youngest national security advisor in nearly 60 years. His main concern is first and foremost how to reshape American national security to meet domestic needs. According to some, Sullivan combines early talent and maturity with dedication and sincerity. Comparisons abound between him and Brent Scowcroft, former National Security Advisor to Presidents Gerald Ford and George H.W. Bush. Scowcroft is considered among the most important founders of strategic thinking in US foreign policy.

4- Many challenges facing Sullivan: When Biden introduced Sullivan to lead the National Security Council, he described him as a person whose intelligence only comes along once in a generation. In Sullivan’s first few weeks in office, he faced a torrent of foreign policy challenges, such as the coup in Burma, Russia’s massive hack of US companies and federal agencies, and North Korea’s ballistic missile test. Sullivan still has to wrestle with setting a final deadline for withdrawing American troops from Afghanistan and how and under what conditions to resume nuclear talks with Iran. Not to mention that all this comes amid the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic, economic deterioration, and climate crisis.

5- Addressing some domestic problems: When tensions erupted in a meeting between senior American and Chinese officials in Alaska last month, Sullivan responded by saying: “A confident country is able to look hard at its own shortcomings and constantly seek to improve, and that is the secret sauce of America.”

It is surprising that an individual at the center of formulating US foreign policy would focus on renewing and improving local domestic conditions. National Security Council Chief of Staff Yohannes Abraham said that what Sullivan is trying to do at the Council Is to align national security policies with economic domestic policies more broadly, working with Director of the National Economic Council Brian Deese and US Domestic Policy Council head Susan Rice. In light of the fallout from the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic, Sullivan said a lack of domestic investment is the greatest threat to American national security. With the recent COVID-19 relief package, for example, Sullivan asked the National Security Council to help the White House in approving the stimulus bill, and he was as excited as anyone when it was signed into law.

According to some, the job of national security advisor is primarily to turn daily chaos into practical options for the Commander in Chief. Sullivan is also modernizing the National Security Council to address cross-border threats ignored under the previous administration, such as raising cybersecurity readiness, as well as global health and climate issues.

6- Prioritizing diplomacy with Iran: Sullivan was instrumental in drafting the 2015 nuclear deal with Iran. He has defended the agreement, saying that under it, Iran’s nuclear program was shelved and frozen, and there were no missile attacks killing Americans in Iraq. Today, Iraq is attacking shipping in the Arab Gulf and threatens the rest of the region. He also stressed that Biden’s Iran policy will depend on diplomacy first, and that the most important goal is that Iran not possess nuclear weapons in order to preserve the security of Israel and other allies in the region.

7- Adopt a policy of pressure on Ankara: Sullivan has indicated that the US should continue to work to try to convince Turkey that continuing its current course of absolute power for Erdoğan’s and close military cooperation with Russia will begin to create political and diplomatic challenges for Ankara. 

In conclusion, Sullivan believes that the US must renew and rework its sense of “American exceptionalism” in order to face international and domestic challenges and once again assume its global leadership role. Perhaps the biggest challenge Sullivan faces is combining the realization of foreign and domestic policy goals at the same time. Some believe that, at times, the US President must make decisions that prioritize domestic needs or global leadership, goals that Biden is already pursing.


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