U.S. president-elect Joe Biden has announced veteran diplomat Linda Thomas-Greenfield as the United Nations ambassador pick. Thomas-Greenfield, with a decades-long career in the U.S. foreign service, is expected to help restore U.S. leadership and cooperation at the UN.
“We have no time to lose when it comes to our national security and foreign policy,” Biden said in a statement Monday announcing members of his foreign policy and national security team. “I need a team ready on Day One to help me reclaim America’s seat at the head of the table, rally the world to meet the biggest challenges we face, and advance our security, prosperity, and values. This is the crux of that team.”
Thomas-Greenfield, if confirmed by the Senate, would not be the first African American to serve as America’s U.N. envoy (Andrew Young holds that title serving during President Jimmy Carter’s administration). However, her nomination, according to analysts, shows that Biden is bent on building teams that are reflective of the diversity of America.
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What’s more, with so many years in the U.S. foreign service, Thomas-Greenfield would be relied on to repair some of America’s strained diplomatic ties, especially following the Trump administration’s rocky relationship with the UN. Trump has favored U.S. “sovereignty” over America’s commitments to the global community. He has, in the past years, attacked the UN and international human rights bodies while pulling out of multilateral agreements like the Paris Climate Accords and then recently, the World Health Organization.
Biden is hoping to reverse the above and would be counting on Thomas-Greenfield’s veteran leadership to do so as she gets ready to be the ears, eyes and mouthpiece of America’s interests in the international community.
“My mother taught me to lead with the power of kindness and compassion to make the world a better place,” Thomas-Greenfield tweeted after Biden’s transition team announced her nomination. “I’ve carried that lesson with me throughout my career in Foreign Service – and, if confirmed, will do the same as Ambassador to the United Nations,” she said.
Here’s what you need to know about Thomas-Greenfield:
She served as the U.S. Assistant Secretary of State for African Affairs
During the second term of President Barack Obama, Thomas-Greenfield served as the U.S. Assistant Secretary of State for African Affairs, developing and managing U.S. policy toward sub-Saharan Africa. Holding the position during the Ebola outbreak in West Africa from 2014 to 2016, she led various initiatives that helped fight the deadly disease. She however retired in September 2017 when she felt “targeted as a professional” in the early days of the Trump administration. The veteran diplomat then became a senior vice president at Albright Stonebridge Group, in charge of the Africa practice. Before her role as the U.S. Assistant Secretary of State for African Affairs, Thomas-Greenfield was a top human resources official at the State Department.
She was U.S. ambassador to Liberia, working with Ellen Johnson-Sirleaf
Thomas-Greenfield served as ambassador to Liberia from 2008 to 2012. Prior to this, she had visited the West African country while conducting graduate research during her days as a student at the University of Wisconsin. She was also part of a U.S. delegation that observed the 2005 Liberian presidential election that was eventually won by Ellen Johnson Sirleaf. Thomas-Greenfield became United States Ambassador to Liberia three years after Sirleaf’s victory as the first elected female head of state in Africa.
Throughout her mission, “she nurtured an excellent relationship with the Government of Liberia, other development partners and stakeholders, providing advice and showing the way forward, even under difficult circumstances,” the Liberian government said of Thomas-Greenfield at the end of her tenure, naming her Liberia’s first Honorary Citizen, and conferring upon her the distinction of Dame Great Band in the Humane Order of African Redemption.
She taught at Bucknell University before joining the Department of State
Thomas-Greenfield, before entering into foreign affairs, was a professor of political science at Bucknell University in Pennsylvania. Growing up in Louisiana and graduating high school in 1970, she attended Louisiana State University, facing deep racism during her college years having schooled with David Duke, a white supremacist who would become a Klan leader. She later earned a master’s degree at the University of Wisconsin. There, she also did doctoral work and then went on to teach at Bucknell University before joining the Department of State, where she had postings in Switzerland, Pakistan, Kenya, The Gambia, Nigeria and Jamaica.
It was during her time in foreign affairs that she narrowly escaped death in 1994 after arriving in Rwanda the day before the genocide began. Held by gunmen, she was spared by the genocide killers when they found out she was American, she said.
She wants to restore trust and professionalism to U.S. foreign relations
Thomas-Greenfield recently co-authored an op-ed in Foreign Affairs on how to restore the State Department, including calling for greater diversity in the ranks of the diplomatic service. The 35-year veteran of the State Department, in that op-ed with diplomat William J. Burns, described the lack of diversity within the diplomatic corps as “a national security crisis”, arguing that “study after study has shown that more diverse organizations are more effective and innovative organizations.”