President-elect Joe Biden will nominate William Burns, president of the Carnegie Endowment for International Peace and a career diplomat for over 30 years, to serve as director of the CIA, the transition confirmed Monday.
Why. it matters: If confirmed, Burns would be the first career diplomat to lead the agency. Burns served the State Department in a number of posts around the world from the Reagan to the Obama administrations.
- "The choice of Burns will disappoint those who wanted a career intelligence officer to succeed Gina Haspel, the current director," writes the Washington Post's David Ignatius.
- "What’s likely to have appealed to Biden, in addition to his personal comfort level with Burns, is his reputation as a nonpartisan figure who served in hard places — Russia and the Middle East — and over the years developed close relationships with the countries that are the CIA’s key liaison partners."
Background: Burns, who Ignatius writes "is widely viewed as the best Foreign Service officer of his generation," served a number of roles in the foreign service from 1982 until 2014, including an ambassadorship to Russia from 2005 to 2008. He was deputy secretary of state in the Obama administration.
- Burns was involved in secret backchannel talks with Iran that culminated in the 2015 nuclear deal, which Biden faces the daunting task of attempting to revive after he takes office.
- He also has experience dealing with Russian President Vladimir Putin, who has grown more aggressive in his foreign policy over the last decade, telling Axios in November, "We’re going to be operating within a pretty narrow band of possibilities in dealing with Vladimir Putin’s Russia — from the sharply competitive to the pretty nastily adversarial."
The big picture: At an Axios event in September, Burns said the U.S. should carve out a new role for itself on the global stage — neither isolationist nor swaggering superpower.
- "Recognizing and deepening that connection between foreign policy and domestic renewal, I think, is going to be the single deepest challenge for several administrations to come," Burns said.
What they're saying: "Bill Burns is an exemplary diplomat with decades of experience on the world stage keeping our people and our country safe and secure," Biden said in a statement.
- "He shares my profound belief that intelligence must be apolitical and that the dedicated intelligence professionals serving our nation deserve our gratitude and respect."