Blinken Talks Putin, China at 33rd Eizenstat Lecture

Blinken Talks Putin, China at 33rd Eizenstat Lecture

The Secretary of State spoke candidly about the diplomatic challenges he’s faced in his first year.

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Blinken gave a summary of his tumultous first year.
Blinken gave a summary of his tumultous first year.

The 33rd annual Fran Eizenstat and Eizenstat Family Memorial Lecture Series at Ahavath Achim went virtual this year to fulfill its mission of bringing prominent political and economic leaders to speak at the synagogue Stuart Eizenstat attended growing up.

Eizenstat noted that this year’s guest, Secretary of State Antony J. Blinken, was scheduled to appear in person before the decision was made to livestream the event. AA Director Barry Herman calculated that some 2,300 viewers had registered and approximately 4,500 tuned in overall.

Secretary of State Antony Blinken addressed a virtual crowd of about 4,500 on Monday, Jan. 24.

In his introduction, Eizenstat praised Blinken’s intellect and temperament, as well as the vast experience he’s gained from serving three presidential administrations in a variety of key roles. “Blinken is the third Secretary of State in history to have served as both Deputy and Secretary,” Eizenstat said. “Perhaps the second most powerful person in the U.S., Tony is addressing challenges and opportunities and rebuilding alliances as an amazing example of a public servant.”

Watching Blinken live was especially poignant, as the diplomatic issues he addressed had been the topic of every night’s national news. Blinken started with a summary of his first year: reenergizing the foundations of foreign policy, the climate crisis, global health and security and technology concerns.

In response to the looming invasion of Ukraine by Russia, Blinken demurred: “Better ask that of Putin,” he said. Nonetheless, Blinken emphasized that he was still searching for diplomatic solutions to the crisis. He provided some context for why Russia is so averse to Ukraine’s integration and possible NATO membership. “Of course we care, as this subjugation goes well beyond their sphere of influence and could open a Pandora’s box around the world,” he said. “We have sanctions in mind that go well beyond what was used in the past … with swift responses.”

In terms of China, Blinken noted, “We now see a more aggressive (and stronger) China. … We have many common denominators to try to work together. … the best way to do this is to re-invest in ourselves in education and innovation.” He shared that he had recently visited Southeast Asia to build alliances. “China is investing in other countries’ infrastructures. This could be good or bad, causing some to default or be burdened with debt.”

Another topic was the withdrawal of troops from Afghanistan. The U.S. continues to support social causes there, Blinken said, chiefly for teachers and making sure that women and girls suffer no retribution. “These funds are not sent through the Taliban,” he confirmed.

Iran was the final contentious issue, one on which many Jews don’t agree. Blinken held that mutual compliance with the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action (JCPOA) is the best option “to put their nuclear capabilities back in a box.” Yes, he’s for a two-state solution in Israel to preserve democracy as the best way forward. “Palestinians deserve better humane conditions. Biden’s support of Israel goes back to Golda Meir,” he said.

Stuart Eizenstat praised Blinken’s experience, bipartisanship, collegiality and commitment to Israel’s security.

Eizenstat’s last question: “What keeps you up at night?”

Blinken responded with optimism about the strength of Americans and the wealth of our human resources.

Eizenstat concluded, “Tony certainly gave us a tour de tabla. … Our foreign policy is in sturdy hands,” while Blinken quipped that all this praise should be sent to his mother.

AA President Gerry Benjamin told the AJT, “I was terribly impressed by Secretary Blinken’s candor and direct responses to insightfully provocative questions. He didn’t mince words, but rather, answered each question for the full 90+ minutes, providing context for the myriad of complexities impacting U.S. foreign strategy. It’s clear that the Secretary and Ambassador Eizenstat enjoy a highly collaborative relationship.”

“Just when I sense that the roster of past Eizenstat Family Memorial lecture series speakers can’t be topped, Stu evaluates the global landscape and aims incredibly high, enabling AA to continue to attract the most relevant leaders, each incredibly well informed and connected,” Benjamin said. “Stu’s gift of the Eizenstat Lecture Series to the AA and the Atlanta community is truly a unique treasure.”

Link to transcript of the Secretary Antony J. Blinken at the Fran Eizenstat and Eizenstat Family Memorial Lecture Series.

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