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Stop Biden’s Neocon Nominee to the State Department

Victoria Nuland helped fuel a coup and violent war in Ukraine, yet the president-elect thinks she's a perfect fit.
Victoria Nuland

On Monday, President-elect Joe Biden announced a number of new additions to his national security team. It was widely reported that Wendy Sherman, the former undersecretary of state for political affairs under Barack Obama and John Kerry, would receive a promotion and become the department’s number two, under secretary of state designee Antony Blinken. Sherman was widely and rightfully hailed over her role as the lead American negotiator of the Iran nuclear accord.

Biden also announced his plan to name the former head of policy planning at the State Department, Jon Finer, as deputy national security adviser. These are, by the low standards set by the Biden transition, sensible appointments. The same, however, cannot be said for Biden’s nominee for Sherman’s old job, that of undersecretary for political affairs, Victoria Nuland.

Nuland has had a long and storied career in the foreign service and for a long time was viewed with something like reverence by career officers. She served as U.S. ambassador to NATO and later was national security adviser to Vice President Dick Cheney. After that, she found herself on the outs at the State Department during the early Obama years. But Secretary of State Hillary Clinton had other plans for Nuland, the well-connected wife of the neoconservative publicist Robert Kagan. Clinton, to the astonishment of many of the political appointees in her own orbit, plucked Nuland from obscurity at the Naval War College to become her spokeswoman.

This was the road back to influence, and Nuland used it, quickly ascending to the position of assistant secretary of state for European and Eurasian affairs. It is from that post that she oversaw U.S. efforts to encourage a street coup in Kiev—going so far as to hand out cookies to anti-government protesters alongside the U.S. ambassador to Ukraine Geoffrey Pyatt.

The February 2014 coup, undertaken by an alliance of pro-Western liberalizers and hardline anti-Semitic militants, resulted not in a more peaceful order, but in a civil war in which both Russia and NATO funded and armed proxies that resulted in the loss of over 10,000 lives and the displacement of well over a million people from the Russophone east. After the coup, Nuland became an unwitting symbol of American heavy-handedness in the region when a call between her and Pyatt leaked in which they were heard to be hand-picking personnel for the new government in Ukraine. What would the EU think? “Fuck the EU,” exclaimed Nuland, a diplomat.

After the coup—violent and unnecessary, given that the deposed Ukrainian leader had agreed to an early peaceful transition at the ballot box—Nuland bragged at a conference sponsored by Chevron, “Since Ukraine’s independence in 1991, the United States has supported Ukrainians as they build democratic skills and institutions, as they promote civic participation and good governance. …We’ve invested over $5 billion to assist Ukraine in these and other goals that will ensure a secure and prosperous and democratic Ukraine.”

In the years following, we have “invested” a great deal more money into Ukraine, with questionable returns. But the affair has not clouded Nuland’s career prospects. Smart, well connected, and well-liked, she, like many of her fellow neocons, seems to move from job to job in this town, never held to account for the damage she’s caused. After her stint at the State Department, Nuland took up what one can only assume were lucrative positions on the other side of the revolving door at the Center for a New American Security (where she served as CEO), the Boston Consulting Group, and the Albright Stonebridge Group (from which, perhaps not coincidentally, her future boss, Biden’s nominee for deputy secretary of state, Wendy Sherman, hails).

Her views on Russia and European affairs are well known. Less known, however, are her views on America’s role in the Middle East. Let’s hope that changes because in an article in Foreign Affairs earlier this year, Nuland lamented that the U.S. under Trump “made both Putin’s and Assad’s lives easier by neutralizing a shared threat, the Islamic State, or ISIS.”

As Biden’s undersecretary of political affairs, Nuland will have immense influence over policy and personnel. Progressives in Congress and their partners in the media, think tank world, and among grassroots activists should join forces with the growing caucus of anti-interventionist Republicans on the Hill and vigorously oppose her nomination.

James W. Carden is a former advisor at the State Department who he has written for numerous publications including The National InterestThe Los Angeles Times, Quartz, and American Affairs.