WASHINGTON – President Joe Biden’s candidate for U.S. Ambassador to the United Nations Linda Thomas-Greenfield may need some of her “okra diplomacy” on Wednesday as she takes on lawmakers over her confirmation hearing.
With a 35-year foreign service career, Thomas-Greenfield would bring a different tone to the international body than his recent predecessors.
“America is back. Multilateralism is back. Diplomacy is back, ”Thomas-Greenfield said after Biden introduced him and other members of his foreign policy team in November.
Former President Donald Trump has made fun of the United Nations and other multilateral institutions. Trump’s first ambassador to the UN, former governor of South Carolina, Nikki Haley, made a name for himself in the international institution by defending Trump’s “America First” foreign policy. Haley’s successor, Kelly Knight Craft, appeared to avoid the limelight.
Thomas-Greenfield has held numerous diplomatic posts around the world – from Kenya to Pakistan. She served as U.S. Ambassador to Liberia from 2008-2012 before becoming the Obama administration’s senior U.S. diplomat for African affairs.
Her allies say she is widely admired within the State Department and will help Biden restore America’s reputation on the world stage.
“She understands peacekeeping, she understands the UN, she understands the developing world,” Wendy Sherman, who was Under Secretary of State for Political Affairs in the Obama administration, told USA TODAY in November. Sherman is also set to join the Biden administration, if confirmed, as deputy secretary of state.
Lawmakers are likely to toast Thomas-Greenfield on Biden’s most controversial foreign policy priorities, including his willingness to revive the Iran nuclear deal and his promise to face an increasingly aggressive China.
If confirmed, Thomas-Greenfield could face lingering skepticism and resentment at work after the Trump administration’s abrasive approach to the institution and its treatment of America’s allies.
Facing burning crosses and machine guns
Thomas-Greenfield, who is black, was born in Baker, Louisiana in the early 1950s and attended separate schools as a child. In a 2019 speech, she described growing up in a city “where the KKK would come regularly on weekends and burn a cross in someone’s yard.”
When she attended Louisiana State University, David Duke, a white supremacist and leader of the Klan, had a significant presence on campus, Thomas-Greenfield said, recounting the deep racism she faced during her college days.
In 1994, Thomas-Greenfield was sent to Rwanda to assess the conditions of refugees amid genocide in that country. She said she was confronted by a “glassy eyed young man” with a machine gun who apparently mistook her for a Tutsi whom he had been instructed to kill.
“I didn’t panic. I was scared, don’t get me wrong,” she said in her 2019 remarks. She asked him his name, told him hers and managed to pull herself out of it. the situation.
Her secret negotiating tool, she says, is “okra diplomacy,” which she employed on four continents during her foreign service. She invited guests to help make a roux and chop the onions for the “Holy Trinity” (onions, peppers and celery) in the Cajun tradition.
“It was my way of breaking down barriers, connecting with people and starting to see myself on a human level,” said Thomas-Greenfield. “A little of Lagniappe (or “something more” in Cajun) is what we say in Louisiana. “
On Tuesday, the Senate confirmed Antony Blinken as head of the State Department by a vote of 78 to 22.
Contributor: Maureen Groppe