WASHINGTON – President Joe Biden's nominee to be U.S. ambassador to the United Nations, Linda Thomas-Greenfield, may need some of her trademark "gu
WASHINGTON – President Joe Biden’s nominee to be U.S. ambassador to the United Nations, Linda Thomas-Greenfield, may need some of her trademark “gumbo diplomacy” on Wednesday as she faces lawmakers for her confirmation hearing.
With a 35-year career in foreign service, Thomas-Greenfield would bring a different tone to the international body than her recent predecessors.
“America is back. Multilateralism is back. Diplomacy is back,” Thomas-Greenfield said after Biden introduced her and other members of his foreign policy team in November.
Former President Donald Trump derided the United Nations and other multilateral institutions. Trump’s first ambassador to the UN, ex-South Carolina Gov. Nikki Haley, cut a high profile at the international body in championing Trump’s “America First” foreign policy. Haley’s successor, Kelly Knight Craft, seemed to eschew the spotlight.
Thomas-Greenfield has held numerous diplomatic posts around the world – from Kenya to Pakistan. She was the U.S. ambassador to Liberia from 2008 to 2012 before becoming the top U.S. diplomat for African affairs in the Obama administration.
Her allies say she is widely admired inside the State Department and will help Biden restore America’s reputation on the global stage.
“She understands peacekeeping, she understands the UN, she understands the developing world,” Wendy Sherman, who served as undersecretary of state for political affairs in the Obama administration, told USA TODAY in November. Sherman is also poised to join the Biden administration, if confirmed, as deputy secretary of state.
Lawmakers are likely to grill Thomas-Greenfield on Biden’s most contentious foreign policy priorities, including his push to revive the Iran nuclear agreement and his promise to confront an increasingly aggressive China.
If confirmed, Thomas-Greenfield may face lingering skepticism and resentment on the job 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 segregated schools as a child. In a 2019 speech, she described growing up in a town “in which the KKK regularly would come on the weekends and burn a cross in someone’s yard.”
When she attended Louisiana State University, David Duke, a white supremacist and Klan leader, had a significant presence on campus, Thomas-Greenfield said, in recounting the deep racism she faced during her college years.
In 1994, Thomas-Greenfield was dispatched to Rwanda to assess refugee conditions amid the genocide in that country. She said she was confronted by a “glazed-eyed young man” with a machine gun who had apparently mistaken her for a Tutsi he had been assigned to kill.
“I didn’t panic. I was afraid, don’t get me wrong,” she said in her 2019 remarks. She asked him his name, told him hers, and managed to talk her way out of the situation.
Her secret negotiating tool, she says, is “gumbo diplomacy,” which she employed across four continents during her foreign service. She would invite guests to help make a roux and chop onions for the “holy trinity” (onions, bell peppers and celery) in the Cajun tradition.
“It was my way of breaking down barriers, connecting with people and starting to see each other on a human level,” Thomas-Greenfield said. “A bit of lagniappe (or ‘something extra’ in Cajun) is what we say in Louisiana.”
On Tuesday, the Senate confirmed Antony Blinken to lead the State Department by a vote of 78-to-22.
Contributing: Maureen Groppe