Antony “Tony” Blinken was born on April 16, 1962, in Yonkers, New York, to Jewish parents Judith and Donald Blinken. He attended the prestigious Dalton School in New York City until 1971, when he moved to Paris, France, with his divorced mother and her husband, Holocaust survivor and lawyer, Samuel Pisar.
Pisar, who had survived both the Auschwitz and Dachau concentration camps, would later share his experiences during the Holocaust with Blinken, who says those conversations had a profound impact on his views.
During adolescence, Blinken was torn between pursuing the arts and politics. He attended Harvard University, where he edited the daily student newspaper and co-edited the weekly art magazine. While working for the Harvard Crimson, Blinken wrote several articles about Israel. When the First Lebanon War began, Blinken wrote a column titled “Lebanon and the Facts,” criticizing some of the press for “anti-Israeli rhetoric becomes venomous, hateful.” He said the Village Voice comparison of Israel to the Nazis was “dead wrong and repugnant.”
Following the Sabra and Shatila massacre, he wrote, “Israel is not, has never been, nor will ever be the irreproachable, perfectly moral state some of its supporters would like to see. Israelis are, after all, only human. Still, one pedestal the Jewish state can stand on — and stand on alone in the Middle East – is that of a democracy.”
After earning his bachelor’s degree, Blinken compromised on his career interests and took an internship at The New Republic.
He went on to earned his J.D. at Columbia Law School and, in 1987, Praeger published his Harvard senior thesis, “Ally vs. Ally: America, Europe and the Siberian Pipeline Crisis.” That summer Blinken stayed in New York City and worked as a summer associate in the law offices of Rogers & Wells.
Soon after, Blinken became active in Democratic politics, helping his father fundraise for Michael Dukakis’ 1988 presidential campaign. All the while – during his academic pursuits and political activities – he played guitar in a band and organized film festivals and other cultural activities.
During the Clinton Administration, the then-assistant secretary of state for European and Canadian affairs brought Blinken into the National Security Council. Blinken was highly regarded for writing speeches for the president and thinking strategically about America’s future.
He met Erin Ryan, another Democratic staffer, while they were both working in the Clinton administration and the two married in a bi-denominational ceremony officiated by a rabbi and priest at Georgetown University in Washington, D.C.
At his wedding, Blinken thanked all those who voted for Bill Clinton for president, “because without them I would never have met Erin at the White House.” Former-first lady Hillary Clinton was also among his wedding guests.
By the time George W. Bush won the 2000 presidential election, Blinken was well-established in the American foreign policy establishment. He worked as a senior fellow at the Center for Strategic and International Studies in 2001–2002 and then served as Democratic Staff Director of the Senate Committee on Foreign Relations from 2002 until 2008 where he became a close friend of Senator Joe Biden.
When Democratic nominee Barack Obama chose Biden as his running mate for the 2008 elections, Biden gave Blinken a broad portfolio including managing the team’s Iraq policy. From 2009 to 2013, he served as Deputy Assistant to the President and National Security Advisor to the Vice President and helped craft U.S. policy on Afghanistan, Pakistan and the Iranian nuclear program. He was appointed Deputy National Security Advisor in 2014.
When Obama’s term ended, Blinken entered the private sector, co-founding WestExec Advisors, a political strategy advising firm. He also became a partner in the private equity firm Pine Island Capital Partners.
Blinken was a foreign policy advisor for Biden’s 2020 presidential campaign and was appointed his Secretary of State. During the campaign, he sought to reassure Jewish groups that Biden was a strong supporter of Israel with a long history of knowing its leaders.
Jacob Kornbluh reported that Blinken liked to tell the story of how Israel’s Ambassador to the United States Ron Dermer woke him up in the middle of the night in 2014 during Operation Protective Edge to ask for help in response to the rockets being fired from Gaza. “The very next morning, I brought that to President Obama and Vice President Biden in the Oval Office during our morning meeting. I explained what I’d heard from the ambassador and the military attaché, and I got an almost simultaneous three-word response from both the president and vice president, which was: ‘Get it done,’” Blinken said, “The vice president then worked throughout the weekend to engage Congress on this and by Tuesday we had a quarter of a billion dollars in funding for Iron Dome replenishment.”
Blinken said the Abraham Accords were a positive development under the Trump administration but downplayed the significance of the former president’s achievement. “You know, talking about historic peacemaking, when these countries were not actually at war, and the practical reality built up over many years, including during our administration, was that their relations were actually very close.”
He added, “The more countries normalize their relationship with Israel, the greater I think Israel’s confidence is in being able to make peace across the board.” Blinken also emphasized the importance of resolving the Palestinian issue. “Ignoring the Israel-Palestine dimension doesn’t make it go away — like the coronavirus, it’s not going to miraculously disappear,” Blinken said. “Of course, this is not 2009, it’s not 2014, it’s not 2017. The parties are far from ready for any kind of negotiations toward final status.” Nevertheless, he insisted the two-states solution “remains the only way to truly ensure Israel as a Jewish democratic state in and of itself.”
Blinken told Wolf Blitzer, “We are a long way I think from seeing peace break out and seeing a final resolution of the problems between Israel and the Palestinians and the creation of a Palestinian state. In the first instance now, it’s do no harm. We’re looking to make sure that neither side takes unilateral actions that make the prospects for moving toward peace and a resolution even more challenging than they already are. And then hopefully we’ll see both sides take steps that create a better environment in which actual negotiations can take place.”
Blinken side-stepped a question on whether the administration would support establishing East Jerusalem as the capital of a Palestinian state. His response to Blitzer’s question about the Trump administration’s recognition of Israeli sovereignty over the Golan Heights when he said:
The Washington Post described Blinken as “a deeply knowledgeable and nonideological consensus-builder, allowing the facts of each situation to guide his questions and advice and emphasizing process over advocacy.” He also has an “interventionist streak” reflected in his support of military action in Libya and a strong response to Assad in Syria during the Obama administration. He believes the United States and other powerful nations have the “responsibility to protect” against barbarity around the world.
“In times of crisis or calamity, it is the United States that the world turns to first and always,” Blinken said during a 2015 speech at the Center for a New American Security. “We are not the leader of first choice because we’re always right, or because we’re universally liked, or because we can dictate outcomes,” he said. “It’s because we strive to the best of our ability to align our actions with our principles, and because American leadership has a unique ability to mobilize others and to make a difference.”
Blinken and his wife have two children.
Sources: “Tony Blinken,” Wikipedia.
Jason Horowitz, “Tony Blinken, Rising,” Washington Post, (September 16, 2013).
Sara Sorcher, “Antony Blinken, Deputy National Security Adviser,” National Journal, (July 17, 2013).
Jason Horowitz, “Antony Blinken steps into the spotlight with Obama administration role,” Washington Post, (September 15, 2013).
Jacob Kornbluh, “Tony Blinken’s Biden spiel,” JewishInsider, (October 28, 2020).
David Ian Klein, “Tony Blinken: guided by a story of Holocaust rescue, and an advocate for Israel’s Iron Dome,” Forward, (November 23, 2020).
Lara Jakes, Michael Crowley and David E. Sanger, “Biden Chooses Antony Blinken, Defender of Global Alliances, as Secretary of State,” New York Times, (November 22, 2020).
Amy Spiro, “What Tony Blinken wrote about Israel at The Harvard Crimson,” JewishInsider, (December 8, 2020).
“Secretary Antony J. Blinken with Wolf Blitzer of CNN’s The Situation Room,” State Department, (February 8, 2021).
Photo: U.S. Department of State, Public domain via Wikimedia Commons.