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Bad Blood at State

Victoria Nuland arrives for a press conference in Colombo, Sri Lanka, on February 01, 2023.
There is a lot of anger, both at Foggy Bottom and places adjacent to it, that the current acting No. 2, Victoria Nuland, was passed over for the job. Photo: NurPhoto/Contributor
Julia Ioffe
December 13, 2023

Last Friday, the Senate Foreign Relations Committee held a hearing for the nomination of Kurt Campbell for deputy secretary of state. Campbell, who is an Asia hand, has been running the Asia desk on the N.S.C. until now. Campbell is the former C.E.O. and co-founder of the Asia Group, a political consultancy, and was Obama’s assistant secretary of state for East Asian and Pacific affairs, so his nomination makes sense for an administration that is still pursuing that elusive pivot to Asia. Still, Campbell’s nomination for the No. 2 job at State is not without rancor. 

There is a lot of anger, both at Foggy Bottom and places adjacent to it, that the current acting No. 2, Victoria Nuland, was passed over for the job. Toria, as she is universally known in Washington, is, unlike Campbell, a career foreign service officer and commands a lot of loyalty in the building. “Toria shows a leadership that people appreciate,” said former assistant secretary of state and ambassador Daniel Fried. “She’s loyal down. She’s fun. She knows the building. She’s a foreign service officer who rose to those heights and still has a personality and an edge—and I say that as a compliment. She’s tough, but so what? Toughness is needed. Toria scares people. That’s a good thing.” Nuland, who is a Europeanist and democracy promoter, is also a bogeyman in Russia and despised by the Kremlin. It’s something Nuland wears as a badge of honor, and which makes people revere her even more. “There’s a reason the Russians can’t stand her,” Fried said. “She knows them and she doesn’t tolerate their bullshit.”