Jake Sullivan on Israel & Ukraine

National Security Advisor Jake Sullivan is known, in Washington, as a relentless pragmatist.
National Security Advisor Jake Sullivan is known, in Washington, as a relentless pragmatist. Photo: Anna Moneymaker/Getty Images
Julia Ioffe
November 14, 2023

Jake Sullivan, the president’s national security adviser, needs only the briefest of introductions. As his title implies, Jake is the primary adviser to Joe Biden on all matters of national security. He also runs the National Security Council, which provides guidance to the president, and directs the interagency process—that is, he coordinates between the various government departments that play a role in national security, like the departments of State, Defense, Energy, and Treasury, the Joint Chiefs, and Office of the Director of National Intelligence. 

I’ve known Jake since he was Hillary Clinton’s right-hand man at the State Department and, later, the chief foreign policy adviser on her presidential campaign. Alas, the White House job would have to wait. While the Democrats wandered in the wilderness during the Trump years, Jake teamed up with former Obama adviser Ben Rhodes to form National Security Action, an advocacy group focused on counteracting (and counter-messaging) the occasionally insane foreign policy of the new president—who, as you’ll recall, wanted to purchase Greenland. The group was also a kind of administration in waiting, a who’s who of Democratic foreign policy hands including Wendy Sherman, Tony Blinken, Ned Price, Susan Rice, and Samantha Power—all of whom got senior jobs under Biden. 

As national security advisor, one of Jake’s main roles is to explain the president’s policy decisions to the public. Often, as during the pullout from Afghanistan, that means being the president’s lightning rod. Known in Washington as a relentless pragmatist, Jake has taken flak from the parts of the Blob that are more hawkish on Ukraine, who want more armaments for the country—yesterday. These people often think that it is Jake that is the brake in this process, tempering Biden’s natural instincts to give Ukraine whatever it wants. (In fact, it’s usually the Pentagon, and this characterization is a sore spot for Jake.) His friends and allies argue that he cares passionately about Ukraine, and about other thorny national security issues—indeed, he got quite emotional when we spoke about the human toll of the war in Gaza. They also argue that no one in the U.S. government has done more for Ukraine, precisely because of his role coordinating all the various parts of the national security apparatus, squeezing it and working it for the ever-evolving needs of the Ukrainians.