Mission Impossible

joe biden antony blinken
Staffers who came in with Biden on day one are mostly still there, trying to plug the multiplying leaks of a world coming apart at the seams. Photo: Drew Angerer/Getty Images
Julia Ioffe
June 4, 2024

When National Security Advisor Jake Sullivan and his wife, former Deputy Assistant Attorney General Maggie Goodlander, arrived in Provence last year, it was their first vacation in a very long time. Since entering the White House, Sullivan and the president’s foreign policy team had been dealing with crisis after crisis after crisis: the bloody and chaotic withdrawal from Afghanistan; the Russian invasion of Ukraine; and the campaign to surge American weapons and allied support to Kyiv, and later to help train Ukrainian troops for a counteroffensive, all while trying to gauge whether Putin might actually make good on his threat of nuclear retaliation. 

In the meantime, there was China, which sent a spy balloon over the U.S. mainland, took an ever more militaristic posture toward Taiwan, and threatened then-Speaker Nancy Pelosi over her trip to Taipei. If that weren’t enough, the White House had to warn Beijing not to send weapons to Moscow while also encouraging Xi Jinping and Narendra Modi to make clear to Putin how they would feel if he actually pulled the nuclear trigger. Oh, and then there was the Global South blaming Washington for the spike in grain and oil prices while Russia boasted about blockading Ukraine’s agricultural exports and starving the world into submission.