'A diplomatic powerhouse': Biden will nominate Linda Thomas-Greenfield as UN ambassador

Deirdre Shesgreen, USA TODAY
·3 min read

WASHINGTON – President-elect Joe Biden said Monday he will nominate Linda Thomas-Greenfield, who served as the top U.S. diplomat overseeing African affairs in the Obama administration, to be his ambassador to the United Nations.

Biden's nomination of Thomas-Greenfield would elevate a Black woman and career foreign service official to the high-profile position. She would bring a markedly different tone and presence to the international body, which the Trump administration has derided and denigrated.

"My mother taught me to lead with the power of kindness and compassion to make the world a better place," Thomas-Greenfield tweeted after Biden's transition team announced her nomination. "I’ve carried that lesson with me throughout my career in Foreign Service – and, if confirmed, will do the same as Ambassador to the United Nations."

Those who know Thomas-Greenfield hailed her nomination for the coveted post.

"She understands peacekeeping, she understands the UN, she understands the developing world," said Wendy Sherman, who served as undersecretary of state for political affairs in the Obama administration.

Tom Perriello, a former Democratic congressman and diplomat,said Thomas-Greenfield is "a diplomatic powerhouse respected around the world." In a tweet, Perriello said he'd witnessed her work to free human rights activists and hold kleptocrats accountable.

Nicholas Burns, a former longtime State Department official who served Republican and Democratic administrations, said Thomas-Greenfield's nomination would raise morale inside the foreign service and boost America's standing on the world stage.

"She is universally admired and respected in the Foreign Service and will help to revive American diplomacy," Burns tweeted.

Thomas-Greenfield was U.S. ambassador to Liberia from 2008 to 2012, and she has also served in numerous other posts around the world, from Kenya to Pakistan.

U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry, right, sits with U.S. Assistant Secretary of State for Africa Linda Thomas-Greenfield, at the start of bilateral talks with Kenya's President Uhuru Kenyatta, at the State House in Kenya's capital Nairobi, Monday Aug. 22, 2016.
U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry, right, sits with U.S. Assistant Secretary of State for Africa Linda Thomas-Greenfield, at the start of bilateral talks with Kenya's President Uhuru Kenyatta, at the State House in Kenya's capital Nairobi, Monday Aug. 22, 2016.

Thomas-Greenfield 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.

But she has had more harrowing experiences in the diplomatic corps. 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 Tusti 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.

In the Obama administration, Thomas-Greenfield served as the assistant secretary of state for African affairs, leading U.S. policy on sub-Saharan Africa. She oversaw economic empowerment initiatives as well as peace, security and governance matters.

Prior to that appointment, Thomas-Greenfield was a top human resources official at the State Department.

This article originally appeared on USA TODAY: Linda Thomas-Greenfield: Biden to name Obama official as UN ambassador