Biden to tap Jack Markell as new US ambassador to Italy? Rumours about it have been circulating in the Italian press since Tuesday. If the Senate confirms him, the sixty-three years old Democrat will be nominated to oversee the United States Embassy in Rome, which has been managed by two chargés d’affaires, Thomas Smitham and Shawn Crowley, since former Ambassador Lewis Eisenberg left the Eternal City in January 2021.
- Two main dossiers will be sitting on the new ambassador’s new desk: the Russo-Ukrainian conflict, which requires steadfast support and coordination among Western allies backing Kyiv, and the long-term threat arising from China’s increasing assertiveness.
Made in Delaware… Jack Markell was born in 1960 and raised in Newark, Delaware, the State that Joe Biden represented in the US Senate for 36 years before becoming Barack Obama’s Vice President. He served ten years as Treasurer in his home State before becoming Governor in 2008, a role he kept until 2017.
- The official shares a personal bond with current President Joe Biden. During his stint in office, he was also close with his son Beau Biden, who worked as the State’s attorney general until he died in 2015 and aimed at succeeding him when his term ended.
… and a key White House figure. In 2021, Mr Markell served as the White House coordinator for Operation Allies Welcome, a programme to assist Afghani refugees resettlement – especially former and at-risk aides – in the United States. He was then appointed US Ambassador to the Organisation for Economic Cooperation and Development (OECD) in early 2022.
- Over the past months, Mr Markell’s name had been circulating as the next possible Chief of Staff in the White House.
The China angle. The Memorandum of Understanding that underpins Italy’s adherence to China’s Belt and Road Initiative is set to auto-renew in March 2024 unless the executive says otherwise by year’s end. The new US Ambassador to Italy will surely convey Washington’s hope that Rome will limit its exposure to Beijing – which, in turn, is exerting pressure to avoid that outcome.
- Prior to his public appointments, Mr Markell worked as Senior Vice President at Nextel and Vice President at Comcast – which, if he becomes ambassador to Italy, will mean that the 5G dossier will remain at the centre of the US mission agenda in Italy, where potentially unsafe Chinese 5G vendors operate (and the Meloni government is keeping a watchful eye over the matter).
Ukraine and beyond. Supporting Kyiv against the Russian war of aggression, and thus coordinating the response among allies, is bound to be one of Mr Markell’s top concerns if he is indeed appointed to the job in Rome. So far, the Biden administration and the Meloni government have worked alongside each other, pressuring allies to expedite the delivery of military equipment to Ukraine and working to support the country in other spheres.
- Washington and Rome are also looking at the African continent, where challenging conditions and the influence of rival powers work against Western interests, hoping to expand cooperation.
A multifaceted profile. Mr Markell has served on the boards of numerous publicly-traded and privately-held companies, as well as several nonprofit organisations, including Upstream USA, Delaware State University, the Annie E. Casey Foundation and Jobs for America’s Graduates. He was also a Henry Crown Fellow and Rodel Fellow of the Aspen Institute. He graduated from Brown University and received a master’s degree from the University of Chicago. He has a wife, Carla, and two children, Molly and Michael.