Who’ll Be SecState?

With Biden on the ticket, the most obvious choice for Secretary of State in an Obama administration has been ruled out. So who are the remaining options? Here are eight, ranked from ideal to nightmarish:

1. Carter National Security Advisor Zbigniew Brzezinski.

Pros: No one in Democratic policy circles has more experience or credibility on foreign affairs. More importantly, he’s genuinely progressive. He was speaking out for intervention in the Balkans as early as 1993, he opposed both the war on terror and the war in Iraq, and has the balls to defend Walt and Mearsheimer‘s more obviously true (but still controversial) points. I can’t emphasize enough how good a pick this would be.

Cons: Everything that makes me love him would make him insanely hard to confirm, especially as the Foreign Relations committee would have a new chairman less seasoned in pushing nominees through than Biden. Also, at 80 he might be a bit too old.

2. Clinton-era National Security Advisor Tony Lake.

Pros: Knows the NSC ropes, long history with Obama, against the war from the start, was critical in launching the air strikes that end the slaughter in Bosnia.

Cons: Has disclaimed interest, apparently. Old enough (69) that he’d probably have to step down before the second term. Has Senate enemies from his 1997 confirmation battle to become CIA director, which could make confirmation difficult.

3. Former Assistant Secretary of State Susan Rice.

Pros: Experience in the State Department and the NSC, long history with Obama, takes the lessons of Rwanda to heart, genuinely understands the problem of failed states in a way few do.

Cons: At 43, with only eight years in government, she may be seen as too inexperienced. I’ve heard she’s not the best manager in the world, which matters with a bureaucracy the size of Foggy Bottom. Having two Secretary of States in a row be black women surnamed “Rice” would be kind of absurd.

4. Former Deputy Secretary of State Strobe Talbott.

Pros: A genuine world federalist who – despite his seven years in the Clinton State Department and his current role as president of Brookings – brings a unique perspective as a career journalist. He was against the war in Iraq before it started, and certainly has the stature and experience in the department for the job.

Cons: He’s very close to the Clintons, which Obama may not want, and picking the Brookings president isn’t really a “change’ move. He’s big on the banal, and might have been a KGB source.

5. Senator John Kerry (D-MA).

Pros: He’s third only to Biden and Chris Dodd on the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, and picking him would provide a graceful way to end his career, à la Muskie. He’s become more progressive and aggressive on foreign affairs, particularly Iraq, since his presidential run, and this would give a member of Massachusetts’ excellent Congressional delegation (especially Barney Frank) an opportunity for a promotion. He was an early supporter of Obama’s, and giving him Foggy Bottom, which he clearly wants, would be a good way to reward that.

Cons: He has no experience negotiating with foreign leaders, unlike the rest of the people on this list, and while his position as a Senator could clear the path for confirmation he’d be an obvious symbolic opportunity for GOP obstructionism. Given Dodd’s chairmanship of the Banking committee, it’s likely he’d have to give up the Foreign Relations committee chairmanship in order to take the post, which might make him less inclined to accept.

6. Former UN Ambassador Dick Holbrooke.

Pros: Loooong record of negotiating and high-profile appointments, from ambassador to Germany to the UN. His trademark achievement, the Dayton Accords, deserves all the acclaim it’s received; no other person on this list, except perhaps Brzezinski and Lake, can claim a comparable achievement. He may be an asshole, but he’s an effective asshole.

Cons: A real Clinton loyalist with the anti-Obama quotes to prove it, he was both for the war from the start and dismissive of those who got it right. He’s emblematic of everything that’s wrong and overly hawkish about Democratic foreign policy over the past couple of decades. Also, he just might shiv Tony Lake if forced to serve alongside him.

7. Former Mideast Envoy Dennis Ross.

Pros: He’s close to Obama, and has extensive experience both in the State Department, as director of policy planning, and as Clinton’s mideast representative, in which role he was key in the Camp David negotiations. While primarily a Middle East specialist, he’s written a book excoriating the Bush foreign policy on a whole range of issues.

Cons: He really is a conservative, having served under Wolfowitz and with the likes of Scooter Libby, Alan Keyes, and Zalmay Khalilzhad during the Reagan years, has unfairly bashed the Palestinians after the Camp David talks, fundraised for Libby’s defense fund, is really tight with AIPAC, and has bitched out Walt and Mearsheimer. He was strongly in favor of the war before it began, though he’s gotten better since. I think Ross would get into a lot of fights with Biden and whoever Obama picks as national security advisor (please Sam Power please Sam Power).

8. Senator Dick Lugar (R-IN).

Pros: He’s not batshit crazy. He has an impeccable record on nuclear nonproliferation, and worked with Biden on trying to water down the Iraq war resolution. He’s had the guts to break with his party on Iraq, in rhetoric at least. Voted against Kyl-Lieberman, and was along with Hagel one of two Republicans to do so. If Jill Long Thompson wins the Indiana governor’s race, this would be a Senate pickup.

Cons: Picking a Republican as Secretary of State would reinforce the notion that Democrats can’t be trusted on foreign policy. He hasn’t backed up his Iraq rhetoric with votes. His age – 76 – would be acceptable with a better candidate, like Brzezinski, but Lugar doesn’t have enough positives to make up for it.

1 thought on “Who’ll Be SecState?

  1. I was a fan of Brzezinski too, but his recent ravings on the Georgia conflict worry me. In my view, easily the most important foreign policy goal over the next decade is to avoid descending into long-term political conflict with important (and admittedly unsavory) regimes like Russia and China.

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