Transition purgatory, part III: the State Department

Transition purgatory, part III: the State Department

The designation of Hillary Clinton to be Barack Obama’s secretary of state is expected to bring armies of former Clinton administration officials and Clinton loyalists to political appointee jobs at Foggy Bottom. Although Obama and Clinton appear to have healed any bruised feelings from the heated primary campaign, resentments and rivalries linger among some loyalists in both camps.

Some of the early Obamans worry that advisors from the Clinton campaign orbit may be better positioned to take plum positions in the Clinton State Department. "It looks as if right now, Clintonites are going to the State Department, and the Obama-ites are going to the NSC," said one retired State Department official, on condition of anonymity. "Foreign policy people from the winning [Democratic primary] candidate are getting secondary positions, while the ones from the losing candidate are getting assistant secretary positions," another former official said.

Clinton has chosen to appoint two deputies: James Steinberg, who previous to serving as deputy national security advisor in the Clinton administration was director of policy planning at State and provided advice to both Democratic candidates during the campaign; and Jacob "Jack" Lew, who directed the Office of Management and Budget in the (Bill) Clinton White House. Lew will focus on budget issues, namely trying to increase the department’s budget and personnel. (Ironically in traditionally turf-conscious Washington, one of the biggest advocates for a bigger State Department has been none other than Defense Secretary Robert Gates, who has warned against the dangers of military mission creep.)

Democratic foreign-policy watchers say Clinton selected her under secretaries and ran them by the Obama transition officials last week (some of them, including William J. Burns, the current under secretary of state for political affairs and recent U.S. point man on Iran, who is very well regarded inside the department, and Patrick Kennedy, the under secretary of state for management, are expected to hold over in the next term). Nonproliferation community experts say that retired Foreign Service officer Robert Einhorn, who was a top nonproliferation advisor to the Hillary Clinton campaign (and later for Obama) and is currently at the Center for Strategic and International Studies, is expected to be named undersecretary of state for arms control and international cooperation. (He did not immediately respond to a query).

At the next level, former Bill Clinton-era deputy assistant secretary of defense for Asia and NSC official Kurt Campbell, CEO of the Center for a New American Security, who advised the Hillary Clinton campaign, is expected to be named assistant secretary of state for East Asian affairs. His wife Lael Brainard, a former White House economics hand now with the Brookings Institution, is expected to get a top economics post, possibly assistant secretary of state for economic and business affairs. Former Clinton-era State Department counselor and North Korea expert Wendy Sherman, a close Hillary Clinton associate and advisor, is said to be being considered for several possible top State jobs as well, including that of North Korea envoy plus counselor, or under secretary of state for democracy and global affairs, sources said. (Sherman co-led the State Department agency review team for the Obama transition, along with Thomas Donilon, who has since been named deputy national security advisor.)

Anne-Marie Slaughter, dean of Princeton University’s Woodrow Wilson School of Public and International Affairs, is likely to be named director of policy planning, sources said. She’d be the first woman to run the State Department’s in-house think tank.

Sources said former NSC Africa hand Gayle Smith, of the Center for American Progress, is being considered to head USAID.

Two names have emerged as leading contenders to be assistant secretary of state for Near Eastern Affairs: Daniel Kurtzer, an Obama campaign Middle East advisor and former Clinton-era U.S. ambassador to Egypt and Israel, and Beth Jones, a former State Department official who is currently with APCO, the communications firm. (Former A/S NEA David Welch retired last month and joined Bechtel).

But working out the staffing for senior State Department positions on the greater Middle East is being complicated by the fact that several heavyweight figures are being considered for appointments as special envoys. Among them, Richard Holbrooke, the former U.S. ambassador to the U.N., is said by several sources to be in negotiations to be the special envoy on Pakistan and Afghanistan, reporting directly to Secretary Clinton; former U.S. Mideast peace envoy Dennis Ross is said to be in negotiations for a possible role as U.S. special envoy on Iran, plus possibly a more expansive portfolio. Special envoys are also being considered for the Israel-Palestinian peace process, Iraq, and North Korea.

Sources said top Senate Foreign Relations Committee staffer Puneet Talwar is under consideration for a deputy assistant secretary post on Near East Affairs (he advised Biden and the SFRC on Iran, Iraq, and Middle East issues), or an NSC slot. (Talwar declined to comment). Also up for a senior State Department job, Toni Verstandig, an Albright-era deputy assistant secretary for Egypt and the Arabian Peninsula Affairs, who served with Talwar on the Obama transition’s State Department agency review team looking at Iran and Mideast issues.

Another key but low-profile figure who has emerged as influential on national security personnel decisions in the Obama transition is Christopher Kojm, former deputy director of the 9/11 commission, former deputy assistant secretary of state for intelligence policy, and member of the Iraq Study Group (of which Obama’s reported choice to run the CIA Leon Panetta was also a member). Kojm has been on the Obama transition national security policy review team, and has spoken with a number of former national security officials in vetting possible appointments, both at State and on other national security matters, although it’s not clear what position, if any, he might take.