- By David RothkopfDavid Rothkopf is visiting professor at Columbia University's School of International and Public Affairs and visiting scholar at the Carnegie Endowment for International Peace. His latest book is The Great Questions of Tomorrow. He has been a longtime contributor to Foreign Policy and was CEO and editor of the FP Group from 2012 to May 2017.
It has finally happened. With yesterday’s naming of Border Czar Alan Bersin, the Obama administration has by any reasonable reckoning passed the Romanov Dynasty in the production of czars. The Romanovs ruled Russia from 1613 with the ascension of Michael I through the abdication of Czar Nicholas II in 1917. During that time, they produced 18 czars. While it is harder to exactly count the number of Obama administration czars, with yesterday’s appointment it seems fair to say it is now certainly in excess of 18.
In addition to Bersin, we have energy czar Carol Browner, urban czar Adolfo Carrion, Jr., infotech czar Vivek Kundra, faith-based czar Joshua DuBois, health reform czar Nancy-Ann DeParle, new TARP czar Herb Allison, stimulus accountability czar Earl Devaney, non-proliferation czar Gary Samore, terrorism czar John Brennan, regulatory czar Cass Sunstein, drug czar Gil Kerlikowske, and Guantanamo closure czar Daniel Fried. We also have a host of special envoys that fall into the czar category including AfPak special envoy Richard Holbrooke, Mideast peace envoy George Mitchell, special advisor for the Persian Gulf and Southwest Asia Dennis Ross, Sudan special envoy J. Scott Gration and climate special envoy Todd Stern. That’s 18.
This is a very conservative estimate, however. I will allow you to pick whom you would like out of the remaining candidates. For example you could count de facto car czar Steve Rattner even though the administration went out of its way to say they weren’t going to have a car czar… before he ultimately emerged as the car czar. You could count National Director of Intelligence Dennis Blair, often referred to as the intelligence czar, although you might not want to because his job has a different kind of status on the org chart. I’m not going to count Paul Volcker who was referred to as Obama’s economic czar because Obama is not making much use of Volcker (at least according to reports).
But you certainly might want to count people deemed by the media to be the “cyber security czar” or the “AIDs czar” or the “green jobs czar” even if there are reasons to quibble about the designation of one or two of them. I also won’t count Michelle Malkin’s designation of White House science advisor John Holdren as “weather czar” because as a matter of principle I won’t count anything that horrifying woman does. Nonetheless you could certainly call the talented Holdren the nation’s science “czar” without stretching things.
The point is, disqualify who you may for your own list, there are still plenty of czars on the bench who will step up to make the comparison work in favor of Team Obama, if you think have lots and lots of czars is actually something in favor of Team Obama. (And to be fair: they didn’t create all these slots…just a lot of them.)
Personally, I think from a purely process standpoint all this czarism is a risky business that ends up producing bureaucratic bottlenecks, tensions and inefficiency when not managed extremely carefully. For now we will give them the benefit of the doubt that they will manage it well. Though please, please guys, stop now that you are ahead, now that you are officially the most prolific czarist dynasty in history.
For the record, the czars produced by Team Romanov were: Michael I, Alexis I, Fyodor III, Ivan V, Peter the Great, Catherine I, Peter II, Anna, Elizabeth, Peter III, Ivan VI, Catherine the Great, Paul I, Alexander I, Nicholas I, Alexander II, Alexander III, Nicholas II. For the purposes of giving the Russians an even chance against the president, I am including both the original Romanov line and the descendants of the Holstein-Gottorps, who kept the Romanov name. I am not including the regency of Sophia, although if you want, go ahead. Our team still wins. (Although, I’ll admit it, it is almost as hard of tracking the Russian succession as it is the structure of our own government these days.)
Romanov Collection, General Collection, Beinecke Rare Book and Manuscript Library, Yale University.