Will the Clinton tribe crowd out the Obama tribe at Foggy Bottom?

Now that it appears that Hillary Clinton is going to be the next Secretary of State, the Trickle Down Panic is ensuing.  Namely, if Ms. Clinton is the next SoS, will she be picking her own team to staff the senior positions?  Spencer Ackerman, Greg Sargent, and Steve Benen have already written on this.  Ackerman gets at ...

By , a professor of international politics at the Fletcher School of Law and Diplomacy at Tufts University and co-host of the Space the Nation podcast.

Now that it appears that Hillary Clinton is going to be the next Secretary of State, the Trickle Down Panic is ensuing.  Namely, if Ms. Clinton is the next SoS, will she be picking her own team to staff the senior positions?  Spencer Ackerman, Greg Sargent, and Steve Benen have already written on this.  Ackerman gets at the nub of the problem:  Some progressive Obama supporters think the arrival of Clinton at the State Dept. will mean they’ll be frozen out. That would have implications for their advancement in subsequent Democratic administrations. “Basically, you have all of these young, next-generation and mid-career people who took a chance on Obama” during the primaries, said one Democratic foreign-policy expert included in that cohort. “They were many times the ones who were courageous enough to stand up early against Iraq, which is why many of them supported Obama in the first place. And many of them would likely get shut out of the mid-career and assistant-secretary type jobs that you need, so that they can one day be the top people running a future Democratic administration.” In the foreign-policy bureaucracy, these middle-tier jobs — assistant secretary and principal-deputy-assistant and deputy-assistant — are stepping stones to bigger, more important jobs, because they’re where much of the actual policy-making is hashed out. Those positions flesh out strategic decisions made by the president and cabinet secretaries; implement those policies; and use their expertise to both inform decisions and propose targeted or specific solutions to particular crises. The responsibility conferred on those offices, and the expertise developed and deepened by their occupants, shape the future luminaries of U.S. foreign policy. Susan Rice, for example, served as assistant secretary of state for African affairs in Bill Clinton’s second term and is now a leading contender for a top job in the Obama administration. “These are your foreign-policy change agents,” said the Democratic foreign-policy expert. Sargent names names:  Among the Hillary people you can imagine going with her to the State Department are old-guard types such as Richard Holbrooke, Jamie Rubin, and Michael O'Hanlon. While some of Obama's foreign policy advisers had served under Bill Clinton, Obama had plenty of fresher faces, such as Samantha Power, who during the campaign strongly condemned the Hillary "conventional wisdom" foreign policy mindset that might dominate should she be elected president.... The question is whether Hillary people at State will muddle what is arguably Obama's overarching foreign policy ambition: Fundamental change in the way national security is discussed in this country and a true and enduring transformation of our own views of what constitutes just and practical uses of our military power abroad. The dynamic bears watching. As an outsider to this whole process, these concerns strike me as massively overlown, for a few reasons.  First, as I said before, I'm not sure how much of a gap there is between Clinton and Obama on policy substance.  This public but anonymous fretting has more to do with jobs than with policy positions.  [UPDATE:  See this Thomas P.M. Barnett post to get a sense of the inside-the-Beltway anxiety on this point -- or, click on this TNI online essay of mine from earlier in the month.] Second, I'm not sure how large Clinton's coterie will be.  One of the problems her campaign had on the foreign policy side was an overreliance on senior policy advisors -- Madeleine Albright and Sandy Berger, to name two of them.  They aren't going into the Obama administration.  Clinton had fewer people attached to her to staff Assistant Secretary of State positions, so I don't think there would be a large crowding out effect (Holbrooke might go in as Deputy SoS -- but I'm not completely convinced that such an arrangement would work for either him or Clinton).  Maybe Lee Feinstein will displace Samantha Power as Policy Planning director, but other than that there won't be much difference.  Third, my hunch is that a lot of Obama's 300 will be headed to the National Security Council staff.  Now, whether they have influence there depends largely on the relationship between Clinton and Obama, but the NSC is another place where future bigfeet start cutting their teeth.  Disgruntled Obama-ites should feel free to comment/e-mail me if they think I misreading the lay of the land. 

Now that it appears that Hillary Clinton is going to be the next Secretary of State, the Trickle Down Panic is ensuing.  Namely, if Ms. Clinton is the next SoS, will she be picking her own team to staff the senior positions?  Spencer Ackerman, Greg Sargent, and Steve Benen have already written on this.  Ackerman gets at the nub of the problem: 

Some progressive Obama supporters think the arrival of Clinton at the State Dept. will mean they’ll be frozen out. That would have implications for their advancement in subsequent Democratic administrations. “Basically, you have all of these young, next-generation and mid-career people who took a chance on Obama” during the primaries, said one Democratic foreign-policy expert included in that cohort. “They were many times the ones who were courageous enough to stand up early against Iraq, which is why many of them supported Obama in the first place. And many of them would likely get shut out of the mid-career and assistant-secretary type jobs that you need, so that they can one day be the top people running a future Democratic administration.” In the foreign-policy bureaucracy, these middle-tier jobs — assistant secretary and principal-deputy-assistant and deputy-assistant — are stepping stones to bigger, more important jobs, because they’re where much of the actual policy-making is hashed out. Those positions flesh out strategic decisions made by the president and cabinet secretaries; implement those policies; and use their expertise to both inform decisions and propose targeted or specific solutions to particular crises. The responsibility conferred on those offices, and the expertise developed and deepened by their occupants, shape the future luminaries of U.S. foreign policy. Susan Rice, for example, served as assistant secretary of state for African affairs in Bill Clinton’s second term and is now a leading contender for a top job in the Obama administration. “These are your foreign-policy change agents,” said the Democratic foreign-policy expert.

Sargent names names: 

Among the Hillary people you can imagine going with her to the State Department are old-guard types such as Richard Holbrooke, Jamie Rubin, and Michael O’Hanlon. While some of Obama’s foreign policy advisers had served under Bill Clinton, Obama had plenty of fresher faces, such as Samantha Power, who during the campaign strongly condemned the Hillary “conventional wisdom” foreign policy mindset that might dominate should she be elected president…. The question is whether Hillary people at State will muddle what is arguably Obama’s overarching foreign policy ambition: Fundamental change in the way national security is discussed in this country and a true and enduring transformation of our own views of what constitutes just and practical uses of our military power abroad. The dynamic bears watching.

As an outsider to this whole process, these concerns strike me as massively overlown, for a few reasons.  First, as I said before, I’m not sure how much of a gap there is between Clinton and Obama on policy substance.  This public but anonymous fretting has more to do with jobs than with policy positions.  [UPDATE:  See this Thomas P.M. Barnett post to get a sense of the inside-the-Beltway anxiety on this point — or, click on this TNI online essay of mine from earlier in the month.] Second, I’m not sure how large Clinton’s coterie will be.  One of the problems her campaign had on the foreign policy side was an overreliance on senior policy advisors — Madeleine Albright and Sandy Berger, to name two of them.  They aren’t going into the Obama administration.  Clinton had fewer people attached to her to staff Assistant Secretary of State positions, so I don’t think there would be a large crowding out effect (Holbrooke might go in as Deputy SoS — but I’m not completely convinced that such an arrangement would work for either him or Clinton).  Maybe Lee Feinstein will displace Samantha Power as Policy Planning director, but other than that there won’t be much difference.  Third, my hunch is that a lot of Obama’s 300 will be headed to the National Security Council staff.  Now, whether they have influence there depends largely on the relationship between Clinton and Obama, but the NSC is another place where future bigfeet start cutting their teeth.  Disgruntled Obama-ites should feel free to comment/e-mail me if they think I misreading the lay of the land. 

Daniel W. Drezner is a professor of international politics at the Fletcher School of Law and Diplomacy at Tufts University and co-host of the Space the Nation podcast. Twitter: @dandrezner

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