The Cable

Transition purgatory

Amid the pre-inaugural hoopla, a specter is haunting Obamaland. Dozens of national-security and regional experts who worked intensively as volunteers on policy teams for the Obama campaign — writing talking points, doing debate prep, checking facts, following RUMINT, and rebutting opposition attacks — have grown anxious and quiet as they await word on what jobs ...

Amid the pre-inaugural hoopla, a specter is haunting Obamaland.

Dozens of national-security and regional experts who worked intensively as volunteers on policy teams for the Obama campaign — writing talking points, doing debate prep, checking facts, following RUMINT, and rebutting opposition attacks — have grown anxious and quiet as they await word on what jobs they might (or might not) be offered in the new administration.

"I’m hoping to be put out of my misery next week," one such expert who worked with the Obama campaign told me recently. Many who were policy insiders during the Obama campaign now feel like outsiders, temporarily in limbo. Once in frequent contact with the campaign’s foreign policy advisors, some experts say that for the past few weeks, they have experienced what amounts to radio silence. For some, there is uncertainty too about who, exactly, is making the decisions and how the appointments announced so far could influence further staffing decisions, as Obama’s Chicago campaign operation has evolved into the formal transition. The national security team for this period has been headed by Susan Rice, who has been designated to serve as U.S. ambassador to the United Nations, and Clinton-era deputy national security advisor Jim Steinberg, who has been chosen to be deputy secretary of state.

But now, amid the information vacuum, conspiracy theories abound: "It’s Hillary’s fault," referring to the belief among some would-be appointees that Clinton people will predominate in the State Department, has been succeeded by "It’s Biden’s fault," referring to fears that prized White House slots will go to Biden loyalists and others from their network of Senate staffers rather than early members of Obama’s foreign advisory teams.

These teams — about two dozen in all — were also organized by regional and functional areas. Each was headed by a senior "lead," often paired with a usually younger "coordinator," although some leads coordinated their own teams, and some teams, such as Asia, had several deputies. Among those still awaiting official word:

  • On Europe, former Clinton-era National Security Council official Philip Gordon of the Brookings Institution was the senior lead. Other advisors expect him to be named senior director for Europe on the NSC. He did not immediately respond to an email inquiring about his future role.
  • On Asia, former Amb. Jeffrey Bader, a veteran Foreign Service, NSC, and U.S. Trade Representative official and China specialist who has headed the Brookings Institution’s China Initiative, served as the senior lead, and Frank Jannuzi, an East Asia specialist on the Senate Foreign Relations Committee staff, as the Korea policy coordinator. (The Asia group had several deputies, focused on China, Japan, Korea, etc., according to participants.) Bader is likely to be named NSC Senior Director on Asia, a Washington Asia specialist said on condition of anonymity. Bader did not respond to an email inquiring about his role. (Mona Sutphen, a former diplomat and special assistant to former NSC advisor Sandy Berger and recently with Stonebridge International LLC, a business advisory group, served as an administrator for the Asia group, and has been named White House deputy chief of staff, reporting to Rahm Emanuel.)
  • On South Asia, former CIA and NSC official Bruce Riedel, of the Brookings Institution, served as the senior lead during the campaign and the transition. "I have no plans to leave Brookings," he told me. Jonah Blank, a Harvard-trained Ph.D. anthropologist and writer who has worked as the chief advisor on South Asia to the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, served as the team’s rapid response coordinator. Blank is said to be under consideration for a top State or NSC job on South Asia. He declined to comment on a future role.
  • On Africa, Gayle Smith, a former Clinton-era NSC advisor on Africa now with the Center for American Progress and co-director of the Enough campaign, was the senior lead. Democratic foreign-policy watchers told me she was being considered to become head of USAID. She directed an inquiry on her future status to the transition team’s press officer, who said the position had yet to be announced.
  • On Latin America, Dan Restrepo, a former House International Relations committee Democratic staffer and director of the Americas Project at the Center for American Progress, was the senior lead.
  • On Russia and Eurasia, Stanford political science professor Michael McFaul was the senior lead, and Georgetown professor Celeste Wallander the deputy. McFaul is said to be under consideration for a top regional or democracy job in the administration. He declined to comment on his status.
  • On development and democracy, CAP’s Gayle Smith and Jeremy Weinstein, of Stanford University, served as the leads, and Stanford’s McFaul coordinated its democracy sub-working group.
  • On nonproliferation, Ivo Daalder, a former Clinton NSC official now with the Brookings Institution, served as senior lead and the coordinator, and is said to be under consideration to be an NSC advisor on nonproliferation. "I can’t comment on future employment issues," he emailed.
  • On Iraq, Colin Kahl, of Georgetown University and the Center for a New American Security, served as a rapid response coordinator.
  • On the Middle East, Daniel Shapiro, a former Clinton era NSC official and former Senate staffer, served as a coordinator. He was also the Obama campaign’s outreach coordinator to the Jewish community. Both Kahl and Shapiro declined to discuss their status.

One senior military expert told me that the only people calling him so far to find out what job he’ll take in the new Obama administration are… journalists.

More to come.

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