Personnel “attaboys” amid Obama’s “heckuva job” start
By Peter Feaver Increasingly, the blogosphere is telling the Obama Team that they are doing a "heckuva job" in appointing people to their national security/foreign policy team. The latest foul-up is the abortive nomination of Ambassador Chas Freeman to be Director of the National Intelligence Council. Reasonable people can debate whether Freeman was a good ...
By Peter Feaver
By Peter Feaver
Increasingly, the blogosphere is telling the Obama Team that they are doing a "heckuva job" in appointing people to their national security/foreign policy team. The latest foul-up is the abortive nomination of Ambassador Chas Freeman to be Director of the National Intelligence Council. Reasonable people can debate whether Freeman was a good choice to begin with: David Broder thinks he was, and the Washington Post editors think he wasn’t. But it is hard to argue that the process was handled well. Add to this the various affairs of Zinni, Hill, and Ross, and the dots begin to assemble into a fairly unflattering portrait.
Well, I want this blog to be fair and balanced, so instead of belaboring bad or poorly handled choices, let me instead do the counter-cyclical move of listing a couple of appointments made or pending that are good ones. Preemptive disclosure: the names I am naming are people I have worked with or studied with or just generally argued with about U.S. national security in the past. I know some better than others, but all well enough to have some comfort with the idea of them offering critical national security advice.
To begin: Michelle Flournoy as Under-Secretary of Defense for Policy. She has a daunting portfolio, but none more analytically challenging than the Quadrennial Defense Review (QDR), for which she has been preparing most of her professional life. If the Defense Department sticks with its plan to do a "whole of government" QDR, Michelle’s job will get even more challenging.
Good thing she has picked a very able deputy in Jim Miller. If confirmed, he will carry a lot of the QDR load. Michelle and Jim are both tough-minded security specialists who made trenchant but informed and constructive critiques of the Bush administration’s foreign policy, and for this very reason, the Bush NSC made a point of reaching out to them to solicit their views — even, or especially, when we knew they disagreed with us. Furthermore, the decision to retain Mike Vickers on as Assistant Secretary of Defense in Michelle’s policy shop is a very good one, too, and reinforces their commitment to bipartisan policymaking on defense.
I also happen to think that Ash Carter (one of my dissertation advisors), if confirmed, will be a strong Under-Secretary of Defense for Acquisition. Industry types are criticizing the pick because he has not had a weapons-procurement background, but he has one of the smartest defense analytic minds I have encountered. He is part of the Democratic A-team on national security, and given the challenges the Defense Department faces in crafting a strategy that bridges defense ends and means, they need the A-team.
Over at State, there are at least three good picks worth applauding (beyond the Kurt Campbell one I previously clapped for). Anne-Marie Slaughter is a deep thinker on international relations and so a solid pick to be Director of Policy Planning. If she can navigate the daunting State bureaucracy to get the ear of Secretary Clinton, she will be an important voice in the foreign policy debate. I have also been impressed with her deputy, Derek Chollet, who is a tough-minded strategist. And the recently rumored decision to make Dan Fried the special envoy for persuading Europeans to help us deal with Guantanamo detainees is inspired. That may be a hopeless task, but if anyone can deliver it will be Ambassador Fried.
Finally, the choice of Lael Brainerd to be Under-Secretary of Treasury for International Affairs is a very good one and overdue. This is another daunting portfolio, and I am glad she will have it.
In sum, while it is appropriate to ding the Obama team when they make personnel missteps, it is also worth noting that they have made some good picks, too. I reserve the right to disagree with some of the policies or decisions these picks make, but I am starting out hopeful they will make pretty good ones.
Peter D. Feaver is a professor of political science and public policy at Duke University, where he directs the Program in American Grand Strategy.
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