State raising Steinberg’s profile ahead of latest four-nation trip
Is Deputy Secretary of State Jim Steinberg up or down? In or out? Rising or falling? For all the Kremlinology focused on the top tier of the Obama administration these days, the actual level of Steinberg’s influence is hard to pinpoint. But as Steinberg leaves for the Balkans and Central Europe Monday night, what’s clear ...
Is Deputy Secretary of State Jim Steinberg up or down? In or out? Rising or falling? For all the Kremlinology focused on the top tier of the Obama administration these days, the actual level of Steinberg’s influence is hard to pinpoint.
But as Steinberg leaves for the Balkans and Central Europe Monday night, what’s clear is that Clinton’s No. 2 is engaged in a huge number of diplomatic issues facing the State Department and the Department is making a concerted effort to assert his role and stature in a more public way.
Steinberg gave a rare press conference at the Foreign Press Center last week to brief his upcoming travel to Slovenia, Sarajevo, Serbia, and Kosovo. He also talked at length about his recent trip to China and Japan with NSC Senior Director for Asia Jeffrey Bader.
Some made a big deal about Steinberg’s appointments being added to the daily email sent out by State’s communications shop each day announcing Clinton’s schedule. Whether or not the change in the email actually reflects increased coordination between Clinton and Steinberg’s actions is unknown, but the change is a clear sign that State is trying to increase Steinberg’s visibility.
For example, through those daily alerts we learned that on March 30 he sat in President Obama’s bilateral meeting with French President Nicolas Sarkozy at the White House.
Since The Cable first reported that Steinberg had thrown his hat into the search for a new dean of the Georgetown School of Foreign Service (which he has denied), we’ve received a ton of email and phone calls from Steinberg defenders and detractors alike. Those close to Steinberg felt our story went too far in repeating the oft-heard speculation that Steinberg is an unhappy camper at State.
There are two conventional story lines about Steinberg’s role in the administration, both of them imperfect and at least partially incorrect. One paints him as Obama’s mole in Foggy Bottom, because of his frequent visits to the White House and his longstanding ties to many in the White House and the National Security Council. The other somewhat false narrative describes Steinberg as a disgruntled official, lamenting that he didn’t get some higher position and pushing to have as much influence as possible.
Our sources paint a more nuanced picture of a man who is energetic and enthusiastic about helping to run the State Department at one of the most dynamic periods of American foreign policy, but also looking forward to a future after government service where he can devote more time to his young family.
Steinberg’s wife, Sherburne Abbott, works in the White House for science advisor John Holdren. That means a lot of late nights for both of them. It also means that Steinberg has a very good reason to stay in Washington, rather than returning to University of Texas at Austin, where he had been dean of the Lyndon B. Johnson School of Public Affairs from 2005 to 2009.
He visits the White House a lot because that was part of his agreement with Obama when taking the job, that he be in the interagency loop at a level similar to a principal, our sources said. Also, with Clinton traveling so much these days, she trusts him to represent State in the principal’s level meetings, alternating with the other deputy secretary Jack Lew. Add to that Steinberg’s participation in the Deputies Committee meetings, and that adds up to a lot of White House visits.
Many of our State Department sources still complain, privately, that Steinberg’s direct involvement in so many policy issues complicates the policy process and sometimes runs afoul of regional bureaus that work underneath him.
As for the length of his tenure, apparently Steinberg told President Obama when he took the job that it would only be for two years, multiple sources said, but it’s not clear if that’s still his thinking and there’s no indication that Obama or Clinton wants to see him go.
Josh Rogin covers national security and foreign policy and writes the daily Web column The Cable. His column appears bi-weekly in the print edition of The Washington Post. He can be reached for comments or tips at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Previously, Josh covered defense and foreign policy as a staff writer for Congressional Quarterly, writing extensively on Iraq, Afghanistan, Guantánamo Bay, U.S.-Asia relations, defense budgeting and appropriations, and the defense lobbying and contracting industries. Prior to that, he covered military modernization, cyber warfare, space, and missile defense for Federal Computer Week Magazine. He has also served as Pentagon Staff Reporter for the Asahi Shimbun, Japan's leading daily newspaper, in its Washington, D.C., bureau, where he reported on U.S.-Japan relations, Chinese military modernization, the North Korean nuclear crisis, and more.
A graduate of George Washington University's Elliott School of International Affairs, Josh lived in Yokohama, Japan, and studied at Tokyo's Sophia University. He speaks conversational Japanese and has reported from the region. He has also worked at the House International Relations Committee, the Embassy of Japan, and the Brookings Institution.
Josh's reporting has been featured on CNN, MSNBC, C-Span, CBS, ABC, NPR, WTOP, and several other outlets. He was a 2008-2009 National Press Foundation's Paul Miller Washington Reporting Fellow, 2009 military reporting fellow with the Knight Center for Specialized Journalism and the 2011 recipient of the InterAction Award for Excellence in International Reporting. He hails from Philadelphia and lives in Washington, D.C. Twitter: @joshrogin
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