All Obama’s personnel issues resolved on one napkin

So, I’m sitting here waiting for my telephone to ring. Or better yet to vibrate. But so far, President Obama has not called to ask my advice on how to ensure the administration is in the best possible position to both build on the accomplishments of its first two years and to learn from the ...

MANDEL NGAN/AFP/Getty Images
MANDEL NGAN/AFP/Getty Images
MANDEL NGAN/AFP/Getty Images

So, I'm sitting here waiting for my telephone to ring. Or better yet to vibrate. But so far, President Obama has not called to ask my advice on how to ensure the administration is in the best possible position to both build on the accomplishments of its first two years and to learn from the lessons of the first half of what I'm still betting will be the first of his two terms in office.

I doodle notes on a napkin while I stare at my Blackberry Torch waiting for it to tremble with excitement. This is what I've got so far ...

People are policies. Pick the right people and you get their experience, their worldview and their ability to translate ideas into actions. You know this because you've picked some good ones and some not-so-good ones. But you have a great opportunity because of the turn-over that is taking place in many jobs ... and because you can force turn-over in other positions that need it. I have a few ideas, some overlap slightly. You don't have to do them all. But you probably should. They're really good ideas...

So, I’m sitting here waiting for my telephone to ring. Or better yet to vibrate. But so far, President Obama has not called to ask my advice on how to ensure the administration is in the best possible position to both build on the accomplishments of its first two years and to learn from the lessons of the first half of what I’m still betting will be the first of his two terms in office.

I doodle notes on a napkin while I stare at my Blackberry Torch waiting for it to tremble with excitement. This is what I’ve got so far …

People are policies. Pick the right people and you get their experience, their worldview and their ability to translate ideas into actions. You know this because you’ve picked some good ones and some not-so-good ones. But you have a great opportunity because of the turn-over that is taking place in many jobs … and because you can force turn-over in other positions that need it. I have a few ideas, some overlap slightly. You don’t have to do them all. But you probably should. They’re really good ideas…

1. Chief of Staff
Finalizing your decision about White House chief of staff is key. Pete Rouse is a pretty good choice and by all reports from the inside your operation is running much better with him in place that back in the days of Rahm. (I think we have to admit that the very talented and smart Rahm was a case of right man, wrong job.) You’ve got three possible directions here. One choice is the strong outsider who can truly be a COO of the White House and the kind of top advisor who behind closed doors will be brutally frank with you. There are plenty of great choices for this job, the best have some experience running a government organization, can work the Hill behind the scenes and can be a good spokesperson in a pinch. I still think Ed Rendell would be a great choice here. So too would be Erskine Bowles or Colin Powell. Another plan of action is to formalize the appointment of Rouse. But for me the best choice would be to elevate Arne Duncan from the Education department to being your right-hand man in the White House. He has emerged as one of the great stars of your cabinet.  He is already a simpatico trusted advisor. You can discuss strategy over a game of hoops. And among your team members, if you want to really produce a legacy, he’s one who might someday be a terrific presidential candidate. This job would be a great springboard for him.  What’s more, it would give you the chance to…

2. Secretary of Education
Make Michelle Rhee Secretary of Education. Oh, please, please. I know it is unseemly to beg a president but this would be worth it just to hear teachers’ union leaders thudding to the floor like felled redwoods when the announcement reached them. Oh, and it would also be great for America’s school kids and our future. Second choice: Joel Klein. (Although all this is predicated on moving Duncan … who is doing a first class job for you. In fact, he, Hillary and Gates are clearly your cabinet stars so far.)

3. Empower Your Cabinet
Speaking of your cabinet, you’ll do better the more you empower them. You know that hasn’t happened so far, particularly on the economic side. Part of that was the management style of your core economic leadership. Part of it was that you personally didn’t make do enough to put them out front. The best thing you can do for your cabinet is to tell your Bubble Commanders (the personal team around you) that the president of the United States should not be the sole spokesperson for his administration on most important issues.

4. Replace Larry Summers
Let’s start with your next most important appointment, finding a replacement for Larry Summers. This has been a badly botched job so far.  You’ve known Larry was going forever and you still have no decision.  And frankly your current candidates while all worthy individuals are not home runs.  You want someone who can be both an honest broker, a close advisor to you and a spokesperson when needs be (but that is a secondary consideration for this job.) As I have said before, the best move would be to put Tim Geithner into the job and to get a high-profile guy like Mike Bloomberg or Jamie Dimon to take the role of being chief economic spokesperson (a vital job given the state of the nation and during the campaign home stretch). But if you won’t go that way, then please go back to the drawing board and consider this a place to put into someone who has actually created a job.  (Commerce is another.) It’s a glaring hole in your team.  Or, if you are doing an internal pick, why not Mike Froman, Larry Summer’s former deputy and your old law school buddy. He knows the ropes and while he won’t be a spokesperson, he would be a highly capable honest broker…but…

5. Replace Ron Kirk
All the tea leaves suggest you’re thinking of him to replace Ron Kirk at USTR. That’s not an awful choice … but there are other very good choices within the administration. My leading pick from inside the house: Ambassador Jon Huntsman, who is a former governor, knows business, has USTR experience and has been a terrific ambassador to China. Of course, this is also a slot to put in a former ceo or at least someone who knows business issues well.  The best place to do that of course is…

6. Commerce
Gary Locke is a serious guy but as one wag recently said, he makes Warren Christopher look like Axl Rose in the charisma department.  You need another person who can stump for you here. This would be another place you could put Ed Rendell, theoretically … but my pick if you go the ex-governor route is Jennifer Granholm. Michigan is the heart of the issues we face and she knows these issues inside out. Among CEOs, pick one of the ones you get along with … there were plenty of good choices among the 20 people you had at Blair House yesterday. 

7. What to do with Defense
On the security side the big looming choice is at Defense. I’m on the record as saying Powell would be an interesting choice here and he would certainly do well if we could clear away all the former general underbrush. But another good choice among that rich vein of talent currently departing the hill would be Evan Bayh who knows the issues thanks to his committee assignments but best of all, is a man who thrived running the state of Indiana. Another direction: pick a business leader and underscore that your real focus is remaking DoD for the century ahead. How about Jeff Immelt of GE or Alan Mulally of Ford or Jim McNerney of Boeing? 

8. Richard Holbrooke’s Successor
Want to replace Holbrooke with someone who will dive into the issues with abandon and courage? How about Bill Richardson? He’s a bit of an unmade bed, but he gets results and is great on the personal diplomacy front. 

Ok, I could go on but it was a cocktail napkin and even though I was writing very small, I ran out of room right where I got to a stain from my drink that made the napkin all wet and hard to work with. It’s too bad because I was about to get started on the sub-cabinet.

David 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. Twitter: @djrothkopf

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