The Cable

The Cable goes inside the foreign policy machine, from Foggy Bottom to Turtle Bay, the White House to Embassy Row.

GOP fangs out for Wendy Sherman

In the GOP’s latest salvo in its campaign against Obama nominees, conservatives didn’t even wait for Wendy Sherman to be nominated as the next undersecretary of State for Policy before attacking her suitability for the post. The Cable first reported on May 25 that Sherman is the "leading candidate" to replace Bill Burns, who was ...

In the GOP's latest salvo in its campaign against Obama nominees, conservatives didn't even wait for Wendy Sherman to be nominated as the next undersecretary of State for Policy before attacking her suitability for the post.

The Cable first reported on May 25 that Sherman is the "leading candidate" to replace Bill Burns, who was nominated as Deputy Secretary of State Jim Steinberg's replacement. Currently the vice chair of the Albright Stonebridge Group, Sherman was counselor to Secretary of State Madeleine Albright, where she also held the role of North Korea policy coordinator. She served as assistant secretary of State for legislative affairs from 1993 to 1996 under Secretary of State Warren Christopher. She is also chair of the board of directors of Oxfam America and serves on the U.S. Department of Defense's Defense Policy Board.

In the GOP’s latest salvo in its campaign against Obama nominees, conservatives didn’t even wait for Wendy Sherman to be nominated as the next undersecretary of State for Policy before attacking her suitability for the post.

The Cable first reported on May 25 that Sherman is the "leading candidate" to replace Bill Burns, who was nominated as Deputy Secretary of State Jim Steinberg‘s replacement. Currently the vice chair of the Albright Stonebridge Group, Sherman was counselor to Secretary of State Madeleine Albright, where she also held the role of North Korea policy coordinator. She served as assistant secretary of State for legislative affairs from 1993 to 1996 under Secretary of State Warren Christopher. She is also chair of the board of directors of Oxfam America and serves on the U.S. Department of Defense’s Defense Policy Board.

President Obama hasn’t actually announced his intention to nominate Sherman. Our sources say the nomination is all but certain — although nothing is 100 percent certain until it’s announced. Meanwhile, those on the right who are opposed to her nomination have begun airing their concerns in the media.

Over at Washington Post’s Right Turn blog, conservative writer Jennifer Rubin has posted three pieces on Sherman this week. The first one on June 14 contended that Sherman’s tenure as a key official on North Korea policy was not an unqualified success. "She was a key player, at then-Secretary of State Madeleine Albright’s side in negotiating the North Korea deal that is generally regarded as a farce and a failure," Rubin wrote. She also quoted conservative writer Claudia Rosett, who named Sherman as "part of the Clinton team that brought us some of the worst appeasement of North Korea."

Rubin then speculated that Sherman might have represented the Chinese government or a Chinese state-owned company while at Stonebridge. Rubin quotes a "Senate advisor" as saying, "Senators will specifically want to know if the prospective nominee for the number 3 position in the State Department has lobbied for the People’s Republic of China."

Rubin’s second post on Sherman June 15 quoted former State Department official John Bolton as saying Sherman was "centrally involved" in a North Korea policy that amounted to "appeasement."

Rubin’s third post today focuses on Sherman’s tenure as head of the Fannie Mae Foundation from 1996 to 1997. The destructive behavior of Fannie Mae, which the New York TimesDavid Brooks said "helped sink the American economy," largely were perpetrated after Sherman left, but Rubin nonetheless asserts, "Sherman had left by 2001 but surely her role in the debacle-in-the-making should be cause for concern."

We went to our administration sources to see how they were planning to respond to the already heated attacks on their potential high-level nominee. Administration officials were reluctant to engage in a media war over a nominee who has yet even to be named, but spelled out their current thinking about the charges leveled against Sherman.

One administration official bristled at Rubin’s insinuation that Sherman worked as a lobbyist, perhaps even for the Chinese, while at Stonebridge. Sherman was never a lobbyist, was never representing a foreign agent, and as such was never registered as a lobbyist or a representative of foreign governments.

"If you look at who Wendy’s clients are that have been public, they are household names like Coke, BMW, and Pew Global attitudes. These are items in the public eye," the official said.

Moreover, when Sherman worked for the Fannie Mae Foundation, it was a 501(c)(3) entity – a tax-exempt, non-profit organization — and she was never paid directly by Fannie Mae.

One talking point that’s sure to come up, if and when she is nominated, is the fact that Sherman was confirmed by a Republican Senate in 1997 to be State Department counselor, and approved by a Republican Senate Foreign Relations Committee led at the time by Sen. Jesse Helms. And this was after her time at the Fannie Mae Foundation.

"It’s a bit ironic to bring this up now, considering the GOP actually confirmed her after she worked there," the official said.

Overall, administration sources close to the issue are aware they may in for a battle over Sherman’s nomination, but they feel they have a strong argument and a strong nominee who can weather the storm.

"It’s interesting that people are starting extraordinary fishing expeditions when there’s no nomination," the official said. "But it just speaks to Wendy’s professional qualifications and abilities, the lengths to which people are digging around."

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 josh.rogin@foreignpolicy.com.

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

More from Foreign Policy

A worker cuts the nose off the last Ukraine's Tupolev-22M3, the Soviet-made strategic aircraft able to carry nuclear weapons at a military base in Poltava, Ukraine on Jan. 27, 2006. A total of 60 aircraft were destroyed  according to the USA-Ukrainian disarmament agreement.
A worker cuts the nose off the last Ukraine's Tupolev-22M3, the Soviet-made strategic aircraft able to carry nuclear weapons at a military base in Poltava, Ukraine on Jan. 27, 2006. A total of 60 aircraft were destroyed according to the USA-Ukrainian disarmament agreement.

Why Do People Hate Realism So Much?

The school of thought doesn’t explain everything—but its proponents foresaw the potential for conflict over Ukraine long before it erupted.

Employees watch a cargo ship at a port in China, which is experiencing an economic downturn.
Employees watch a cargo ship at a port in China, which is experiencing an economic downturn.

China’s Crisis of Confidence

What if, instead of being a competitor, China can no longer afford to compete at all?

Federal Reserve Chair Jerome Powell testifies in the U.S. Senate in Washington on Sept. 24, 2020.
Federal Reserve Chair Jerome Powell testifies in the U.S. Senate in Washington on Sept. 24, 2020.

Why This Global Economic Crisis Is Different

This is the first time since World War II that there may be no cooperative way out.

Chinese President Xi Jinping (left) and Premier Li Keqiang applaud at the closing session of the National People's Congress at the Great Hall of the People in Beijing on March 11.
Chinese President Xi Jinping (left) and Premier Li Keqiang applaud at the closing session of the National People's Congress at the Great Hall of the People in Beijing on March 11.

China Is Hardening Itself for Economic War

Beijing is trying to close economic vulnerabilities out of fear of U.S. containment.