The Cable

Danny Russel appointment couldn’t come soon enough

With President Barack Obama‘s appointment of Danny Russel to assistant secretary of state for East Asia, the president has returned one of his key national security advisors to the State Department to tackle some of his administration’s thorniest issues in a region boiling over with nationalist rhetoric and military posturing. If confirmed, Russel, a career ...

With President Barack Obama‘s appointment of Danny Russel to assistant secretary of state for East Asia, the president has returned one of his key national security advisors to the State Department to tackle some of his administration’s thorniest issues in a region boiling over with nationalist rhetoric and military posturing.

If confirmed, Russel, a career member of the Foreign Service and currently the senior director for Asian affairs in the White House National Security Staff, will fill the big shoes of Kurt Campbell, architect of a slew of first-term administration policy initiatives including efforts to open up Myanmar. The position, which is the top diplomatic post in East Asia, has been vacant since February when Campbell stepped down.

"It’s almost June. It’s time to get the team in place and start cracking," Tommy Vietor, former National Security Council spokesman, told The Cable. "I think the signal here is that Asia continues to be a top priority for the president and he wants one of his top emissaries out in the field implementing his policy."

After four years away at the White House, Russel’s return to Foggy Bottom is the subject of a flurry of chatter at the department. An insider tells Chris Nelson, who runs an exclusive newsletter focused on Asian affairs, that Russel will have to regain the trust of colleagues in the building given his long absence. "He’s run into the age-old problem of any career person being on ‘detatched’ duty, and in this case over 4 years at the White House, before returning to the Mother Ship," the source told Nelson. "So he’s really got to work to reach out to former colleagues and re-build personal connections."

Vietor, however, says that White House experience is exactly what will make Russel such an effective diplomat. "Foreign leaders will know Danny’s spent as much time with Obama as anyone and that’s really important," he said. "He’s also worked directly with Tom Donilon, Tony Blinken, Denis McDonough, Joe Biden — all the top people in the White House."

Some critics have suggested that in Russel, the administration has selected a Japan guy at a time when Obama’s "pivot to Asia" necessitates a deeper knowledge of China. (Before joining the White House, Russel was director of the Office of Japanese Affairs at State.) But Vietor dismissed the criticism as nonsense. "Danny knows every issue the White House has dealt with for the last four years," he said. "He’s been involved in every important debate about China and North Korea and can really answer authoritatively about any question he’s asked."

Obama sent Russel’s nomination to the Senate on Thursday.

Trending Now Sponsored Links by Taboola

By Taboola

More from Foreign Policy

By Taboola