Never Mind the Veepstakes--Who's Next
As Secretary of State?
That's the question already rippling through the foreign policy establishment in Washington. Never mind the fact that not a single vote has yet been cast to decide the nominees for president. Forget the usual veepstakes that typically follow the resolution of the primaries. Some in the professional talking class are already debating who might be the next secretary of state.
Perhaps that should be no surprise in an era when international relations seem so paramount in our national life. The next secretary of state, after all, will have some enormous challenges waiting for him or her beyond just Putin -- rebuilding American prestige abroad while confronting Islamic jihadism, tackling the intractible Israeli-Palestinian dispute, unwinding Iranian and North Korean nuclear programs, stopping further bloodshed in Darfur, and so on.
And so the parlor games have begun. The most active speculators are sitting over at the Center for U.S. Global Engagement, where they have already put together a list of who they see as the leading contenders in both parties. What's more, they want you to play along -- send in your own nominations by tomorrow, the center says, and it will post the results of its survey.
For its possible candidates, the center runs through campaign advisers to the various candidates as well as unaffiliated party greybeards. On the Democratic side, it names former U.N. Ambassador Richard Holbrooke, former national security adviser Sandy Berger and former Agency for International Development director Brian Atwood (all currently advising New York Sen. Hillary Rodham Clinton); former national security adviser Tony Lake, former assistant secretary of state Susan Rice and former State Department policy and planning chief Greg Craig (advising Illinois Sen. Barack Obama ); and former deputy secretary of state Strobe Talbott, former senator Sam Nunn (Ga.) and former congressman Lee Hamilton, who co-chaired both the Sept. 11 investigation commission and the Iraq Study Group.
The names it floats for the Republican side include former deputy secretary of state Richard Armitage (advising Arizona Sen. John McCain), former U.N. ambassador John Bolton (advising former New York mayor Rudy Giuliani), former congressman Vin Weber (Minn.), Rep. Pete Hoekstra (Mich.) and former CIA counterterrorism chief Cofer Black (advising former Massachusetts governor Mitt Romney) and former Senate majority leader Howard Baker (Tenn.), former assistant secretary of state Liz Cheney, Council on Foreign Relations president Richard Haass, U.N. Ambassador Zalmay Khalilzad, Sen. Chuck Hagel (Neb.), Deputy Secretary of State John Negroponte and World Bank President Robert Zoellick
Some of those names can rather easily be crossed off the list, of course. No way Berger, who pleaded guilty in 2005 to taking classified documents from the National Archives and was disbarred earlier this year, ever wins Senate confirmation to anything again. And for that matter, Bolton was enough of a firebrand that he could not win confirmation as U.N. ambassador from a Republican Senate and served only as a recess appointment. It's also a little hard at this point to imagine Baker returning to public life when he would be 83 or Liz Cheney being elevated to such a high post.
Still, it's an interesting starting point. Some on the list are known to have harbored desire to be the nation's chief diplomat for a long time, such as Holbrooke, Negroponte and Zoellick. And some of the Democratic candidates now on stage with Clinton and Obama might be logical candidates. As The Trail's secretary of politics, Dan Balz, noted recently, Sen. Joe Biden (Del.), chairman of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, is asked regularly whether he is really running for secretary of state. He brushed it off when Tim Russert posed the question earlier this year on NBC's "Meet the Press," but the logic is easy to see. New Mexico Gov. Bill Richardson, a former U.N. ambassador who has negotiated with some of the baddest of bad guys around the world, would be an obvious candidate as well.
On the Republican side, it's harder to envision many of the also-rans in Foggy Bottom. Some discuss McCain as a possibility and it's true he is a sharp negotiator who reaches across ideological lines in the Senate, but on the other hand, he's not especially known for being diplomatic. More people see him as secretary of defense if he does not win, although he does not seem like the sort to want to work for someone else. California Rep. Duncan Hunter's hometown newspaper speculated when he joined the Republican presidential contest that he might really be setting himself up to be defense secretary in the next administration. And our Pentagon colleague Tom Ricks last week speculated that three leading Democratic candidates for defense secretary would be former defense secretary John Hamre, former Navy secretary Richard Danzig and Sen. Jack Reed (R.I.).
None of the candidates, of course, is talking about potential cabinet selections yet. But George W. Bush in 2000 went out of his way to hint that he would pick Colin L. Powell as his secretary of state, a way of reassuring voters that he would surround himself with seasoned figures. And it's not unusual to try to build coalitions by promising top positions to defeated primary rivals. Maybe former senator John Edwards (N.C.), who has made health care such an important part of his campaign, could be secretary of health and human services. Or former Arkansas governor Mike Huckabee, who lost 120 pounds and no longer eats food that, as he puts it, did not exist a century ago, could be head of the president's physical fitness council.
And then again, there are people running you may not ever want to see in your Cabinet or anywhere else for that matter. McCain was asked by our former colleague Jim VandeHei during a debate earlier this year if he would make Rep. Tom Tancredo (Colo.), the anti-immigration crusader, head of the Immigration and Customs Enforcement agency. McCain had a simple and direct answer: "In a word, no."
-- Peter Baker
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