New stories

0 New Stories Since Your Last Visit

Security Details

Why Obama's foreign policy team might work really well.


The idea is to find the right match. Soul mates or perhaps a team of rivals? If only there were an eHarmony for presidential transitions, Thomas Jefferson might get matched with Condoleezza Rice: "Widower, nation's first SoS, seeks SBF, preferably also former SoS, for 'diplomatic' liaison at country estate. Turn-ons include long trips to France; turn-offs include 'preemptive' war and Sudoku."

Well, maybe not...

But somewhere between the respective talents of our first and latest secretaries of state lies the key to understanding the logic of the Obama foreign policy team. On one hand, the author of the Declaration of Independence might have been a bit overqualified, and on the other, Condi, the Russian-speaking Cold War theorist might have been just a tad overmatched by Afghanistan, Pakistan and Iraq.

Obama's biggest problem regarding diplomacy is that he'll always be sending the second-best person to do the job. Any other president would want to send Obama as a special envoy to smooth things out in India and Pakistan after the Mumbai siege because if you combine Jay-Z's world-beating, New Jack CEO vibe with Bill Clinton's Oxford-tinged, "This-kebab-is-delicious!" populism, you have Obama's worldwide appeal wrapped up in a sepia-toned nutshell.

Obama can't be everywhere at once. He's bringing in a team that has the chops to get the job done without his day-to-day micromanagement: Sen. Hillary Clinton at State; Obama campaign adviser and former Assistant Secretary of State for African Affairs Dr. Susan Rice as U.N. Ambassador; Bush holdover Sec. Robert Gates at Defense, and former U.S. Marine Corps Commandant and Supreme Allied Commander in Europe Gen. Jim Jones in the White House as national security adviser. Here's why it could work:

Madame Secrétaire

Foreign policy mavens Tom Friedman and David Ignatius don't love it. They anticipate cognitive dissonance between Clinton, the consummate insider, and Obama, the wunderkind. Ignatius warns against "subcontracting" Obama's agenda to Clinton, and Friedman points out that foreign leaders can see daylight between the views of the president and the secretary of state "from 1,000 miles away"—valid points, to be sure.

But if one thing was demonstrated in 2008, it is that Obama is no rookie when it comes to dealing with foreign leaders. And skeptics might reflect on the events of 2002, when then Secretary of State Colin Powell—with years of experience and a war hero's reservoir of goodwill—wound up behind a microphone at the U.N. General Assembly, pitching the Bush/Cheney/Rumsfeld war plan with a bootleg PowerPoint presentation. The lesson, then and now, is that a strong president will make the final call, even when the secretary of state has an independent political platform.

Five of the first eight presidents were secretaries of state. If Clinton wants to run for president in 2016, it's as good a résumé item as any for her. The hitch is that she's won't even be the second woman to hold the post, so there's no historic "first" feather for her cap. She's going to have to get things done, not just hype her own brand, if she wants to gain anything from her tenure at Foggy Bottom. And that's how it fits together for Obama. She advances her own cause by advancing his.

Gates Locked