I didn’t really think of this when it was first announced, but one advantage to appointing a big-shot like Hillary Clinton — and perhaps more important than being a big-shot, someone for whom saying “yes” wasn’t a no-brainer — to head the State Department is that it gives her the clout to argue forcefully for a rebalancing of institutional power away from the Pentagon and toward Foggy Bottom. That’s something the country needs, and even Robert Gates has acknowledged that it’s something we need, but Secretary-designate Clinton has both the motivation and the clout and network and credibility needed to get the job done. The official news that James Steinberg will be her Deputy is also good news. As Steve Clemons observes Steinberg was one of those who recognized the wisdom of setting a date for getting out of Iraq before that became the politically kosher stance for big-shot Democrats to take. Ironically, his co-author on the piece in question was Michael O’Hanlon who later backed off that view, but Steinberg never has. Steinberg also wanted to meet some bloggers at Netroots Nation over the summer, which I think makes him more aware than most security wonks of where things are headed in terms of activist groups.
I’m less sure that having the State Department play a bigger role in international economic policy is really such a great idea. Letting the Treasury lead on this worked fine during the Clinton administration and insofar as it hasn’t worked under Bush it’s been because his Treasury Secretaries have been unimpressive and subcabinet jobs have often lingered vacant for long periods of time. In general, I’d like to see economic people more involved with foreign policy rather than foreign policy people more involved with economics.
The idea of reviving the practice of sending “special envoys” to places is a good one. The three people specifically named as potential envoys to deal with the Israel-Arab conflict, however, were not so encouraging — I’m not sure either Dennis Ross, Martin Indyk, or Richard Holbrooke would be seen as credible honest brokers in that role. There are a lot of other parts of the world where Holbrooke, in particular, could be very effective and where that wouldn’t be an issue. Of the buzzed-about names for Israel-Arab issues, Dan Kurtzer continues to be my favorite, though in principle anyone could be good in that job if they really want to be.