Wither the Subcabinet?

Spencer Ackerman has a great article on the concern that a lot of Obama-minded people have about the prospect of Hillary Clinton at Foggy Bottom — they worry about what that means for subcabinet positions:

Some progressive Obama supporters think the arrival of Clinton at the State Dept. will mean they’ll be frozen out. That would have implications for their advancement in subsequent Democratic administrations.

“Basically, you have all of these young, next-generation and mid-career people who took a chance on Obama” during the primaries, said one Democratic foreign-policy expert included in that cohort. “They were many times the ones who were courageous enough to stand up early against Iraq, which is why many of them supported Obama in the first place. And many of them would likely get shut out of the mid-career and assistant-secretary type jobs that you need, so that they can one day be the top people running a future Democratic administration.”

In the foreign-policy bureaucracy, these middle-tier jobs — assistant secretary and principal-deputy-assistant and deputy-assistant — are stepping stones to bigger, more important jobs, because they’re where much of the actual policy-making is hashed out. Those positions flesh out strategic decisions made by the president and cabinet secretaries; implement those policies; and use their expertise to both inform decisions and propose targeted or specific solutions to particular crises.


To add some further context here, back during the primaries there was tons of talk of the most senior “foreign policy community” types in Clinton’s orbit “warning” younger national security professionals that there would be big-time payback if they backed Obama and he wound up losing. At the same time, while on the top level Clinton tended to attract a diverse group of people with personal ties to her, at the bottom level you tended to get a lot of very risk-averse careerists — the sort of people who just sign on with the frontrunner and don’t really have any passion or vision. I think that sort of thing wound up ill-serving Clinton during the campaign, when one advantage Obama had was a staff full of genuinely passionate supporters, and I doubt it’s a dynamic she deliberately wants to foster. But you could have a situation where Secretary of State Clinton wants to bring in as key subordinates loyalists who she’s comfortable with, and then those loyalists want to go about fulfilling their threat of punishing Obama supporters by locking them out.

Suffice it to say, that would be a bad thing.