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deputy dispute
Obama and Kerry Squabble Over State Department

The President’s national security and foreign policy teams have had a pretty bad week. Following an article in Politico in which former officials called the administration “pathetically weak” and another in the Daily Beast that pointed to profound divisions between the President’s NSC and the Pentagon, it seems that yet another crack has emerged in the administration over who should be John Kerry’s deputy at State. As Foreign Policy reports:

After months of intensive negotiations between the White House and the State Department, multiple sources familiar with the discussions say President Barack Obama now favors the nomination of Deputy National Security Advisor Tony Blinken for deputy secretary of state, the No. 2 position in Foggy Bottom.

The president came to that view despite a strong push by his own secretary of state, John Kerry, who advocated for the nomination of Wendy Sherman, the undersecretary of state for political affairs and chief U.S. negotiator on the Iran nuclear talks. The dispute between Kerry and Obama over the post hasn’t previously been reported. […]

Though Blinken and Sherman are generally admired within the State Department, some rank-and-file employees would prefer the nomination of a career foreign service officer to replace Burns, something neither have on their CVs.

Sherman will be taken on as interim deputy, while Blinken will apparently get the eventual nomination from the President. Sherman has been the administration’s chief negotiator in talks with Iran—talks that so far have produced little she could hang her hat on. She’s developed a rapprochement with Iran, a stance that seems to be alienating key allies and bringing us closer to traditional enemies. The latest round of talks also seems to have produced a proposal that Russia once again come to the rescue when the U.S. wants a Middle Eastern regime to dispose of WMD. The FP article alludes to the fact that both potential nominees worked in the Democratic Party political world before entering the State Department—Sherman as a director at EMILY’s List, and Blinken as a fundraiser for the Dukakis campaign.

Without getting into who would make a better deputy at State, this latest example of administration squabbling—and the fact that the details were leaked to the press—can hardly alleviate recent concerns about the competency of the President’s team.

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  • jeburke

    Normally, I’d be sympathetic with Kerry on the grounds that a Secretary should be able to choose his second banana, especially when the NSC has already been running roughshod over State and the other agencies. But in this case, both Sherman and Blinken are political hacks, making either a big step down from the widely respected Bill Burns, a veteran professional Foreign Service Officer

    • Corlyss

      The problem with this Administration is it doesn’t know anyone who ISN’T a hack, including Kerry and Hegel. Val made sure that anyone who had substantive knowledge was dispatched in short order. Since State ping pongs between fecklessness, ineptitude, and grandiosity, it really is no never mind who ostensibly runs the place. Ordinarily, the most important US foreign policy is expressed thru DoD, but in Doofus’ case, to SecDef he appointed a guy who more properly belongs at State and put at State a guy who never should have left the legislative graveyard where he’s spent most of his adult life.

  • Anthony

    “…Sherman as a director at EMILY’s List, and Blinken as a fundraiser for the Dukakis campaign.” Not to discount anyone’s CV but given geopolitical concerns going forward (see Ankit Panda @ The Diplomat for an example), would not a No. 2 State Position exact more. Brings to mind Francis Fukuyama’s Neo-Patrimonialism.

  • Andrew Allison

    “. . . concerns about the competency of the President’s team.” Surely you jest. There’s absolutely no question about its competency, or rather the appalling lack thereof.

  • FriendlyGoat

    I have always been surprised that Obama picked Kerry, AND surprised that Kerry wanted the job. As far as I’m concerned, the Secretary and the Assistant Secretary should both be career diplomats, with the proviso, of course, that such people are like-minded with the president. But, we would be showing more respect to all other nations by sending out people who are not newbies to how diplomacy is conducted and what it is about.

    • Corlyss

      When I was in college, supposedly headed for the Foreign Service, I thoght the same thing. But when I got over the notion of going to State for a career, I realized that State was to foreign policy as Commerce was to US economic policy.

      • FriendlyGoat

        I wonder, if we didn’t have those more-subdued bureaucrats, whether we could get away with swinging our diplomatic relationships all over the place with the personality changes between high-profile Secretaries—-particularly when the party in The White House changes. It’s tempting to believe that long-term government employees are dull and don’t know or contribute anything—–but I’m betting there is more stability there than meets our eyes.

        • Corlyss

          Ordinarily there is more stability in lifers in government service. That was the plan anyway in the era when technocrats offered more expertise and less politicization than the patronage system. But something strange has happened over the last 50-60 years as federal programs exploded and their reach extended via regulations increasingly deeply into daily lives and thus daily awareness of citizens: it behooved the parties to find True Believers and burrow them into the dismissal-proof civil service while making it increasingly difficult to hold those employees accountable for their actions. Both parties are guilty; the Republicans only slightly less guilty because Republicans don’t consider government work a life’s calling, while the Democrats manifest the messianic zeal in all their most cherished programs that characterized students in the 60s. The system has not figured out how to deal with this phenomenon yet It may never figure it out. The best model might be the military: up or out in 20 years, with very very few senior positions at the top and occupying one of those is not a goal most members are encouraged to shoot for. Civil service might best be dealt with by making those jobs limited and not life-time appointments they usually turn out to be. Civil service reform is notoriously difficult to accomplish: every one that’s ever been enacted has shortly been parsed and neutralized so that no one who might have been the putative targets of reforms suffers.

          • FriendlyGoat

            If, as you say, our State Department is always in a back seat position to DoD drivers on diplomacy, Americans should be embarrassed that Defense has accomplished a more-or-less permanent coup of power.

  • Corlyss

    I eargerly await Doofus’ thoughtful analysis of how Kerry & Josh Earnst cost the Dems the Senate majority.

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