Secretary of State Hillary Clinton’s closest aides reiterated on Wednesday that she plans to step down from her post even after President Obama won re-election. Although there is no exact timetable for Clinton’s departure, everyone is wondering: who will be her replacement? Below, I outline the three front-runners discussed for the seat, followed by three sleeper picks that would be wise choices for secretary of state by President Obama.
Although he has promised to run again for his Senate seat in 2014, John Kerry is the clear front-runner to replace Secretary Clinton. Kerry has been the chair of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee and has significant experience in Afghanistan and Pakistan. Some fear that Senator Kerry experience would cause him to assert his own views rather than strictly toe the Obama administration line. This should be a moot point, as these same fears were held about Secretary Clinton. Perhaps the biggest obstacle to Senator Kerry becoming secretary of state is the election of Democrat Elizabeth Warren, Kerry’s new Senate counterpart from Massachusetts. A special election for Kerry’s vacated seat would be an easy seat for Republican Scott Brown to chase, costing Democrats a coveted seat in the Senate.
Tom Donilon, currently serving as national security adviser, is another highly touted pick for secretary of state. Although he has served in the Obama administration for some time and the Clinton administration previously, he is not a high profile international figure. This simultaneously helps and hurts his chances. Typically, a high profile international figure is a good fit for secretary of state. However, President Obama has a penchant for picking “super-staffer” types for his administration, and Donilon certainly fits this mold. Critics may be worried that appointing the national security advisor to the State Department will cause an even further securitization of our foreign policy. Many former secretaries of state, including Condoleezza Rice and Henry Kissinger, first were national security advisor. I hear smart money is on Donilon replacing Secretary Clinton sometime soon.
After the recent imbroglio over the death of Ambassador Christopher Stevens and three other Americans in Benghazi, many claim that Ambassador Rice’s chances to succeed Secretary Clinton have greatly diminished. Any confirmation hearing for Ambassador Rice would likely be devoid of any substantive questions, except for those about Benghazi. Still, there are those who point to Ambassador Rice’s closeness to President Obama and her fierce defense of his foreign policy at the United Nations to make a solid case for her remaining a front-runner to become our next secretary of state.
Former Utah Governor and Republican presidential candidate Jon Huntsman is my dog in this fight for secretary of state, and anonymous White House officials are giving him serious consideration as well. Throughout the GOP primary debates, Huntsman never wavered in his positions in an attempt to garner more votes and has proven he is a man who can work on both sides of the aisle. His loyalty to his own positions, as well as his ability to work across the political lines, shows that he could be an effective and devoted member of Obama’s foreign policy team. Democrats love Jon Huntsman. He has served as ambassador to China under President Obama and is fluent in Mandarin; his ability to work with the Chinese would be integral to our foreign policy challenges today and our “pivot” to Asia. Picking a former GOP presidential contender would be a strong gesture toward healing our fractured political landscape, and Jon Huntsman is more than capable for this position.
Picking Senator Lugar (R-Ind.) would be a bold move from President Obama. Senator Lugar lost a primary race to tea party-backed Richard Mourdouck in May, but he was the Republican leader of the Foreign Relations Committee and the most senior Republican in the Senate. If Senator Lugar were nominated for secretary of state, it would be a remarkable reach across the aisle and a tangible effort by President Obama to heal divisions between the two parties. Senator Lugar has significant experience in Afghanistan and Pakistan, a critical skill set needed in the next four years. He worked closely with Senate Democrats to ratify the new START treaty in 2010 and criticized members of his party for dragging their feet and delaying this important piece of legislation. Senator Lugar has criticized the “unrelenting partisanship” in Washington and will be willing to work to bridge divides between the parties as secretary of state.
Gary Locke has what it takes to bring a business and trade tilt to the State Department. He has been secretary of commerce, as well as serving as current ambassador to China in the Obama administration, and was a former governor of Washington. Locke would help the Obama administration create a more business and trade friendly vibe both within his administration and in our foreign policy. Locke secured several trade deals for U.S. companies and is a strong defender of intellectual property rights. His understanding of business has made him a favorite of the private sector. Not only does Locke understand the global economy, but also he is in a good position to strengthen and articulate our new foreign policy orientation toward Asia after serving as ambassador to China for a little over a year.
This article was first published with The Century Foundation on November 9.