Thursday, January 22, 2009

Friends head into challenging jobs

Here's the inside scoop on some appointments and pending choices for key positions at the State Department, DoD and the NSC:

The Commonwealth Club applauds the appointment of our colleague and Board Member, Elizabeth Sherwood-Randall, as Assistant to the President and Senior Director for Europe at the National Security Council. She left home in the Bay Area Tuesday, and reported for work at the White House yesterday. In that role, the Rhodes scholar and expert on Europe and the former Soviet Union will help guide US policy with countries that are our friends - or should be our friends. There is a lot of rebuilding to be done, after disputes with our European allies over how the war in Iraq has been prosecuted and policies dealing with terrorism suspects. Then there is the global economy as it affects the EU, the question of missile deployments in Eastern Europe, the future of NATO and so many other issues where our relationships with our allies need to be improved. Liz and I served side-by-side in the Pentagon during the Clinton Administration, so she is experienced in the ways of the federal government and will hit the ground running.

Working with Liz at the NSC will be Stanford colleague Mike McFaul, who will have specific responsibility for Russia. Another Rhodes scholar, McFaul participated on a panel at the Club just prior to the November election, and has been a commentator not only for local media but nationally. This is the Stanford prof's first tour of duty in the government. He has had little sympathy for what he sees as the Putin/Medvedev governments' bad human rights policies and encroachments on the security of neighboring countries, and can hopefully help to craft policies that will allow the US to positively influence Russian behavior.

I also note the pending nomination of good friend Rose Gottemoeller, until recently head of the Carnegie Endowment's Moscow office, to be Assistant Secretary of State for Arms Control and Verification, and lead negotiator for the START (Strategic Arms Reduction) talks with Russia. The existing START agreement with Russia expires later this year, and little or no work has been done to update or replace it with additional limitations that will prevent a new US/Russia nuclear arms race. Getting these talks back on track with an ornery Russian leadership will be no small feat.

She will also be central to the question now being debated in the inner circles of the new administration: how far to set our sights towards the goal of elimination of nuclear weapons that has recently been laid out by the "Four Horsemen" - former Secretary of State George Shultz, former Secretary of Defense Bill Perry, former Senator Sam Nunn and former Secretary of State Henry Kissinger.

Rose is an experienced government hand, having served successfully in the White House and Department of Energy during the Clinton Administration. This role builds on her earlier work to denuclearize the countries of the former Soviet Union and put in place some controls on the spread of fissile materials that can be used to make nuclear weapons. She must be confirmed by the Senate, so it will be awhile before she formally takes up her new position.

My former Pentagon boss, Ash Carter, yet another Rhodes scholar and a Harvard physicist, is reputed to be in line for nomination as USD (ATL) - Undersecretary of Defense for Acquisition, Technology, and Logistics. Another tough job. As the Pentagon's chief technology and weapons manager, he will confront the need to possibly cancel weapons systems that now seem too expensive or ineffective, like the F-22 aircraft, which has contractors in 44 of the 50 states (and is thus politically sensitive). If nominated, he, too, will await Senate confirmation.

Ambassador Dennis Ross, a Bay Area native and frequent speaker at the Club, is reputed to be in line to become the Obama Administration's chief envoy to Iran. The former negotiator for the Israeli-Palestinian conflict likes big challenges. On his plate will be finding a positive way forward with Iran which deals with Iran's nuclear weapons ambitions.

Tall orders for these folks, but they are definitely up to the task. I wish them all success in addressing these difficult national security challenges!


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