Transition Rumint: Security Posts

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As advisors to President-Elect Obama move swiftly into transition mode, speculation on possible appointments is heightened while those under consideration for the jobs have gone quiet. But here are some names I am hearing and reading for national security posts:

James Steinberg, the highly regarded former Clinton-era deputy national security advisor, is being considered for national security advisor. Long time Obama national security advisor Susan Rice, Clinton’s former assistant secretary of state for Africa, is being considered for deputy national security advisor, as well as for US ambassador to the UN. Top NSC appointment announcements could come as early as today, and other White House appointments would be announced after that.

For top jobs at State, the short list includes Senators John Kerry (D-MA), Chuck Hagel (R-Neb, ret.), Richard Lugar (R-IN) (all moderate colleagues of Obama and VP-elect Joseph Biden on the Senate Foreign Relations Committee), former Senator Sam Nunn (D-Georgia), former Clinton-era Balkans envoy Richard Holbrooke, and retired Marine Corps General and Mideast envoy James L. Jones, who is likely to get a top job in the administration elsewhere if not at State. Deputy Secretary of State could go to Greg Craig, a former counselor to President Clinton.

At the Defense Department, conventional wisdom has it that the top job is Robert Gates’ if he will keep it, at least initially, and that Clinton’s well respected former Navy Secretary Richard Danzig could come in as deputy. Other people named as contenders for top Defense Department posts include former Pentagon officials Ashton Carter, a big-think arms control hand who has arm wrestled with Pyongyang and negotiated post-Soviet nuclear issues and now teaches at Harvard, Michele Flournoy and Kurt Campbell, co-founders of the new think tank, the Center for a New American Security, whose ranks are likely to provide additional security brainpower to the new administration, along with security and regional experts and staff from other think tanks, academe, and the Hill. Former Georgia Democratic Senator and Vietnam veteran Max Cleland, a member of the 9/11 commission, is reportedly under consideration to become Secretary of the Army.

Rumored contenders for top intelligence posts include Rep. Jane Harman (D-CA), the high-powered former ranking Democrat on the House Permanent Select Committee on Intelligence, who is also interested in heading the bureaucratically-challenged Department of Homeland Security (see my recent profile), and former top CIA official John Brennan, who has served as an intelligence advisor to Obama. Other intel posts could be filled by this team.

Worth noting that news video of Obama going into his first intelligence briefing yesterday showed him accompanied by Steinberg, former Clinton White House chief of staff John Podesta (who has indicated he does not want an administration job), and the Obama campaign’s foreign policy advisor Denis McDonough. It’s likely that Obama would want to have been accompanied by his would-be national security advisor, presumably Steinberg.

We’ll know soon enough, and there are bound to be surprises. But given the stakes of a war-time transition and the signs of new life after the fatigue of covering the late term Bush administration foreign policy, speculation on these posts is hard to resist.

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You expect the big picture, and it's our job at Mother Jones to give it to you. And right now, so many of the troubles we face are the making not of a virus, but of the quest for profit, political or economic (and not just from the man in the White House who could have offered leadership and comfort but instead gave us bleach).

In "News Is Just Like Waste Management," we unpack what the coronavirus crisis has meant for journalism, including Mother Jones’, and how we can rise to the challenge. If you're able to, this is a critical moment to support our nonprofit journalism with a donation: We've scoured our budget and made the cuts we can without impairing our mission, and we hope to raise $400,000 from our community of online readers to help keep our big reporting projects going because this extraordinary pandemic-plus-election year is no time to pull back.

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