An FDR War Cabinet
Editor’s Note: George W. Bush is leaving behind a tangle of international and domestic crises so complicated that Barack Obama must assemble an experienced team with a remarkable combination of knowledge, wisdom and decisiveness.
In this guest essay, former congressional staffer Brent Budowsky recommends a national security team to fit the extraordinary challenges of the time:
President-elect Obama will take office with a mission similar to Franklin Roosevelt’s: establishing both a war Cabinet and an emergency economic Cabinet.
President-elect Obama faces tensions with Russia, multiple wars (Iraq and Afghanistan) and the worst economic crisis since the Great Depression, with the possibility of a new mini-depression if strong and effective action is not taken.
Like FDR, Obama must confront these grave economic and foreign policy crises simultaneously. Plus, he must deal with a U.S. military that is suffering extreme damage to its readiness and requiring a substantial and costly rebuild. ...
I would advise a war Cabinet tapping officials with decades of experience and with many veterans getting top positions. Those in high diplomatic posts would have extensive military experience. Those in high military posts would have extensive diplomatic skills, as in Franklin Roosevelt’s war Cabinet of interchangeable, mutually supportive parts.
Obama’s war Cabinet might look like this:
--Sen. John Kerry, D-Massachusetts, as secretary of State with New Mexico’s Democratic Gov. Bill Richardson and Dr. Susan Rice as undersecretaries with upgraded roles.
--Sen. Chuck Hagel, R-Nebraska, at Defense, with current Secretary Robert Gates remaining for six months as undersecretary.
--Former Sen. Sam Nunn, D-Georgia, as national security adviser.
--Retired Gen. James Jones as director of national intelligence.
--Sen. Hillary Rodham Clinton, D-New York, as Homeland Security secretary, with current Secretary Michael Chertoff remaining as undersecretary.
I would add, as special war Cabinet positions, very senior White House “wise men” with broad portfolios: Gen. Colin Powell, who possesses great military and diplomatic expertise, and former Senate Majority Leader Tom Daschle, D-South Dakota, who has impeccable judgment, extensive networks and service with Air Force intelligence.
An additional word about John Kerry for secretary of State: The war Cabinet strategy proposed here involves the fusion of military and diplomatic experience that can only be achieved through decades of work.
Kerry is a war hero with a deep understanding of military and veterans’ issues, is fluent in several languages and brings with him a decades-long network of international friends, contacts and allies at the highest levels on military and diplomatic matters.
This strategy would create a Cabinet of warriors, a Cabinet of diplomats and a Cabinet of giants fused together into one of the strongest war Cabinets in presidential history.
This strong Cabinet would serve a President who also has the benefit of assuming office with worldwide goodwill and with a clear vision which would be strengthened by this array of military and diplomatic talent.
Obama's war Cabinet would help avoid wars that should be avoided, win wars that must be fought, and achieve diplomatic, military, financial and environmental breakthroughs on multiple fronts at a moment of multiple crises.
Brent Budowsky was an aide to Sen. Lloyd Bentsen and to Rep. Bill Alexander, then the chief deputy whip of the House. He can be read in The Hill newspaper, where he is a columnist. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.
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