Alexander Haig

If any cabinet position can use new blood, it’s Secretary of State

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If any cabinet position can use new blood, it's Secretary of State

Of all of Don­ald Trump’s cab­i­net deci­sions, Sec­re­tary of State has been the most con­tentious. All of the four or five remain­ing can­di­dates have been attacked to some degree, includ­ing a bar­rage of attacks on Mitt Rom­ney from within the Trump camp itself. All of the four or five can­di­dates have long his­to­ries of polit­i­cal expe­ri­ence, though only John Bolton has exten­sive expe­ri­ence talk­ing to for­eign lead­ers (Gen­eral David Petraeus inter­acted with for­eign mil­i­tary lead­ers, but that’s not the same thing and par­tially irrel­e­vant for Sec­re­tary of State).

Is it pos­si­ble to hit the reset but­ton? One of the best things about Don­ald Trump being Pres­i­dent is that the old rules no longer apply. He can select some­one out­side of the DC inner cir­cle and jus­tify it. Sec­re­tary of State more than any other major cab­i­net deci­sion can ben­e­fit from select­ing an out­sider. The co-​author of The Art of the Deal should know this bet­ter than any­one. It’s eas­ier to train a great nego­tia­tor on the nuances of for­eign affairs than to train a politi­cian in the skills of nego­ti­at­ing. After all, we’re the United States. We should be work­ing towards mak­ing the best pos­si­ble deals that ben­e­fit every­one, espe­cially us.

All of the cur­rent con­sid­er­a­tions for Sec­re­tary of State come with major bag­gage while hav­ing min­i­mal upsides. Rom­ney has the most nego­ti­at­ing expe­ri­ence and has seen this put to great use dur­ing his careers in both pub­lic and pri­vate cir­cles, but he’s scorned by a large chunk of the peo­ple who helped get Trump elected in the first place. Bolton is very old school, and while he’s known as a free-​thinker, he’s also known to go off the rails from time to time. That’s a trait that Trump doesn’t need in his top diplo­mat. Petraeus made some hor­ren­dous deci­sions in his days in pub­lic life. He should not be rewarded with more respon­si­bil­ity just because he’s done with pro­ba­tion for releas­ing secret gov­ern­ment infor­ma­tion care­lessly. Rudy Giu­liani showed signs through­out the cam­paign of being well beyond his prime. He wasn’t sharp in many of his speeches and does not appear to be phys­i­cally capa­ble of the gru­el­ing travel sched­ule a Sec­re­tary of State requires. Bob Corker is a Democrat.

While any of these choices would be upgrades from John Kerry, they don’t quite enter the same arena as Alexan­der Haig, for exam­ple. In today’s geo-​political mael­strom, we need an Alexan­der Haig.

Cer­tainly there’s some­one else within Trump’s vision who can meet all the cri­te­ria. The Sec­re­tary of State must be able to com­mu­ni­cate the mes­sage and act in lieu of the Pres­i­dent of the United States in for­eign affairs. They need to be eas­ily respected by for­eign lead­ers. They need the nego­ti­at­ing skills that can pre­vent Iran Nuclear deals from even reach­ing a point of agree­ment until it’s clear that the ben­e­fits are not lop­sided against us. Most impor­tantly, they need to see the world from a per­spec­tive that aligns with the President’s vision. None of the cur­rent can­di­dates cover all of these cri­te­ria well.

I’m not going to throw out names, though I have sev­eral in mind. If I had Trump’s ear, I would, but there’s no point in spec­u­lat­ing for the sake of spec­u­lat­ing. At this point, the best we can hope for is that the President-​elect con­tin­ues his search and is pre­sented with bet­ter options than the four or five final­ists being dis­cussed today. They are all B-​listers at best.

Of all of Donald Trump’s cabinet decisions, Secretary of State has been the most contentious. All of the four or five remaining candidates have been attacked to some degree, including a barrage of attacks on Mitt Romney from within the Trump camp itself. All of the four or five candidates have long histories of political experience, though only John Bolton has extensive experience talking to foreign leaders (General David Petraeus interacted with foreign military leaders, but that’s not the same thing and partially irrelevant for Secretary of State).

Is it possible to hit the reset button? One of the best things about Donald Trump being President is that the old rules no longer apply. He can select someone outside of the DC inner circle and justify it. Secretary of State more than any other major cabinet decision can benefit from selecting an outsider. The co-author of The Art of the Deal should know this better than anyone. It’s easier to train a great negotiator on the nuances of foreign affairs than to train a politician in the skills of negotiating. After all, we’re the United States. We should be working towards making the best possible deals that benefit everyone, especially us.

All of the current considerations for Secretary of State come with major baggage while having minimal upsides. Romney has the most negotiating experience and has seen this put to great use during his careers in both public and private circles, but he’s scorned by a large chunk of the people who helped get Trump elected in the first place. Bolton is very old school, and while he’s known as a free-thinker, he’s also known to go off the rails from time to time. That’s a trait that Trump doesn’t need in his top diplomat. Petraeus made some horrendous decisions in his days in public life. He should not be rewarded with more responsibility just because he’s done with probation for releasing secret government information carelessly. Rudy Giuliani showed signs throughout the campaign of being well beyond his prime. He wasn’t sharp in many of his speeches and does not appear to be physically capable of the grueling travel schedule a Secretary of State requires. Bob Corker is a Democrat.

While any of these choices would be upgrades from John Kerry, they don’t quite enter the same arena as Alexander Haig, for example. In today’s geo-political maelstrom, we need an Alexander Haig.

Certainly there’s someone else within Trump’s vision who can meet all the criteria. The Secretary of State must be able to communicate the message and act in lieu of the President of the United States in foreign affairs. They need to be easily respected by foreign leaders. They need the negotiating skills that can prevent Iran Nuclear deals from even reaching a point of agreement until it’s clear that the benefits are not lopsided against us. Most importantly, they need to see the world from a perspective that aligns with the President’s vision. None of the current candidates cover all of these criteria well.

I’m not going to throw out names, though I have several in mind. If I had Trump’s ear, I would, but there’s no point in speculating for the sake of speculating. At this point, the best we can hope for is that the President-elect continues his search and is presented with better options than the four or five finalists being discussed today. They are all B-listers at best.