Early Assessment of Obama's Asia team UPDATED

From Chris Nelson at Samuels International

Anyone know more about these people or possible other picks?



The Asia-focused summary is: Amb. Jeff Bader to replace Dennis Wilder as the NSC’s Senior Director, Asia; Kurt Campbell to replace Chris Hill as Asst. Sec. State EAP…barring some currently unforeseen event.

It seems likely Obama will take a major Asia trip early in his presidency, with best bet being Indonesia. Question in the air…China but not Japan, or Japan but not China? Best bet…Japan first.

Nothing solid yet on Amb. to Japan, but sources today say think Joe Nye. Deputy Sec. State will be Jim Steinberg, long experienced in China and E. Asia issues. Dep. Sec DOD will be Bill Lynn, a proven adult supervisor of finance and management.

Sec St-designee Hillary Clinton current plans are to have the major existing crises the direct responsibility of a plethora of Special Envoys. The following seem nearly certain, with the usual caveats:

Middle East (Israel/Palestine) Richard Haass; Iran, Dennis Ross; South Asia (Pakistan/India) Dick Holbrooke; N. Korea, Wendy Sherman likely but other names remain in play, including Mitchell Reiss.

With the security “triumvirate” of National Security Advisor Gen. Allen, reinforced by Panetta and Blair, and backed-up by Vice President Biden and his staff…you have to think that the Obama White House will be the center of decision-making on foreign and defense policy issues.

Deeper Assessment:

NAMES…to the extent that discussion is possible, given that few of these “will be nominated” folks HAVE actually been officially announced…

The selection of former Clinton DOD DAS Kurt Campbell to take over as A/S EAP from Chris Hill came as a surprise to many of the political players who had assumed that he would go back to DOD…but others point out that his co-founder at the Center for National Security, Michelle Flournoy, already had been picked by Secretary Gates as Undersecretary for Policy.

Back in Clinton times, Campbell helped raise DOD’s foreign policy profile, and was deeply involved in the initial stages of re-defining the US-Japan strategic relationship, and in particular the Okinawa/Futenma relocation problem.

(DOD postings remain a tad more nebulous that we’d like, especially as sources tend to forget that the “Lawless DAS” position was upgraded not just by Richard’s performance, but also in law to an A/S slot for Jim Shinn. With that caveat, it sounds clear that CSIS’s Derek Mitchell will be a high-level Asia policy appointment at DOD…stay tuned.)

More than a decade later, Futenma remains on the front-burner as a “difficult issue” in the relationship. Then and in the interim, Campbell has been deeply involved in all major US-N. Asia issues, and lately in developing better coordination of energy/environmental policy by the US and its friends and allies in Asia.

Campbell’s selection (offered and accepted, but not announced) helps explain why the chief of the Obama Asia Advisors, Amb. Jeff Bader, of Brookings, is the pick to replace Dennis Wilder at the NSC as Senior Director for Asia.

Bader’s selection has been widely reported in Asia, but not officially announced by Obama. Bader started life at State under Jimmy Carter, helping then-A/S Holbrooke navigate Congressional waters. His long Asia experience includes postings at USTR and the NSC.

The NSC funding situation…always perilous at best…is currently something of a crisis, and may delay announcements of staff under Bader, and the other Senior Directors…so we’ll forbear possible names pending developments.

As is frequently the case with the NSC, staff with “portable salaries” from State, DOD, CIA et al may end up with jobs which might otherwise have been open to more “political” appointments from academe or Capitol Hill.

Funding is not likely to be a problem for Hillary Clinton, as she reportedly intends to turn over management of many (if not all) current crises to Special Envoys.

As noted in the Summary, picked for the Iran portfolio is long-time Middle East expert, and former State official Dennis Ross, despite reported opposition from “liberal” critics who feel he has from time to time been more critical of Israel than they would like.

As Special Envoy for the Israel/Palestine tragedy, the pick is Richard Haass, head of the Council on Foreign Relations, and a frequent contributor of Op Eds, interviews and position papers with a special focus on Middle East issues…see the most recent on the outbreak of fighting in Gaza.

Richard Holbrooke, chairman of the Asia Society, author of the Dayton Peace Accords, former A/S EAP under Carter, et al, will be Special Envoy for India/Pakistan, now that issues have been settled regarding how he reports directly to Clinton, and not also to the President.

A final Special Envoy of great interest to Asia is for N. Korea, and we understand that the decision is leaning toward former Albright counselor Wendy Sherman, who will return in the Counselor role, but possibly “dual hat” on the DPRK.

For that perhaps thankless portfolio, other names may yet be in play, including former Colin Powell Policy Planning chief, and non-proliferation expert Mitchell Reiss, now at The College of William & Mary.

Asian press speculation that Chris Hill would remain on the DPRK job is wrong, sources here agree, despite Hill’s close ties to Clinton via Holbrooke.

The non-proliferation crisis…and that’s what it is, given Pakistan, N. Korea, Iran et al…has attracted a number of folks with deep experience, but for now, it looks like former Clinton NSC official Ivo Daalder will be returning to the NSC, while former Clinton DPRK negotiator Bob Einhorn will be Undersecretary of State for “T”, the non-proliferation shop.

Obviously important for Asia will be UnderSec State Econ, and the pick reportedly is Lael Brainard, who had been in play for USTR, and who coincidentally is married to Kurt Campbell.

(The couple have two small children, so if both appointments come as expected, perhaps they can persuade State to establish a day care center as excellent as that out at the CIA?)

Clinton’s pick to head Policy Planning is said to be Princeton professor Anne Marie Slaughter, the esteemed dean of the Woodrow Wilson School.

Undersecretary for P, political affairs, will remain the very respected Bill Burns…a great relief to everyone in the building, it must be noted.

NAMES…feedback from Monday’s Report was, as usual, swift and useful, and so far the only major “correction” required seems to be our assertion that the Council on Foreign Relations’ Richard Haass will be the Special Envoy for Israel/Palestine.

In meetings today with colleagues, and in other venues, Haas has firmly claimed “no conversation” by phone or other methods, with the Obama folks on this job.

So if that proves to be the eventual outcome, the question of “who” for this vital slot remains…any Loyal Readers who think they know, know what to do!

Reliable blog information on the A/S Middle East at State lists former Amb. to Egypt and Israel, Daniel Kurtzer, as the likely nominee…if so a very well-received posting.

It’s also necessary to clarify the situation on Special Envoy for North Korea,  to report that former State Dept councilor Wendy Sherman has been offered that job, but NOT a return to her old job, in combination, as we incorrectly reported.

The net is that the Special Envoy for NK may therefore remain open, and as we noted last night, possible “names” include former State Dept Policy Planning chief Mitchell Reiss, and today we are reminded that former negotiator Dan Poneman, at the Scowcroft Group, should be included…IF it turns out that Sherman does not accept the posting.

Other gossip…and we stress no solid foundation (yet) for this…has former Marine Gen. Chip Gregson as highly thought-of for the DOD A/S Asia slot held by Jim Shinn, succeeding Richard Lawless.

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  1. Interesting list for Nelson to share. It’ll be good to look back once all the appointments are made to see how close Nelson was. Amb. to China will be as key as Nye for Japan (if that is the case.)

  2. @Gen Kanai


    My favorite part of the articles is that: “Mr. Biden will fly to undisclosed destinations in Southwest Asia this week.”

    Cheney seems to have established a new VP modus operandi of going to “undisclosed locations”

  3. @paulwoodward

    Just heard that one name being discussed for the China post is John Thornton.

  4. wish the relationship between USA and China will be better,have more cooperation and understanding

  5. ´´´´´´´´´´´

    this is all wrong. just bad guesses

  6. Tsutomu Ashida

    Lets hope Obama can solve the financial crisis, and not do it at the cost of neglecting international, particularly Asian affairs. Some of the best analysis I have seen on Obama and Asia is at the East Asia Forum.


  7. Tsutomu Ashida

    Lets hope Obama can solve the financial crisis, and not do it at the cost of neglecting international, particularly Asian affairs. Some of the best analysis I have seen on Obama and Asia is at the East Asia Forum.


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