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Who Will Be Obama’s Secretary of State?

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One of the most important appointments Barack Obama will make is Secretary of State. Naturally, rumors are swirling as to who might be on the shortlist. Let’s look at the contenders.

Richard Holbrooke: A Clinton State Department veteran who also served as U.N. ambassador, Holbrooke would be the establishment choice. He’d be a competent secretary but the only “change” he’d bring is to slide our diplomacy away from the Bush model and back towards the Clinton model.

Bill Richardson: Another well-experienced man with time served as U.N. ambassador. He certainly has the right experience and was one of the tougher figures in Clinton’s circle. He’s known as a skilled negotiator, which is always helpful. His knowledge would be an asset but he’d still be a “reaching back” nomination. There might be a better position for him.

John Kerry: Reports indicate that Kerry is actively seeking this position, even though he was just reelected to the Senate. Kerry would bring a big name to the job and his numerous criticisms of the Bush administration would elevate expectations for some dramatic shifts in policy. While he is not really a beloved figure in America, he does have a good reputation abroad. He speaks French fluently, hobnobs regularly with the global elite and probably could hit the ground running. He might be surprisingly effective. Or he might fail horribly. At least he wouldn’t be a Clinton era retread.

Richard Lugar: Obama would signal he is quite serious about changing politics as usual by picking the Republican Senator from Indiana. With plenty of foreign relations experience in the Senate and a record of moderation (read: not a neo-con), Lugar has a strong relationship with Joe Biden and could provide experience and guidance while tempering Obama’s more blindly conciliatory urges. He is 76, so a longtime stay in this demanding position would be unlikely.

Chuck Hagel: The other Republican rumored to be on the shortlist, Hagel made eyes at Obama throughout the campaign. A critic of Bush’s foreign policies, particularly on the handling of Iraq, Hagel would be a good choice to lead a change in the State Department that is neither Bush-style conservative nor Clinton-style liberal.

However, Hagel is not really a centrist and his record on global warming is poor, potentially hampering his ability to work on international issues outside of war and peace in the way Obama would prefer. Still, like Lugar, Hagel would signal that Obama really is committed to addressing our problems in a different and more inclusive way.