In a very interesting Op-Ed piece today, Henry Kissinger heaps effusive praise on each member of Barack Obama’s foreign policy team.
From Hillary Clinton:
Those who take the phrase “team of rivals” literally do not understand the essence of the relationship between the president and the secretary of state. I know of no exception to the principle that secretaries of state are influential if and only if they are perceived as extensions of the president. Any other course weakens the president and marginalizes the secretary. The Beltway system of leak and innuendo will mercilessly seek to widen any even barely visible split. Foreign governments will exploit the rift by pursuing alternative White House-State Department diplomacies. Effective foreign policy and a significant role for the State Department in it require that the president and the secretary of state have a common vision of international order, overall strategy and tactical measures. Inevitable disagreements should be settled privately; indeed, the ability of the secretary to warn and question is in direct proportion to the discretion with which such queries are expressed.
No one can question the secretary-designate’s leadership potential for breaking through encrusted patterns or her formidable presence in a negotiation. Her most immediate challenges are to provide strategic guidance and to reorganize the department so that its implementing capacity matches its extraordinary reporting skill. This role of the secretary is all the more important because, organizationally, the State Department is geared more toward the secretary than the White House.
To James Jones:
No one has ever been appointed national security adviser who had the command experience of retired Gen. James L. Jones, the former head of the Marine Corps and NATO commander. Inevitably, the facilitating function of the security adviser will be accompanied by a role in policymaking based on a vast, almost unique, experience.
And, Robert Gates:
The continuation in office of Robert Gates as secretary of defense is an important balancing element in that process. Alone among the key players, he is at the end, not the beginning, of his policy contribution. Having agreed to stay on in a transitional role, he cannot be interested in the jockeying that accompanies all new administrations. The incoming administration must have appointed him with the awareness that he would not reverse his previous convictions. He must make the difficult adjustment from one administration to another — a tribute to the nonpartisan nature of the conduct of his office in the Bush administration. He is a guarantor of continuity but also the shepherd of necessary innovation.
As with most other observers, Kissinger seems to agree that Obama pretty much hit a home run on these appointments. Now, the test will be to see what they can do together.