In the Arena

The Obama Cabinet

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I don’t have a dog in the Secretary of State hunt.* But I do have an idea about how to get both John Kerry and Susan Rice into the Cabinet.

First of all, Kerry should not be the next Secretary of Defense. He’s a policy guy, not a budget guy — and the Pentagon job, for the foreseeable future, is about budget cutting. My candidate to replace the indefatigable Leon Panetta — whenever he chooses to go — is current Deputy Secretary of Defense Ashton Carter, who knows the place backwards and forwards and can handle both the policy and budget aspects of the job.

I think Kerry would be a terrific Secretary of State. He’s been doing the job, more or less, as chair of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, doing really valuable diplomatic work for the Obama Administration, especially in Afghanistan and Pakistan. I think Rice would be fine too. I love her toughness — and I have a soft spot for diplomats, like the late Richard Holbrooke, who aren’t always entirely diplomatic, but she could also replace Janet Napolitano at the Department of Homeland Security, a job that requires both toughness and diplomacy.

And what of Napolitano? She’s a former U.S. prosecutor — and was a spectacular governor of Arizona, during a brief period of electoral sanity in that jejune state — and I think she’d make a great Attorney General. Eric Holder hasn’t been. Major-league financial miscreants like Countrywide mortgage’s Angelo Mozilo still walk the streets freely. No one has paid a price for the utter corruption in the housing market and on Wall Street. The word is that Holder wants to stay on as Attorney General. He shouldn’t. Napolitano would be better.

Whoever replaces Timothy Geithner — and wouldn’t it be great if it weren’t a Wall Street toady, perhaps former FDIC regulator Sheila Bair — should be looking closely at the big banks, which still need to be broken up, and the less-than-kosher derivatives markets.

I’d like the next Secretary of Veterans Affairs to be a very public figure (unlike the reticent Eric Shinseki), someone who will make a lot of noise advocating for the splendid young men and women coming home from the wars. It should, ideally, be someone who served in either Iraq or Afghanistan. I spend a lot of time talking to veterans, some quite accomplished, but no one seems to have a good idea about who should handle this job. I hereby solicit ideas for the job from members of the Swampland community who know something about the military, medicine and how to wrestle a bureaucracy to ground.

*I have a son who will report to the next Secretary, so I’m being diplomatic here — and announcing hereby a recusal from reporting internal State Department politics. I will continue, however, to travel the world, report and write about U.S. foreign policy, unless my son is directly involved.