TheDC’s Jamie Weinstein: The top five Republican secretaries of state in waiting

Jamie Weinstein Senior Writer
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The presidential election season has just recently gotten under way and only the insane would speculate about whom a Republican president might nominate to be secretary of state if the GOP were to take back the White House in 2012. But we are just a wee bit bonkers here at The Daily Caller.

Obviously, much depends on which Republican would be elected. But there are some candidates who would be at the top of any Republican president’s list.

While there are sitting senators who would make compelling choices, it is unlikely and potentially politically unwise for a Republican president to nominate a sitting senator of his own party in what may well be a Republican Senate majority.

In picking a nominee, “they are not going to potentially lose the majority,” Robert Kagan, senior foreign policy fellow at the Brookings Institution, told The Daily Caller.

Christian Whiton, a principal at DC International Advisory and a former official at the State Department during the George W. Bush administration, told TheDC that a Republican president should pick a person of the highest “accomplishment level,” such as a respected governor or national political figure of significant influence.

“This is the accomplishment level a new president should require if he wants to get control of State and reform the agency — essential for the current world situation and not really attempted since [Reagan Secretary of State George] Schultz days,” he said. “It’s been a long time since we had a secretary who is good on policy and also had the know-how and inclination to control the building and enforce what the White House wants.”

Before we go any further, there is one caveat. There are at least three secretary of state possibilities who are still in the presidential race discussion themselves: former U.S. Ambassador to China Jon Huntsman, former United Nations Ambassador John Bolton and former New York Mayor Rudy Giuliani. Since the three of them are at the very least still considering competing to be the nominator, they are not included in this list.

With that said, here are the top five potential secretary of state nominees for a Republican administration:

Elliott Abrams

A staunch proponent of George W. Bush’s Freedom Agenda, Abrams served as a deputy national security adviser to Bush. He also served as an assistant secretary of state during the Reagan administration.

Currently a senior fellow for Middle Eastern Studies at the Council on Foreign Relations, Abrams is a widely sought after voice on foreign policy. In the wake of the Arab revolutions sweeping the Middle East, even the Obama administration has sought Abrams’ insight, inviting him to the White House to discuss the Egyptian revolution and its implications for the region.

“My personal choice would be Elliott. I think he would be terrific,” Kagan exclaimed.

One serious drawback for Abrams, however, was his involvement in the Iran-Contra affair, which may be problematic in a Senate confirmation hearing. Abrams pleaded guilty to two misdemeanors for withholding information from Congress. He was later pardoned by President George H.W. Bush.

Sam Brownback

Currently the governor of Kansas, Brownback took a leadership role in certain foreign policy issues during his time in the Senate, like Sudan.

“Brownback would be ideal in my mind because of his combination of policy, budget and executive experience,” said Whiton. “In the Senate, he eschewed the higher profile Foreign Relations Committee seeing it as a debating society, and sought instead to influence foreign policy through appropriations–which he did. He understands the problems with State, having caught the Foreign Service lying to him repeatedly on North Korea, for example.”

According to Whiton, Brownback’s executive experience is key.

“As someone who is now a governor, he understands it’s insufficient just to have the right policies,” he said. “You have to have the right personnel and manage the bureaucracy firmly to get what you want done.”

Joe Lieberman

Lieberman hardly needs any introduction. The retiring Connecticut senator was once Al Gore’s vice presidential running mate but since 9/11 has found himself standing with Republicans more often than Democrats on foreign policy issues. He even endorsed John McCain, his friend, in 2008 over Barack Obama. And since every Republican administration needs a token Democrat, Lieberman would be a natural choice, even though he is officially an independent these days.

“I think Joe Lieberman is very attractive,” said Kagan. “It will be a coup to get a former Democrat who clearly knows the world very well. So I would consider him a very high prospect.”

The chances that Lieberman would get such a prized slot would only increase if he were to repeat 2008 and endorse the Republican presidential nominee.

Fred Thompson

The actor, former Tennessee senator and 2008 presidential candidate is a strong possibility to be America’s top diplomat in a Republican administration.

“Fred Thompson has strong conservative principles in foreign affairs and would stick to his guns in the swamp at Foggy Bottom,” Whiton said. “The question is whether he would follow the model Bill Cohen used at the Pentagon under Clinton, which was to do minimal work. On the plus side, he would likely ride the building hard, which it needs.”

Whiton also noted that during his movie actor days, Thompson expressed clear insight into Russian politics, an understanding which could useful in running the State Department.

“On Russia, he could also reprise the useful advise he gave the Alec Baldwin character in the movie Red October,” Whiton said, providing this YouTube clip.

Robert Zoellick

Zoellick has the pedigree. Currently president of the World Bank, Zoellick previously served as deputy secretary of state as well as the U.S Trade Representative during the administration of George W. Bush. That isn’t to say that every Republican would be enthusiastic to see Zoellick get the job.

“Zoellick would basically be the world’s ambassador to us, with special emphasis on representing Beijing’s interests in Washington,” said Whiton.

Zoellick is seen as an ideological protégé of James Baker, whom he worked for during the Ronald Reagan and George H.W. Bush administrations. To some who feel Baker’s realist approach to foreign policy is insufficient to deal with the issues confronting America, Zoellick isn’t a particularly appealing choice. Nonetheless, his career history makes him an undeniable candidate for the post.

Five other possibilities worth noting

Ryan Crocker: Since 9/11, Crocker has served as America’s ambassador to Pakistan, Iraq and Afghanistan, where he came out of retirement in April to serve for the second time as the chief diplomat in the war-torn country. In awarding Crocker the Presidential Medal of Freedom, President George W. Bush called Crocker “America’s Lawrence of Arabia.”

Lindsey Graham: The South Carolina senator is very active on foreign affairs issues, often teaming up with fellow Sens. Joe Lieberman and John McCain to push an aggressive American foreign policy.

Zalmay Khalilzad: A key adviser to President George W. Bush post-9/11, Khalilzad was Bush’s special presidential envoy to Afghanistan, the country of his birth, after the 2001 terrorist attacks. He also served as Bush’s ambassador to Afghanistan, Iraq and the United Nations. In being appointed secretary of state — or to any cabinet post —  Khalilzad would become the first Muslim cabinet member in American history.

Richard Lugar: The Indiana senator is currently ranking member of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee. Among other things, his age may be prohibitive, however. He will turn 80 before the presidential election.

John Negroponte: Negroponte served as deputy secretary of state, director of national intelligence, ambassador to the United Nations, and ambassador to Iraq under George W. Bush. He also held a slew of other ambassadorships during previous administrations, including to Honduras, Mexico, and the Philippines. During the Reagan administration, he served for a time as deputy national security advisor.