The Next Hillary

Article excerpt

Byline: Leslie H. Gelb

Handicapping the race for secretary of state.

Next to guessing whom Mitt Romney will pick as his running mate, there's no more delicious fruit on Washington's tree of gossip than the identity of the next secretary of state. It remains a position of transcendent importance, especially in a new world where everyone seems to live and throw garbage in everyone else's backyard. The prospects generally lack the public presence and star power of most Foggy Bottom occupants--Henry Kissinger, Colin Powell, and Condi Rice, for example. And they certainly don't rival Hillary Clinton, who is determined both to stay until January and not be a lame duck. Doubt not that she has the will, standing abroad, and popularity at home to walk from office with head high.

The contenders for both President Obama and Romney are basically inside professionals, very well known and respected by peers and foreign leaders. But they lack the stage presence of their immediate predecessors.

Obama's list centers on John Kerry, chairman of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee; U.S. Ambassador to the United Nations Susan Rice; and National Security Adviser Thomas Donilon. According to insiders, Obama is thinking Kerry would travel a lot and successfully, and interfere least with policymaking. Susan Rice's blend of soft and hard line sits well in the Oval Office. Donilon is regarded as the wisest policy and political head.

The Republican contingent is somewhat elusive, because Romney's attention has been on the primaries, and because his international experience mainly revolved around his key role in the 2002 Winter Olympics held in exotic Mormon Utah. In other words, he is not intimate with the foreign-policy crowd, even compared with Obama four years ago, who at least sat for two years on the Senate Foreign Relations Committee. Almost certainly, however, Romney's possibles include Robert Zoellick, the outgoing president of the World Bank; Stephen Hadley, national security adviser to George W. Bush; and Richard Haass, president of the Council on Foreign Relations (an organization familiar to this author). All held senior jobs in recent Republican administrations.

Don't count out two big surprises, neither identified with a political party: William Burns, the current deputy secretary of state; and Nicholas Burns, who held the No. 3 job at State under Condi Rice. …