Essays on American politics and foreign policy

By Donald E. Nuechterlein

Donald Nuechterlein is a political scientist and writer who resides near Charlottesville, Virginia. He is the author of numerous books on American politics and foreign policy, including

  • Defiant Superpower: The New American Hegemony, 2005
  • America Recommitted: A Superpower Assesses its Role in a Turbulent World, 2000
  • A Cold War Odyssey, 1997


Donald Nuechterlein



A few weeks ago columnist George Will speculated on who George W. Bush might pick as his vice presidential running mate in the November elections. I suggest we go further and ask both George Bush and Al Gore to tell us before November who their key cabinet secretaries will be.

For example, it would be helpful if the public knows by September whom Gore and Bush will appoint to head the State, Defense, and Treasury departments, three of the most powerful posts in the executive branch. The values and experiences that these key cabinet officials have would give us a better picture of where the two leaders intend to take the country in 2001.

George Will points out that vice presidents historically have been selected because they balanced the regional or ideological roots of the president. John Kennedy, for example, selected Lyndon Johnson of Texas in 1960 to be vice president because he needed the electoral votes of Texas to win, not because he and the Texas senator had a good relationship.

Similarly, Franklin Roosevelt picked Harry Truman, whom he did not know, in 1944 because party leaders said he needed to balance the ticket with someone from a southern or border state (Missouri) in order to win.

There is much speculation that either Gore or Bush, perhaps both, may select a woman as his presidential teammate because the gender issue is important to many women voters. Some pundits think that a Black or Hispanic running mate would influence enough minority voters in key states to tip the balance to one party or the other.

Nevertheless, the selection of a vice presidential choice before the election does not provide voters, especially independent ones, much of an idea about the policies the nominee and his cabinet would follow if elected. Although presidential debates and the party platforms give some clues as to the direction the nominee would follow, these party documents are not considered reliable road maps. Election debates and speeches rarely challenge the candidates to spell out a clear line of policy, particularly in foreign and national security affairs.

The parliamentary system, followed in Britain, Germany, Canada, and other western countries, provides voters with the identities of a party's "shadow government." This enables the electorate to know in advance of an election not only who the prime minister will be, if that party is elected, but also the caliber of key cabinet ministers in that proposed government.

When Britain's Tony Blair, for example, led the Labour Party in that country's 1997 general elections, his cabinet was already known because the key members had operated as a team in parliament during John Major's Conservative government. Jean Chretien, leader of Canada's Liberal Party, selected his cabinet team well before the Canadian elections of 1993 when the Liberals soundly defeated the governing Conservative Party.

The U.S. presidential system of separation of powers does not provide a formal way for the public to know in advance the key persons a president will have to run the federal departments and agencies. But George Bush or Al Gore could informally accomplish that by informing the country who will be on his "team."

The advantages of doing so are:

If the candidates were to announce their selection of these cabinet members following their party conventions next summer, here is my wish list of appointees.

For George Bush, it would be reassuring at home and abroad if he recruited Colin Powell to be his secretary of State. He is exceptionally well qualified by experience as chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, his senior positions on the National Security Council, plus proven diplomatic skills, to be the nations chief foreign policy spokesman. Powell would be excellent also as secretary of Defense, but like George Marshall in 1950 he would need a special dispensation from Congress to head that department.

For Treasury, Bush might pick Robert Zoellick who held high posts in the State and Treasury departments during the Reagan and Bush administrations. His policy views and record are well known and he is respected in the financial community and foreign policy circles.

The current secretary of Defense, William Cohen, previously a Republican senator, has done an excellent job of managing that department and gaining the respect of the military. Bush should ask him to stay on for a year or two to provide continuity as a new administration decided whether U.S. forces are spread too thinly around the world in various peacekeeping roles.

For Al Gore, the most obvious choice for secretary of state is probably Richard Holbrooke, currently U.S. ambassador to the United Nations who also has long experience in the State Department and as an ambassador. Holbrooke could be expected to continue the current administrations interventionist policies abroad, such as in Haiti and Kosovo. Another possibility would be the current secretary of Energy, William Richardson, who has proven diplomatic skills.

For Defense secretary Gore might consider a prominent Democrat and expert on defense affairs, former Senator Sam Nunn, who was chairman of the Senate Armed Services Committee. Nunn would be more cautious that the Clinton administration in sending troops abroad for peace-enforcing missions. At Treasury, Lawrence Summers was recently moved up to replace the retiring Secretary Robert Rubin and probably should stay on in a Gore cabinet.

Perhaps the most important non-defense job in the country is the chairman of the Federal Reserve Board, and Alan Greenspan was recently re-appointed by President Clinton Greenspan will serve well into the next decade and thus provide continuing confidence to financial markets.

The proposal to name top cabinet officials before the presidential elections may not be adopted, h candidates and the parties should consider the advantages. The fall election campaign would no doubt be more interesting to the general public than a couple debates between the likely contestants, Bush and Gore. And it would be good to let the public see and hear the persons who will carry the load in diplomacy, military power, and economic policy during the next four years.

File last modified on Tuesday, 17-AUG-2004 09:30 PM EST

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