WITH two wars and a financial crisis, cabinet choices will be crucial to the next president, especially Barack Obama, because his foreign policy experience so lags John McCain’s. But both candidates are novices at organising and running anything bigger than a political campaign and each needs to choose advisers equally wisely to meet this executive experience void.
The transition to a Clinton White House was famously dysfunctional, with chaos paramount for nearly two years, thanks to no plan much beyond the first two weeks and Clinton’s pledge of a cabinet that "looks like America", which ruled out many experienced hands. No-Drama Obama is determined not to repeat the mistake.
John Podesta , a former chief of staff to Bill Clinton, has been asked to handle Obama’s transition planning. He is well regarded for organisational expertise and policy acumen, particularly in health care, which is high on Obama’s agenda. Podesta and 50 Washington hands are said to have produced a book-length plan, with day one, day 100 and year one goals.
Also likely to fill a senior role in the administration, possibly as chief of staff, is the popular Tom Daschle , a former minority House leader and Obama’s campaign chairman and confidant throughout two years of campaigning. David Axelrod , Obama’s chief strategist and responsible for managing the Obama image and political message, and David Plouffe , his campaign manager, are considered at the head of the queue of campaign figures in the mix for senior posts.
There is speculation that Obama may leave the incumbent Robert Gates as defence secretary for a given period, rather than risk upheaval before troop withdrawals from Iraq. In Treasury – the other hot seat – Obama is tipped to choose either former Clinton treasury secretary Larry Summers or the head of the New York Federal Reserve, Tim Geithner . Summers has economic adviser experience, while Geithner already has a hands-on role in the financial crisis. Other possibilities are that Obama will ask former Clinton treasury boss Robert Rubin to resume the role, or leave Henry Paulson in place for a time to avoid unsettling the markets further.
The secretary of state candidature list is almost as long as the list of people now claiming to be advising Obama on foreign policy. One possibility is the former presidential candidate John Kerry ; others include the former ambassador to the United Nations, Richard Holbrooke , Clinton national security adviser and campaign stalwart Tony Lake and Republican senators Chuck Hagel and Dick Lugar , with whom Obama is close.
Susan Rice , a Clinton deputy national security adviser, is a contender for the national security adviser role in an Obama White House. Hillary Clinton has been coy about her aspirations but wants a position and would make a solid health secretary.
Less time has been devoted to public posturing about a McCain cabinet for the obvious reason that he trails in the opinion polls. He too has promised to reach across the divide and appoint cabinet members from the rival side, in this case Democrats.
Virtually assured of a senior job will be Democrat turned independent senator Joe Lieberman , a close friend whom McCain was keen to have as his vice-presidential nominee. If the election goes McCain’s way, he could be considered for the State Department, as could Richard Armitage , who served in the Bush Administration (and is regarded as an ally to Australia) and Robert Kagan , a conservative scholar. McCain would likely leave Gates at the Pentagon, although his endorsement by several former generals gives him plenty of alternatives.
The Treasury job might prove more problematic. McCain this week criticised Paulson for not doing enough for subprime mortgage holders, making it unlikely he would be asked to stay. McCain’s chief economic adviser and former Texas senator, Phil Gramm , was once seen as the most likely bet, but his comments that America was in a "mental recession" have wounded his chances. Possibilities include Robert Zoellick , the president of the World Bank, and Jack Kemp , a businessman,
Observers expect McCain would use the attorney-general’s position to appease conservatives. Possibilities include the former presidential candidate and McCain friend, Fred Thompson , whose roles have included the portrayal of a New York district attorney in the TV series Law and Order , US attorney Debra Wong Yang from California, and Eugene Scalia , the son of a Supreme Court judge.
The vice-presidential contender, Mike Huckabee , is a possibility for a social services portfolio, and the Minnesota governor, Tim Pawlenty , would be a likely transport secretary.