High Ranking Officials Return to the Future

The Obama administration is dipping a federal hand into the past to pick the Clinton administration’s highest-ranking and most successful components to create an experienced group of incoming officials. Taking into consideration the criticism of inexperience that President-elect Barack Obama gained during the campaign, developing an army of experienced specialists would put renewed trust into one of the world’s most influential governments. Among them: a naval officer who attempted water skiing behind a destroyer and an international diplomat accused of being “authoritarian” in nature.

Director of National Intelligence: Dennis Blair (Nominee)
This nominee was a sixth-generation naval officer, with solid roots grounded in the navy and military. Most recently, he served as president of the Institute for Defense Analyses (IDA), a national security-oriented organization. During his position at the IDA, he also served as a director of the EDO Corporation, which produces products related to defense and intelligence. Close cooperation between the IDA, EDO and the Pentagon drew questions regarding a conflict of interest, as Blair held high positions in both the IDA and EDO. This controversy was later dismissed as “minimal.” Other notable positions include Commander-in-Chief of the U.S. Pacific Command, the highest attainable office for U.S. forces in the Asia-Pacific region, as well as Associate Director of Central Intelligence for Military Support. There have been records of Blair disobeying orders in the 1990s; among the Navy members, however, he is known for attempting to water ski behind his Destroyer while he was the skipper.

National Security Adviser:
Retired Marine Gen. James Jones (Named)
General James Jones’ most notable positions include his role as Commander of the U.S. European Command as well as the Supreme Allied Commander Europe. While Jones was twice asked by Secretary of State Condolezza Rice to fill the empty position of Deputy Secretary of State, he declined both times. Instead, he held a role as a chairman of the Independent Commission on the Security Forces of Iraq to assess the capabilities for the Iraqi armed forces and police. In 2007, he was appointed as special envoy to the Middle East to mediate between the Israelis and Palestinians, particularly in security matters. As an individual with experience grounded in both Europe and the Middle East, Gen. Jones may prove to be an ideal pick with respect to national security.

CIA Director:
Leon Panetta (Nominee)
This nominee’s political experience began in 1966 as an assistant to a U.S. senator. In his early years, he was a strong advocate for civil rights and equal education laws, despite President Nixon’s counteractive policies. In the 1970s, Panetta served in Congress, winning nine successive terms in office, during which he focused on civil rights, health and especially the environment. Panetta has extensive experience with budget, serving as a member of the U.S. House Committee on Budget and later as director of the Office of Management and Budget under President Clinton. He eventually became the White House chief of staff under the same administration. Panetta’s strong stance on the environment and the world’s oceans may not coincide with the post of CIA Director, and one can wonder if any intelligence-related experience he has would be classified, but his previous experience within the White House may be an asset.

United Nations Ambassador:
Susan Rice (Nominee)
Rice is yet another veteran of the Clinton administration, having served in the National Security Council from 1993 to 1997, as director for International Organizations and Peacekeeping, and eventually as an assistant to the senior director for African Affairs. Rice’s links to the Obama campaign include her position as senior foreign policy advisor to President-elect Obama and later as an advisory board member of the Obama-Biden Transition Project. Her qualifications for the post of U.N. Ambassador include her board position for the U.S. Fund for UNICEF and Council on Foreign Relations. She was also assistant secretary for African Affairs under the Clinton administration. This position, however, was marred by accusations of hostility toward diplomats of the African bureau. Her influence on Clinton’s National Security Advisor on non-cooperation with Sudan is said to have cost the administration the chance to catch Osama Bin Laden.

Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) Administrator:
Lisa Jackson (Nominee)
While other cabinet and high-position nominees have relevant careers that span to the mid-20th century, this nominee’s career highlights only date back as far as the 1990s. After working for EPA for 15 years, she became assistant commissioner of Compliance and Enforcement for the Department of Environmental Protection. Jackson’s work under the DEP involved the protection of New Jersey’s water, air and land through professional oversight as well as community outreach. Her far-reaching actions were met with some disapproval, as workers at the local level accused her of ignoring scientific information and using a “politicized” approach to making decisions. Unlike other nominees, however, Jackson’s work is highly centralized, focusing on state-level environmental questions that could evolve into successful national environmental policies. Most recently, in October of 2008, Jackson was named as chief of staff for Governor Corzine of New Jersey.

FEMA Administrator:
(Still undeclared)

Office of Management and Budge (OMB) Director:
Peter Orszag (Nominee)
Orszag’s merits include titles like senior economist, consultant and director, as he played a key role in the Clinton administration. From 1995 to 1996, he served as senior economist and senior advisor on the Council of Economic Advisors and as special assistant to the resident for Economic Policy from 1997 to 1998. From the beginning of 2007 to the end of 2008, he served as director of the congressional Budget Officer, during which he focused on health care expenditures and their effect on the future economy. Accordingly, President-elect Obama nominated him for the post of director of the Office of Management and Budget.

White House Press Secretary:
Robert Gibbs (Named)
As an American political consultant, Gibbs has served as communications director for President-elect Obama during his Senate years, as well as for his presidential campaign. Obama’s quick rise to the national scene is often cited as the behind-the-scenes work of Gibbs, as his advisor. Gibbs’ reputation as a cunning tactician comes from his rapid responses to the dissemination of false information by the campaign’s opposition. His allegiance to the Democratic party can be seen through his position as communications director for the Democratic senatorial Campaign Committee. He also worked with John Kerry for his presidential campaign in 2004. It was during this campaign that his harsh tactics in blocking the Howard Dean campaign earned criticism. Yet, as an individual accustomed to mediating between the media and the President-elect (and even manipulating the media), this may be the most qualified candidate to fit the post of press secretary.

White House Senior Advisor:
David Axelrod (Named)
While the senior advisor’s intense links to both Sen. Hillary Clinton and President-elect Obama may have been awkward before and during the campaign, his affiliation with both the President-elect and his incoming official will soon be an asset. While Clinton and Axelrod worked together on Axelrod’s foundation for epilepsy, he ultimately chose to become a political advisor to the Obama campaign. Through employing his slogan of “change” — one that he used to lead the Liberal Party of Ontario to victory in the 2003 election — the campaign’s chief strategist and media advisor ultimately aided the President-elect in winning office. Axelrod will now continue to act as an advisor, though as one of the nation’s top officials.

White House Senior Advisor:
Valerie Jarrett (Named)
The second senior advisor began within the Chicago realm of politics in 1987, where she worked for Mayor Harold Washington. When she eventually became deputy chief of staff for the Mayor Richard Daley, she hired Michelle Robinson (at the time, fiancee of Barack Obama). She later worked within the field of planning and development, as well as on the Chicago Transit Board. Most recently, Jarrett has worked within the business field on the Stock Exchange and other investment programs. With a less-experienced political background than other fellow appointees, the reason for her appointment seems to be her loyalty and unfaltering support for the President-elect. Specifically, her position will be White House senior advisor and assistant to the president for Intergovernmental Relations and Public Liason.

White House Chief of Staff:
Rahm Emanuel (Named)
Emanuel adds to the President-elect’s list of fellow Illinois politicians, as this incoming chief of staff began his political career with the Illinois Public Action, a program based on public interest and consumer rights. Emanuel received the same high appointment by Bill Clinton. He began as Clinton’s director of the campaign finance committee and was eventually appointed White House chief of staff , during which he was credited with coordinating the Oslo Accords in 1993, coinciding with his own Israeli roots. Emanuel’s record includes supporting the Iraq war in October of 2002, despite attempts by Chicago peace activists to block the decision. Emanuel’s stance on the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, which favors Israel, could be seen as a bias in favor of Israel despite the belief that the incoming administration will have a new outlook.