The Cabinet Comes Into View

I’m quite impressed by the way Barack Obama’s cabinet is shaking out. Eric Holder seems to be a superb choice for Attorney General, as is Janet Napolitano for Homeland Security. I’m really happy about Daschle at HHS — both because I think it raises the chances that we’ll actually get a serious health care plan through Congress, and because Daschle’s appointment indicates that that’s a serious priority for Obama. I’m still reading up on Timothy Geithner, but so far I’m quite impressed by him as well.

Bob Gates seems to be a serious possibility for Secretary of Defense. As I wrote a few weeks ago, I think this would also be a good move, for reasons Spencer Ackerman explained here. Scott Horton wrote a good post about Gates a few days ago, giving additional reasons why Gates might be a good pick. Basically, I think that there are two main reasons for keeping Gates. The first is that it’s very important to get bipartisan cover for the withdrawal from Iraq if we want to avoid some future conservative “if only the Democrats had let us win” story. (Likewise, bipartisan cover would be very useful if Obama decides to cut some weapons systems.) The second is that by all accounts the military have a lot of respect for Gates; keeping him on, therefore, would allow Obama to bypass the need to establish his own credibility and that of his Secretary of Defense with them. (Yes, I know: this shouldn’t be necessary. But it is.)

Neither of these reasons would cut any ice with me if Gates had been a bad Secretary of Defense. But he hasn’t. He’s been very good, under difficult conditions. Moreover, he seems like the sort of person who would either try to implement Obama’s policies rather than working to undermine them or turn the job down. It would be especially good if Obama were to reach an understanding that he would leave after a few years, allowing Obama to appoint a different Secretary of Defense after the withdrawal from Iraq is complete.

I’m less thrilled with Hillary Clinton as Secretary of State, and watching the daily leaks apparently designed to keep us all on tenterhooks about her decision-making process does not make me like the idea any better. On the other hand, what worried me about her as President was the idea that she would be making the final decisions about whether or not to go to war. Since she made that call wrong the last time around, and has never seemed to regret it, I saw no reason to think I should trust her to get it right in the future. As Secretary of State, however, she will not make that decision. She will be able to use her dedication, command of detail, and star power, but she will not be able to decide whether or not we should invade another country. That sounds OK to me.

But all in all, Obama has chosen some very, very impressive people. Isn’t it great to have a grownup in charge?


PS: articles about Geithner, in addition to the two Steve cited:

Justin Fox
WSJ, and another
Felix Salmon, and an earlier piece, and one on his role in rescuing Bear Stearns
NYT profile from early 2007
Geithner’s speeches. This one, from 2006, is quite interesting: it contains the sentence: “The changes that have reduced the vulnerability of the system to smaller shocks may have increased the severity of the large ones.” Indeed.