3 Women to Watch in the New White House

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As President Obama contemplates governing after November 2, he has several times reminded his senior staff that he would like to see more women in positions of authority. That's not just for the sake of appearances, in the president's mind: it's that he is sensitive to, and accepts, to some degree, the criticism, that his turret of top staff has become too male and cloistered. (Senior adviser Valerie Jarrett is the obvious exception, but she does not want to become Obama's next chief of staff).

So who might be promoted in the White House of Obama, 2.0? 

Democrats connected with the White House say that Carol Browner, currently, the president's senior adviser on energy and the environment, and the former EPA secretary under President Clinton, is a plausible candidate to be appointed White House chief of staff next year. Browner, 59, has no national security experience, but that qualification isn't a prerequisite for a chief of staff.  She has more than enough experience dealing with Congress, with the rest of the government, and is a subject matter expert on the subject that will occupy a considerable amount of the President's attention in the next two years. More recently, Browner supervised the response to the BP oil well spill, and the President is said to think that she did a terrific job with the limited sets of tools the government turned out to have. Browner knows the administrative rule-making process, and there will be plenty of that over the next two years. Finally, as anyone who knows Browner can attest to, she can be tough. (CNN's Ed Henry reported over the weekend that Pete Rouse, the current chief of staff, could stay on through the 2012 elections.)

There's a cadre of characters in the Pentagon who are convinced that Obama will ask his undersecretary for policy, Michele Flournoy, to be his next Secretary of Defense when Robert Gates steps down next year. Flournoy played a significant role in the Afghanistan-Pakistan policy review, although her name was largely absent from Bob Woodward's account of the process. That's either because Flournoy figured out how to help Woodward without self-aggrandizement, or because Woodward simply missed her contributions to the debate. (My suspicion is on the former.) 

Flournoy is a scholar, a strategist identified with neo-liberalism and brass-knuckle bureaucrat wrapped in one, and she's a Democrat. That's important, because Obama has told several people --- and this is reflected in the Obama canon -- that he never again wants Democrats to fear the Defense Department and vice-versa. Flournoy, former president of the Center for New American Security , the nursery for many senior national security officials, has been a professor at the National Defense University, and was a senior policy and strategy adviser for President Clinton.

Flournoy, as USD(P), is on point to handle the coming integration of openly gay people into the military, the implementation of changes identified in the Quadrennial Policy Review, and has subject matter expertise in threat reduction, which means she'll make sure Obama's non-proliferation policy is pursued aggressively.  Speaking of aggressive, she can be, when she needs to be, especially with generals and admirals. Obama  trusts Gates, who has helped the president build a more solid relationship with many four star officers.  Flournoy has a good relationship with many of them, and butts heads with others.

Susan Rice, the U.S. ambassador to the United Nations, has known Obama longer than both Browner and Flournoy, and will almost certainly be promoted from her position soon. A friend calls her a "knife-fighter" who would bring a fresh set of eyes to the Pentagon. Rice's SecDef credentials will be immediately questioned because she has little direct defense experience. (Her deputy would be therefore become an important ambassador to the building.)  Rice was Assistant Secretary of State for African Affairs under Secretary of State Madeleine Albright, and a conscience of Obama's early foreign policy brain trust. She participated in every major White House meeting on Afghanistan and Pakistan, has not managed to become a self-promoter (Obama likes this a lot), was more responsible for Obama's National Security Strategy and for his non-proliferation endeavors like the Nuclear Security Summit than has been reported.

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Marc Ambinder is an Atlantic contributing editor. He is also a senior contributor at Defense One, a contributing editor at GQ, and a regular contributor at The Week.

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