A Republican Secretary of State?

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A few days ago I floated the name of William Burns as a possible secretary of state. (Strictly speaking, Burns, not his name, would be secretary of state -- but I'm following standard Washington journalistic usage here.) And such is my esteemed position within the Washington establishment that the very next day President Obama ... um, went about his business as usual.

But I haven't given up on the Burns meme! (Maybe it's, as they say, a slow burns.) Meanwhile, in the interest of fairness, I'll air some of the other names that are being mentioned for the job.

Interestingly, a few of them are Republicans. Josh Rogin reports at Foreign Policy that the administration is vetting Chuck Hagel for a national-security post, possibly secretary of defense or secretary of state. And Jim Lobe of Lobelog mentions several Republican prospects -- Richard Lugar, Bob Zoellick, and Jon Huntsman.

I like the idea of a Republican secretary of state, and it's the kind of thing Obama would probably like. But let's face it: Lugar is 80, Hagel isn't very articulate, and a Zoellick pick would violate the unspoken never-choose-a-secretary-of-state-with-an extremely-thin-moustache rule. And as for Huntsman: he used his last Obama administration diplomatic post -- ambassador to China -- to launch a presidential campaign. Nothing inherently wrong with that, but it took the form of amping up provocative rhetoric toward China as he was leaving his post. Sometimes provocative rhetoric is in order, even from an ambassador, but to trot it out for personal political reasons strikes me as cheap and deeply irresponsible. Besides, Huntsman reminds a little of the character Leland Palmer on the old TV show Twin Peaks. And [spoiler alert!] Leland, it turned out, killed Laura -- his own daughter.

The one candidate that no one seems to be advocating is Susan Rice. And I don't think that's just because of the political obstacles she faces. My sense is that pretty much nobody thinks she'd do a good job as secretary of state.

One of the more full-throated endorsements of Rice I could find was on this website, where Jeffrey Goldberg went so far as to say she'd make a "plausible" secretary of state. Granted, he said, "She's brittle, she's inexperienced, she lacks the stature to challenge President Obama, and she is no great foreign policy genius." And, granted, during the Benghazi turmoil "she should have been more careful about what she said when she said it." (But, hey, so what if your secretary of state goes around the world saying ill-advised things?) Still, he said, Rice does have some redeeming features. For example, "She has had some very public failures. A secretary of state nominee -- anyone in high office, really -- should have some experience with failure, and she has it." So there's that.

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Robert Wright is the author of The Evolution of God and a finalist for the Pulitzer Prize. He is a former senior editor at The Atlantic.

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