Closing in on a new deputy secretary of state


U.S. Deputy National Security Advisor Tony Blinken briefing reporters last September on Syria. (REUTERS/Kevin Lamarque)

When outgoing deputy secretary of state Bill Burns finally rejected entreaties from President Obama and Secretary of State John Kerry and declared last month that he would leave this fall, there was much speculation about who might replace the consummate diplomat.

There was talk that several folks, such as Undersecretary for Political Affairs Wendy Sherman, now immersed in the Iran nukes portfolio, might be tapped to move up. And former undersecretary for political affairs Nicholas Burns, now teaching at Harvard’s Kennedy School, was said to be in the mix. (That would be great, since then you’d have Nick Burns replacing Bill Burns, who had replaced Nick Burns in the undersecretary  job.)

Some of the chatter in recent days has it that deputy national security adviser Antony Blinken is a leading contender. Blinken worked at State during the Clinton presidency and then moved to the White House National Security Council.

But we should caution that Kerry has not weighed in yet with his views. And tradition has it that one of the top three jobs at State goes to a career diplomat. So that would auger consideration of a foreign service officer.

Some might argue that this would be a suitable reward for Blinken for  spending about eight years as Democratic staff director of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, crafting superb talking points — beautiful, coherent comments — and sitting behind then-Chairman Joe Biden only to see Biden keep talking and talking and talking until, as Blinken shrank in his chair, Biden got so far off-message that he starting making news on a completely different subject.

Al Kamen, an award-winning columnist on the national staff of The Washington Post, created the “In the Loop” column in 1993.
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