Replacing Holbrooke not so easy

By Al Kamen
Washington Post Staff Writer
Thursday, December 16, 2010; 6:28 PM

Senior State Department officials, stunned by the sudden death of uber-diplomat Richard Holbrooke, the special representative for Afghanistan and Pakistan, are concerned that the all-star team of experts he had assembled - all intensely loyal to him - may start drifting away.

The team includes some of the most highly regarded people in matters involving the AfPak region, unquestionably top authorities such as New York University's Barnett Rubin; Vali Nasr, author of the definitive book "The Shia Revival"; Kabul-born Rina Amiri, formerly with the Soros Foundation's Afghanistan program; and John Dempsey of the U.S. Institute of Peace, who has spent years in Kabul and is perhaps the top expert on rule-of-law issues. Holbrooke also lured counterinsurgency expert Vikram Singh over from the office of Michele Flournoy, undersecretary of defense for policy.

Many on Holbrooke's team saw him as a change agent on Washington's way of dealing with the troubled region. State Department officials worry that those who are not career government types may head back to other jobs now that he's gone.

That's why top officials want to find someone with, if not Holbrooke's star power, then some serious bona fides.

For now, Holbrooke's deputy, veteran diplomat Frank Ruggiero, is running the shop on an acting basis while a search goes on. Longtime regional experts such as Brookings Institution fellow Bruce Riedel, a former CIA officer who ran an interagency AfPak policy review for the administration, and Jim Dobbins, special AfPak representative under George W. Bush, have the experience but not the Holbrooke aura.

Highly regarded diplomat Anne W. Patterson, who recently finished her tour as ambassador to Pakistan with an onward assignment to Cairo, might fit the bill. (No Senate confirmation required.)

Perhaps a former deputy- secretary-level type, someone like Strobe Talbott, now head of Brookings, might work, too. But he's got a pretty good job. Ditto for Ryan Crocker, another former ambassador to Pakistan, who is now heading the George Bush School of Government and Public Service at Texas A&M University.

Not going to be easy.

After Summers

Speaking of finding someone, the White House has yet to settle on a replacement for National Economic Council chief Larry Summers, who has gone back to Harvard. Gene Sperling, who headed the council during the Bill Clinton administration and is now a counselor to Treasury Secretary Tim Geithner, was spotted at Blair House this week, sitting in when President Obama met with a score of CEOs. "Auditioning for the job," as one wag put it.

There's no doubt Sperling, having done the job before, could acquit himself well in the role of coordinating the administration's economic policies. But the White House, which had been hellbent on impoverishing the wealthy by returning to those onerous Clinton-era tax rates, was looking for a CEO type, someone the business community and Wall Street would see as attuned to their needs.

So now there's talk of Sperling running the NEC and perhaps investment banker Roger Altman, deputy Treasury secretary in the Clinton administration, serving in a "counselor" role.

A party Christmas?

Been working your tail off during the lame-duck and haven't had time to shop for Christmas gifts for politically interested friends and family? Don't worry. There's still time - as long as you move with some dispatch.

Lots of local tourist shops and online gift stores sell Republican and Democratic party wares. But buying in those places is pretty tacky if you're a real inside-the-Beltway type. After all, you want your out-of-town relatives to know they got genuine swag from the actual combatants.

Both the Democratic and Republican House campaign committees have a wide assortment of mostly lower-end stuff: baby clothes, baseball caps, T-shirts, mugs, notepads, pens and such.

The Democratic Senatorial Campaign Committee has some similar items, but its GOP counterpart apparently doesn't have a shop, at least nothing on the Web.

For more upscale items, you might want to try the two parties' traditional watering holes on the Hill: The Republicans' Capitol Hill Club and the National Democratic Club. Neither offers a particularly wide array of goods, but they do have fine-quality ties, cuff links and such.

One problem is that the Democrats sell their stuff only at the club, and you've got to be a member or be with one to go in. (What happened to the party of the people, of inclusion and all that?) So it's who you know.

The GOP club, however, lets you shop online and, even better, has a keen sense of its clientele's tastes. Thus we find a "Limoges porcelain box" with elephants on the side selling for $45, a crystal paperweight for $45, and, yes, a "golf divot tool" embossed with a GOP seal for just $12. (A sure-fire dazzler at the Legends golf course in Massillon, Ohio.)

The GOP club also has men's silk ties and women's silk scarves with cavorting elephants playing musical instruments. They come in red, yellow or periwinkle, we are told, and are made in France.

French ties? Have we forgotten the Coalition of the Willing?

The talkers walk

Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid (D-Nev.) will be back in January in his same job. House Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.) will be back as minority leader. But the two spinmeisters who were key players in their offices won't be with them.

Jim Manley, one of the most popular staffers in the Senate, is leaving after 20 years on the Hill. He started as a press assistant for George Mitchell (D-Maine), the onetime majority leader, and then was press secretary for 11 years for Edward Kennedy (D-Mass.). He's spent the past six years as senior communications adviser to Reid.

Manley hasn't decided on next moves. "I'm casting as wide a net as possible," he told us last week. "If there's a rock star who needs some strategic advice," he joked, "I'm willing to consider it."

Brendan Daly, Pelosi's highly regarded communications director since 2002, Peace Corps press director during the Clinton administration and a reporter for nine years before that, is off to public relations firm Ogilvy Washington to be executive vice president and national director for public affairs.

© 2010 The Washington Post Company