Think about what might happen if you actually empowered the secretary of state to be America's top diplomat. That person might then be able to think through priorities, consider how means and ends align, and develop real options on a tough issue and a strategy for how to coordinate messaging -- not as a thought experiment, but with real purpose.
This secretary of state would be empowered to fend off unhelpful bureaucratic meddling. There would be a designated team to support him or her, including the National Security Council and interagency representation. The world would know that it was the secretary of state who spoke for the president -- there would be no end runs, no phone calls from leaders seeking to head off initiatives they didn't like.
Best of all, the secretary could do the spade work and set up situations in which it might be possible to use the president to close a deal. This would husband valuable presidential currency and deploy the president only when it was really necessary.
And with a little luck, you might actually start to develop -- dare I use the phrase -- a foreign-policy strategy, a term that one White House official dismissed last year as being … so "19th century."
Will the president really use his secretary of state during a second term? He should. With the breadth of his domestic agenda and the screw-ups, carelessness, and even scandals historically associated with second terms, he could use the help.
But old habits die hard, particularly when the guy in charge thinks they work just fine. If Obama changes course, it may well be to appoint some special envoys, particularly on the Middle East peace process -- but unlike with George Mitchell, the last such envoy, this time reporting directly to the White House.
From Obama's point of view, the centralized approach on foreign policy seems to have paid off. He ran a pretty competent foreign policy -- no spectacular successes, but no spectacular failures either. Sure, there were some stumbles on the Israeli-Palestinian issue and the consulate attack in Benghazi, not to mention a general lack of coherence on what was important and what wasn't. But hey, the world's a tough place.
Don't misunderstand. If the phone rang and it were the president asking me to become secretary of state, I'd take the job. But I'd do so knowing where I stood, and I would harbor no illusions that the nation's top diplomat is going to have a major role in shaping the nation's foreign policy over the next four years.