Michèle Flournoy would make a great secretary of defense. I worked for her for more than two years at the beginning of the Obama administration's first term, and seeing her in action convinced me of it.
Am I biased in her favor? You bet. I've worked with and for many people over the years, and I've had colleagues I wouldn't trust as secretary of the local dogcatchers' association. But I'd trust Flournoy with any job in the nation. And, for the record, I don't want another administration job. I already have a job that I like, and tenure is a beautiful thing. But as a citizen, I'd sure like to see Flournoy back at DoD.
Here are 10 reasons she'd be a terrific choice for defense secretary:
1. She's smart. Really, really smart. She reads -- not just the page of bullet points on top of the decision package, but the memos and correspondence underneath. She stays on top of new books and papers on defense and security issues, emerging debates, new technologies, and new theories. She’s always willing to consider counter-arguments. She's got good judgment, too: She's seen trends come and go, and she doesn't just jump on the latest fad (yes, there are fads in defense policy just as there are fads in junior high school).
2. She's good looking. By which I mean that she's not a middle-aged white guy. She'd bring some needed gender diversity to the national security leaders boys' club. And make no mistake: A woman who rises to the top in the unforgiving world of national security has to be twice as good as most of the men around her. Michèle Flournoy's that good.
3. Goddammit, people like her. Flournoy's the rare senior political appointee (of either sex) who's not a prima donna. She doesn't need to be on center stage all the time, and she treats everyone -- from foreign leaders to top military brass to the most junior member of the support staff -- with courtesy and respect. In more than two years working on her personal staff, I never saw her say an unkind word to anyone. She's loved by her staff and respected even by those who disagree with her profoundly.
4. She picks good staff, and listens to them. She cares more about good judgment and good ideas than about good political connections or campaign credentials. During her time as under secretary for policy, she created a solid, loyal, and cohesive team of people who worked well together. And she trusts her staff enough to let them take the lead once they've convinced her they know what they're doing. She listens carefully and asks tough questions, but if staff can convince her they're doing the right thing, she'll back them up without micromanaging.
5. She knows the building. She's worked at the Pentagon during two administrations and gone from a relatively junior position to being the department's number-three civilian official. She knows the people and the culture -- the good, the bad, and the ugly. She knows when to let the sluggish bureaucracy churn at its own pace, and when and how to light a fire under it. In a bureaucracy as vast and complex as the Pentagon, it's not enough to have good ideas -- you have to know how to work the system so your good ideas will get implemented. That's part of the reason political appointees with little time inside the department often fail to get much done. If Flournoy's appointed as SecDef, she won't need to waste a year or more just learning the ropes. She already knows them.