The List

A Binder for Obama

Has the U.S. administration become too much of a boys' club? Here are 10 women the president could appoint to top national security jobs.

With the departure of Hillary Clinton and the scuttled nomination of Susan Rice -- and men slotted as nominees or returnees for key positions including secretary of state, defense secretary, CIA director, director of national intelligence, White House chief of staff, and national security advisor -- it's hard to avoid the impression that the Obama administration's foreign-policy team is something of a boy's club. As FP columnist Rosa Brooks put it in a recent article, "It's fine to say that such critical foreign-policy and national security positions ought to go to the best guy for the job, but sometimes, the best guy is a woman."

There are exceptions, of course: Rice and Homeland Security Secretary Janet Napolitano might stay in their positions, and there are certainly plenty of high-ranking women scattered across various agencies, but at the uppermost levels, it's looking awfully male. (And awfully white, for that matter.) Now, some of the United States' most prominent female national security experts are finding themselves on the outside looking in.

Here are a few alternative names Barack Obama might want to consider for high-ranking posts:


Current job: Director of the Wilson Center

Qualifications: Jane Harman has been closely involved in U.S. national security policy since Jimmy Carter's administration, when she served as counsel to the Department of Defense. Over her two decades in Congress, Harman served on the Armed Services, Intelligence, and Homeland Security committees, traveling widely as part of congressional delegations. She stepped down in 2011 to run one of the country's most respected foreign-policy think tanks. She has lately been a critic of America's overreliance on drone strikes in counterterrorism. Due to her longtime interest and expertise in intelligence issues, she had been mentioned as a potential successor to David Petraeus as director of the CIA.


Current job: Board member at the Center for a New American Security

Qualifications: Michèle Flournoy served in several capacities in Bill Clinton's Defense Department and went on to co-found the Center for a New American Security (CNAS) -- one of Washington's most influential defense think tanks. She led Obama's defense transition team and from 2009 to 2012 ran the Pentagon's powerful policy shop. During the 2012 campaign, she was one of the Obama campaign's leading surrogates on foreign policy and more recently was one of the main names being mooted as defense secretary prior to Chuck Hagel's nomination. FP's Brooks made the case for Flournoy in December. She's knowledgeable, well-liked in Washington, and extremely capable.

MANDEL NGAN/AFP/Getty Images; Andy Wong-Pool/Getty Images


Current job: Lecturer in public policy at the Harvard Kennedy School and columnist for the Boston Globe

Qualifications: Juliette Kayyem previously served as assistant secretary for intergovernmental affairs at the Department of Homeland Security, coordinating the Obama administration's response to crises including the BP oil spill, the Christmas Day attempted terrorist attack in 2009, and the H1N1 virus. One of the highest-ranking Arab Americans to serve in Obama's administration, she's a lawyer by training who specializes in protecting civil liberties while combating terrorist threats. Her columns, which range in topic from Arctic oil drilling to Israeli missile defense to Al Jazeera, are a testament to the wide range of her expertise.


Current job: Senator from California

Qualifications: First elected to the Senate in 1992, the former mayor of San Francisco has emerged as a leading voice on national security, becoming the first woman to chair the Select Subcommittee on Intelligence in 2009. Dianne Feinstein has been a frequent critic of U.S. intelligence efforts during the Obama administration -- particularly the CIA's failure to predict the Arab Spring -- but has also pushed measures, such as allowing federal agencies to continue to conduct warrantless wiretapping, through Congress over the objections of many congressional Democrats. After two decades in the Senate, it's possible Feinstein may be looking to focus more intensely on security issues.


Current job: Professor of politics and international affairs at Princeton University

Qualifications: Anne-Marie Slaughter served as director of policy planning at the State Department from 2009 to 2011, receiving wide acclaim for leading the department's inaugural Quadrennial Defense and Development Review process. Before that, she was dean of Princeton's Woodrow Wilson School of International Affairs for seven years. Although she chose a uniquely public way to announce her reasons for leaving Washington -- with an Atlantic cover story on the difficulty women face raising children while holding down demanding jobs -- perhaps she could be coaxed back into the fold with the right job.

Jim Greenhill/Flickr; Freddie Lee/Fox News Sunday via Getty Images; KAREN BLEIER/AFP/Getty Images


Current job: President, Carnegie Endowment for International Peace

Qualifications: Jessica Matthews has long-standing experience in government, having served on Jimmy Carter's National Security Council and in Bill Clinton's State Department, but first established herself as a leading foreign-policy thinker with the widely cited 1997 Foreign Affairs article "Power Shift," which predicted a move away from national governments years before "American decline" became a catchphrase. That same year, she took over as president of the Carnegie Endowment -- FP's former publisher -- and has expanded it into a global think tank with offices in five countries. Like Obama, she was a vocal opponent of the Iraq war, and she has been calling for environmental issues to be part of the nation's national security portfolio - now conventional wisdom -- since the 1980s.


Current job: Incoming executive vice president, U.S. Institute of Peace (USIP)

Qualifications: An administration gig would be another quick turnaround for Kristin Lord, who was just named to her position at USIP after four years as director of studies at CNAS -- a time when the think tank emerged as perhaps Washington's most influential voice on military and security affairs. Before that, she held several positions at the Brookings Institution and George Washington University, focusing primarily on U.S. grand strategy. She was a special advisor to undersecretary of state for democracy and global affairs Paula Dobriansky during George W. Bush's administration. She has recently argued that the State Department should take cues from the private sector in reforming its processes to become more cost-efficient.


Current job: U.S. representative from New York's 17th district

Qualifications: As the ranking Democrat on the House Appropriations Committee, Nita Lowey has been a leading congressional voice in defense of foreign aid spending, championing funding for the U.S. Agency for International Development, relief efforts in Darfur, increased attention to HIV/AIDS in the developing world, and enhancement of development work targeted at women's rights. She has national security experience as well, having served on the House's Select Intelligence Oversight Panel and the Homeland Security Subcommittee. As a bonus for the president's political advisors, unlike other leading congressional voices on national security like Jeanne Shaheen and Tammy Duckworth, she represents a safe Democratic district in suburban New York.

Carnegie Endowment for International Peace; United States Institute of Peace; Alex Wong/Getty Images


Current job: President of the Connect U.S. Fund, visiting distinguished scholar at the University of North Florida, chair of the Public Interest Declassification Board

Qualifications: Nancy Soderberg worked in the Clinton administration on both the National Security Council and the U.S. delegation to the United Nations. Since then she has been a vice president of the International Crisis Group, started her own consulting firm, written two acclaimed books on foreign policy, and run (unsuccessfully) for Florida's state Senate. Obama recently named her to lead the Public Interest Declassification Board, an advisory committee set up to promote government transparency, but her interests lie primarily in foreign affairs. As president of the Connect U.S. Fund, which pushes the United States to take a greater role in international governance, she has argued that human rights, development, and climate change should get top billing.


Current job: Executive director, National Security Network

Qualifications: Heather Hurlburt, a former Clinton speechwriter, has long been a leading voice calling for Democrats to take more of a leadership role on national security issues. Under her stewardship, the National Security Network has established close ties to Democratic congressional offices and the Obama administration, and she is a widely published writer on national security strategy and the politics of foreign policy. Fittingly, in 2011, she argued that U.S. foreign policy is hampered by the institutional sexism that keeps women out of positions of power.

U.S. Naval War College/Flickr; National Security Network

The List

Why the U.S. Can't Abandon Afghanistan

These five principles should guide the U.S.-Afghan relationship after 2014.

With Afghan President Hamid Karzai in Washington this week, he brings with him plenty of good news, as well as a long list of grievances. A skilled politician, he will try to project an optimistic picture of Afghanistan's ongoing security transition, Pakistani cooperation with peace negotiations, the Taliban's willingness to embracing politics over terror, and preparations for the 2014 presidential election. Most Afghans and regional actors, however, do not share his optimism -- but nor do they share Washington's growing defeatism and exhaustion.

Afghanistan is changing rapidly for the better. It is more developed, prosperous, democratic, and safe than at any other time in modern history. But this progress is also vulnerable to reversal. Uncertainty about the U.S. exit in 2014 has enveloped numerous constituencies -- both inside and outside of Afghanistan -- and spawned a series of hedging strategies that threaten to upend the transition.

Declarations about the need for Afghans to "stand on their own two feet" aside, the United States remains indispensible both to Afghanistan's successful transition and the stability and prosperity of the surrounding region. Moreover, it was Washington's earlier shortsighted policies -- first in supporting violent extremist groups, and then in abandoning the country -- which contributed to the destruction of the Afghan state and the immense suffering of the Afghan people. But the West's moral and legal responsibility to Afghanistan extends back even farther, to the corrosive Cold War rivalries of the 20th century and the so-called Great Game a century earlier.

Today, Afghanistan still stands at the global epicenter of terrorism in all its manifestations -- from ethno-terrorism and narco-terrorism to state-sponsored terrorism and even possible nuclear terrorism. But it is also situated at the epicenter of enormous economic opportunity. The regions of South and Central Asia, western China, and eastern Iran remain among the least connected and least prosperous regions of the world -- despite possessing immense natural and human resources. Stability in Afghanistan is the key to unlocking the region's strategic potential.

Instead of devoting this week's presidential visit to empty rhetoric and unsubstantiated declarations, the two presidents should attempt to reduce the uncertainty surrounding the transition by securing concrete agreements. In doing so, they should consider five mutually supportive principles that could form the basis of post-2014 Afghan-U.S. relations: deterrence, development, diplomacy, democracy, and devolution.


More than a decade of war has left the United States deeply polarized about the merits of using force to achieve political objectives. But the United States must resist the temptation to move from one extreme, where the military was seen as the solution to all problems, to another extreme, where it gives up its ability to deter its adversaries and reassure its allies altogether. Deterrence requires projecting resolve, perseverance, and commitment. This, in turn, requires at least some military capability -- though military capability by no means ensures effective deterrence. Strategy matters, too. 

In the aftermath of the Taliban's collapse, the United States successfully deterred terrorists and their regional supporters with less than 1,000 troops. But it failed to do the same with nearly 100,000 troops in the later stages of its engagement. Potential military gains associated with the "surge" were effectively neutralized by the announcement of a 2014 deadline to withdraw American troops and U.S. efforts to woo Taliban negotiators. Both of these decisions -- and American willingness to cave to Pakistani brinkmanship -- conveyed U.S. exhaustion, desperation, and unreliability. 

Deterrence is not anathema to dialogue with the enemy. Rather, it's the leverage that is necessary for meaningful peace negotiations. Deterrence is also about moral credibility and integrity, particularly in the eyes of allies and friends. For example, protecting fragile achievements on women's rights is critical to preserving America's moral high ground. For the patriarchal Afghan political class and misogynist Taliban, women's rights would be the first to auction if the United States backs down. Backing away from this principle will also only invite stronger future challenges to Afghanistan's fragile achievements in human rights, democratic governance, and international cooperation.


For years, Afghanistan has been a security black hole and a battleground for competing interests. But it also has the potential to catalyze greater regional cooperation and integration. In order to achieve that potential, it needs the cooperation -- either active or passive -- of its neighbors and allies. From neighbors like Pakistan, Afghanistan needs non-interference, and from allies like the United States, it needs assistance with stabilization and reconstruction.

Projects like the "New Silk Route," "Istanbul Process," and the "Heart of Asia" initiative remain at the public-diplomacy stage. The United States must help translate these visions into concrete projects; examples include expediting the establishment of the Trans-Afghanistan natural gas pipeline and connecting Afghanistan's railroad networks into the region. 

The region is fearful that Afghanistan will relapse into its violent past, possibly dragging its neighbors with it. Washington and the rest of the international community share such concerns. But so far, U.S. regional diplomacy has primarily followed immediate military objectives, engaging trouble-makers like Pakistan and the Taliban. Likewise, India, China, the Central Asian Republics, Russia, and Iran -- all of whom would benefit from a stable Afghanistan as well as deeper regional cooperation -- have not been sufficiently engaged. 

The recently launched India-U.S.-Afghanistan trilateral dialogue offers huge potential, as does the U.S.-China dialogue on security in South Asia. Iran-U.S.-Afghanistan offers another possibility for dialogue. Both Kabul and Tehran have already indicated their interest for such an initiative and Washington appears open to -- or at least curious about -- the possibility.  It's time for Washington to adopt a more creative approach to diplomacy -- one that looks beyond immediate security imperatives and engages the diverse set of actors with an interest in Afghanistan. 


Just as American commitment has wavered between President George W. Bush's promise of a "Marshal Plan for Afghanistan" and President Barack Obama's call for "nation-building at home," the reconstruction and development of Afghanistan has seen mixed results. Afghanistan's progress on most political, economic, and social indicators during the last 10 years has been unprecedented in modern history. But there is still an enormous gulf between inputs and outputs. The United States has poured roughly $20 billion in aid money into the country since 2001, but nearly one-third of the population still lives below the poverty line.

Moreover, there is no credible and sustainable plan for economic development, despite rapid urbanization and population growth. If Afghanistan fails to provide employment for its growing youth population, it risks igniting a semi-urbanized insurgency to go with its already crippling rural and proxy insurgencies. USAID's post-conflict development models pose significant challenges because they rely heavily on private contractors, handouts, and short-term thinking, with an unacceptable lack of oversight and accountability. America's post-war reconstruction of Europe, Japan, and South Korea, by contrast, was driven by political objectives, strategic vision, and efficient implementation. In Afghanistan, corporate greed has been a significant driver and the main beneficiary.

The reconstruction and sustainable development of Afghanistan requires political leadership with an inclusive and participatory model, involving the private sector through international financial institutions and direct financial subsidies, such as a sovereign guarantee. Afghanistan is endowed with three significant assets: its geostrategic location as a land bridge between the Central Asia, South Asia, West Asia and China; its rich mineral resources; and its young, resilient, and entrepreneurial population. The United States must help Afghanistan convert these important assets into sustainable development by promoting good governance, education, and infrastructure projects.


The collapse of the Taliban's regime in 2011 marked the beginning of Afghanistan's third democratic experiment. The first was initiated by the enlightened monarch Amanullah Khan, who introduced the first constitution in the Islamic world in the early 20th century. The second decade of democracy -- in the late 1960s and early 1970s -- saw the rise of political parties and independent media. But both were derailed by a combination of internal and external factors, which now threaten Afghanistan's third democratic experiment.

Despite the steady proliferation of media and civil society organizations, state institutions are being captured by a combination of "necktie Taliban," narco-mafia, and ethnic entrepreneurs. At the same time, there is a growing sense of disempowerment among the silent majority. Rather than pursuing a legalistic approach which prioritizes formal institutions, the United States must empower and widen the civic space in Afghanistan by confronting abusive powerbrokers who have captured much of the state and economy.

In reality, the current peace process is premised on reconciling the narco-elite with a narco/proxy-insurgency. But sustainable peace can only be attained by empowering the silent majority and building space for civil society and good governance. The Afghan youth, who constitute the vast majority of the population, could be the country's most promising agents of change -- but we must invest in them.

Likewise, the country's democratic institutions must not be undermined by its leaders. Obama should use his meeting with Karzai to state in categorical terms the indispensability of the Afghan constitution and electoral process. Karzai must be discouraged from creating a Putin-type model by manipulating the process and the outcome of the presidential election in 2014. A discredited and contested election would threaten the integrity of Afghanistan as a united polity. Washington should not be misled by an overly optimistic portrayal of the country's election preparation -- and likely outcome. While remaining neutral toward all eligible presidential candidates, the United States should reassure Afghan stakeholders of its concern for the credibility and integrity of and the country's electoral institutions.  


Afghanistan continues to suffer from a number of interrelated governance challenges: weak institutions, powerful personalities, a highly rigid top-down bureaucracy, authoritarian political culture, and a Machiavellian president with unprecedented constitutional powers. The country's economic recovery, state-building, national reconciliation, social progress, and the peace process have all been set back by these impediments. Addressing these challenges requires rebalancing the distribution of power between and among different organs and regions within the country.

The devolution of authority should also make the Afghan state more inclusive, opening up the stabilization, reconstruction, development, national reconciliation, and peace-building processes to a wider array of constituencies. This would give Afghan citizens a greater stake in government, while at the same time disempowering the fewer than 300 individuals who have captured the Afghan state, its economy, and international patronage.  

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Despite its understandable disillusion with a lack of sufficient progress in Afghanistan, Washington must not relapse into an isolationist corner. Afghanistan is simply too important to lose, both symbolically and politically; it is the key to winning the global struggle against Jihadist terrorism and stabilizing the increasingly chaotic Islamic world. As the place where East and West first coexisted peacefully under the Greco-Bactrian civilization, Afghanistan also has the potential to facilitate regional integration, building a more harmonious and prosperous Central and South Asia and protecting Western national security. But all of this depends on America's continued engagement. 

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