What Makes a Secretary of State Effective?

According to Aaron David Miller, who worked for six different Secretaries, success at Foggy Bottom depends on a close relationship with the President:

The president must have your back. Without this, the game is over before it begins. All presidents support their secretaries of State, but not all get the support critical to success. Baker used to say that he was President George H.W. Bush’s man at the State Department, not the State Department’s man at the White House. Those two were particularly close, and it gave Baker real authority, power and street credibility.

And for that reason, Miller thinks Ambassador Rice is the strongest candidate to succeed Secretary Clinton.

Author: Keith Humphreys

Keith Humphreys is the Esther Ting Memorial Professor of Psychiatry at Stanford University and an Honorary Professor of Psychiatry at Kings College Lonon. His research, teaching and writing have focused on addictive disorders, self-help organizations (e.g., breast cancer support groups, Alcoholics Anonymous), evaluation research methods, and public policy related to health care, mental illness, veterans, drugs, crime and correctional systems. Professor Humphreys' over 300 scholarly articles, monographs and books have been cited over ten thousand times by scientific colleagues. He is a regular contributor to Washington Post and has also written for the New York Times, Wall Street Journal, Washington Monthly, San Francisco Chronicle, The Guardian (UK), The Telegraph (UK), Times Higher Education (UK), Crossbow (UK) and other media outlets.

8 thoughts on “What Makes a Secretary of State Effective?”

  1. Yes, closeness to the President is important given the history of competition between the State Department and the NSC Advisor (and to some extent DoD) for primacy in foreign policy.

  2. Nope, just another example of the extinction of the Proofreading profession, or worse yet, the extinction of the respect its purpose, once held.

  3. That’s my thinking on this too.

    What doesn’t make sense is why the State Department has purview over the Tar Sands pipeline.
    That just seems to be “pushing the envelop of stupid” from the get go.
    And sure enough, the money paragraph from James Wimberly’s main link the other day:

    “It’s one more clear sign that the State Department should not be handling this,” added McKibben (who is also an OnEarth contributing editor). Both advocates believe the Environmental Protection Agency or the White House Council on Environmental Quality would be more qualified to assess the environmental impacts of Keystone XL. But an executive order issued by President George W. Bush in April 2004 makes the Secretary of State responsible for approving pipelines that cross the U.S. border. Kleeb suggested that Obama could change that order to shift the decision-making responsibility elsewhere.

    I say Mr. Obama can have Rice as his right-hand man, — after, and only after — he shifts responsibility for KeyStone out of the back-scratching, bottom-fondling realm that is Foggy Bottom.
    In absolutely no way should Rice — and her neoliberal investment portfolio in Koch-like Canadian companies — be within 10,000 pipelined miles of this.
    That’s just embarrassing….


    1. Interesting … Why would President Bush have issued such an absurd executive order? Let’s see … Secretary of State or EPA? … Hmmm … what do you suppose?

  4. Isn´t Miller somewhat biased towards the heroic, Erwin Rommel view of the job, up with his tanks on the front line in his tiny command car? That´s one way of leading a foreign service, but not the only one. Did George Marshall ever negotiate a treaty in person?
    John Kerry would make a good Secretary of State, without the histrionics and conflicts of interest. Iran, Palestine/Israel and climate change call for patience, like containing Soviet Communism in its day, not brilliant firefighting coups.

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