All Eyes on the Next Secretary of State

J. Otis

Russia’s military intervention in the Syrian civil war increased over the past week with the addition of the Admiral Kuznetsov, its only aircraft carrier, to its fleet in the eastern Mediterranean.  Russia conducted a series of airstrikes and ship-based missile strikes against rebel groups in Syria in preparation for a major ground offensive expected from the Assad regime in the coming weeks ahead.  Vladmir Putin’s increasing involvement in Syria and continuing support for the brutal Assad regime, in defiance of the United States’ efforts in the region, serve as an important reminder of the sort of challenges America will face over the next four years.  In addition to resolving the overly complex Syrian-Iraqi

conflict, defeating ISIS, and developing a strategy for long run stability in the region (all of which must be achieved in spite Russia’s meddling) the next American President will be tasked with facing many more complex challenges with much at stake.  These include following up on previous administrations’ efforts to stop Iran from obtaining nuclear weapons, checking an unstable and nuclear capable North Korea, standing up to Vladmir Putin’s attempts to undermine American influence in Europe and the Middle East, and standing firm against Chinese territorial provocations against American allies in the Pacific.  Failure on the part of the United States, the nation on which much of the existing world order depends, to deal with these issues would result in a much more unstable world.

The issues that require American leadership over the next four years are both complicated and daunting.  America happens to find itself in the precarious position of having to face uniquely difficult foreign policy challenges over the next four years under the leadership of a man who is, to put it mildly, an incredibly unusual fit for the task at hand.  If Mr. Trump conducts foreign policy in the way he suggested he would throughout his campaign, America’s influence in the world would be diminished and our adversaries would be emboldened.  Mr. Trump campaigned on questioning America’s commitment to her allies and repeatedly cozied up to America’s geopolitical foes like Russia.  For instance, he questioned NATO’s importance, suggested at one point that Japan and South Korea be left to defend themselves, and welcomed Russian intervention in the Middle East.  All of this would amount to America forfeiting and giving in to our adversaries.  However, Mr. Trump remains a wild card and much is yet to be seen about how he will decide to govern.  If he reverses his policies, something he’s done often before, and selects a competent and capable set of advisors and listens to them, it is possible that he may rise to the occasion.  Therefore, the success of a Trump administration in the realm of foreign policy and any hope for continued American leadership in the world boils down to his pick for Secretary of State.

If the next Secretary of State is to be successful in guiding America through difficult challenges abroad, he/she must not only be knowledgeable enough to advise President Trump on the merits of American leadership in the world but also be determined enough to stand up to him when he’s wrong.  The current front runner for the position, Mayor Rudy Giuliani, is not the ideal candidate to meet these demands.  Although Mr. Giuliani is a capable politician with an impressive record as Mayor of New York City and the potential to surprise everyone, his lack of notable foreign policy experience and his unwavering loyalty to Donald Trump is cause for concern and thus, prevents him from being the ideal candidate.   Of all the alternatives under consideration for the position, Former Governor Mitt Romney would be the best choice.  Mr. Romney is a firm believer in America’s leadership role in the world and would help guide a Trump administration in the appropriate direction.  Governor Romney has also demonstrated an understanding of international affairs and a measure of clairvoyance in the past.  In hindsight, Governor Romney was correct in the 2012 election to assert, despite President Obama’s mocking at the time, that America’s largest geopolitical foe is Russia and that the Obama administration’s failure to obtain a status of forces agreement in Iraq would lead to destabilization in the region.  It is hard to deny four years later with Russian power plays and the rise of ISIS unfolding on Americans television screens that Mr. Romney was off the mark.  Additionally, as someone who publicly rebuked Mr. Trump repeatedly throughout the year, Mr. Romney has demonstrated that he is more than capable of standing up to Mr. Trump.  Other viable alternatives like Former Ambassador to the UN John Bolton might be too hawkish while other choices without a foreign policy record like Governor Nikki Haley of South Carolina will leave many wondering what to expect.  If President-elect Trump wishes to show that he intends on preserving America’s leadership role in the world and is serious about confronting America’s complex challenges, nominating Mitt Romney for Secretary of State would be a solid first step.


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