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US President Barack Obama fresh from his decisive election victory in November had tasks other than the looming "fiscal cliff" crisis to handle as he entered the New Year. His cabinet looked increasingly thin and weary with the departure of high profile appointees like CIA Director David Petraeus, retiring Secretary of State Hilary Clinton, outgoing Defense Secretary Leon Panetta and other such redundancies like the appointment of a new US Ambassador to the United Nations. After careful deliberations, the Obama team decided to field veteran Senators John Kerry and Chuck Hagel for the position of State and Defense, while settling for an old CIA hand and national counter-terrorism expert John Brennan for the CIA.
The Obama administration timed the appointments and the selective leaks on the nominees to the press to perfection. Allowing just enough time for broad views to be elicited from politicians, the press and the public without a formative and potentially crippling debate on the candidates like in the Susan Rice saga is praiseworthy. While at the same time the appointees themselves have broad based respect for their politics and experience in global affairs. Senator Kerry, an former army veteran and decorated war hero, is probably one of the foremost politicians in the United States today who is well liked abroad and has a commanding grasp of international affairs. Former Republican Senator from Nebraska, Chuck Hagel, is a favourite of army veterans and is famous of his plain talking ways which will be of use at the Department of Defense with key policy decisions needed to be taken on Syria, the affairs of the broader Middle East, Iran, Afghanistan and North Korea. The Kerry-Hagel team will be one to watch out for this year, as both men will wield considerable influence on the future of American foreign policy in Obama's second term as President.
The fact that both Senators are from the opposite political parties, yet brought together by the President, in an America that is so divided politically, must be lauded. President Obama has taken the proverbial leap of faith in his second term that will most definitely focus on international affairs more than his first term, which had fixing the economy and healthcare reform high on his priority list. Obama has built his entire political ethos on reconciliation and bi-partisanship and this move to hire two seasoned politicians from the opposite end of the political aisle is in furtherance to that political ideology. More so, Kerry and Hagel, though yet to be confirmed by the Senate, will also be key in defining the political legacy of Obama overseas. Similarly, the choice of Brennan for the CIA chief after the unceremonious exit of Petraeus shows Obama as a pragmatic and mature politician willing to take an appointee from the Bush Administration at a key position based on merit and credentials only, leaving politics and national security as distinct silos that should not mix.
Obama has his task cut out as he prepares to take oath for the next four years. A political impasse at home with an economy tottering will remain his key concern. Having said that, how Obama handles the key geopolitical issues overseas, most notably the big five, Iran, Syria, Afghanistan, the Arab Spring fallout and North Korea will be key in defining the political legacy of the US President. And the current spate of appointments should bode well for the President as he looks to build on their experience and credentials for a lasting legacy and who knows maybe a new Obama Doctrine for foreign affairs and policy.
More about Karan Thakur
Dr Karan Thakur is a dentist by training and a healthcare manager by profession. Other than healthcare and health policy, his interests include politics and current affairs, non-fiction reading, art, Western Classical Music and squash. A budding writer, Karan hopes to publish a book of non-fiction someday.