The roles of US Cabinet deputies

By Nat Bellocchi 白樂崎  / 

Sat, Jan 13, 2001 - Page 8

President-elect Bush has now completed his Cabinet selections. The new ensemble is clearly one of the strongest and most experienced in recent memory. He has publicly acknowledged that it includes strong personalities who doubtless will differ with each other on specific issues.

Bush has also said he is ready to make the decisions should there be Cabinet disagreements. Clearly he is not going to begin his presidency on the defensive because of the close and contentious results of the election. He has started out somewhat like Ronald Reagan, who would determine the direction he wanted to go, and delegate the details to his Cabinet. We will see much more of this Cabinet than we did of the Clinton one.

This style will likely continue on to the next step -- selecting the deputy secretaries. The theory is that deputies manage the bureaucracy under them while the secretary steers broad policy and represents his department with the president and with the public. With this Cabinet, however, most will have a strong say in this deputy selection process and will choose the person most likely to be compatible with what he or she wants a deputy to do. On that basis, the media already has begun speculating who these might be. Of particular interest to the US-Taiwan relationship are the deputies for national security positions, the deputy secretaries of State and Defense, the ambassador to the UN, and the director of the CIA.

Colin Powell, with his background, will have strong ideas on how he wants to organize the top layer of the State Department and a strong say in who occupies senior positions. Powell has already mentioned the need to tighten management there. Someone near the top with know-how in the culture of diplomacy might be needed, but there has been a suggestion that there be two deputies at State, one for management and another for diplomacy.

Donald Rumsfeld has already been a Secretary of Defense, and he has continued involvement in national security affairs on many committees established by Congress to study specific issues. Recently this has included both missile defense and satellite warfare. He will know what he wants to do, and what he wants a deputy to do, and he'll get his way.

The US ambassador to the UN is a high-profile position that the new president could elevate, or not, to Cabinet level depending, at least initially, on Powell's views. During the Cold War, the UN existed in a world of its own, but with the changes that have come about since then, including the many peacekeeping responsibilities, considerable substantive importance is attached to this prominent position.

The director of the Central Intelligence Agency, who heads not only the CIA, but the entire government intelligence community, does not have policy responsibilities, nor is he usually of Cabinet rank. This depends on the president, however. Reagan, for instance, elevated Bill Casey to Cabinet level with considerable influence on policy.

Though this is based entirely on media speculation, the four names most often mentioned as candidates to fill these four positions are Rich Armitage, Paul Wolfowitz, John Bolton, and Mike Armacost. That is a list with which Taiwan could be quite comfortable, whatever assignment they receive.

Rich Armitage's background is well known. He has continued to maintain contact with his many friends in Taiwan, not only through his consulting firm, but on a personal basis as well. He was an advisor to Bush during the primaries and through the campaign.

The strong language Bush has used to describe his policy toward Asia [especially considering Japan as the US' top partner in Asia, and on defending Taiwan], is the work of Armitage. He was one of the signatories of a high-profile letter to Clinton in 1999, supporting the US commitment to defend Taiwan. His close friendship with Powell, his background in Vietnam, his experience as assistant secretary in the Department of Defense, and his continuing work on numerous panels and committees making recommendations on national-security issues, ensure he will be a player in the new Administration.

Paul Wolfowitz, former undersecretary for policy at the Department of Defense, assistant secretary of State, and ambassador to Indonesia, is an academic and highly regarded policy expert. He was behind former Secretary of State George Schultz's attitude toward China, that China is an important but vastly overrated power. He too was a signatory of the 1999 memo supporting a clear commitment to the defense of Taiwan, and also has been an advisor to Bush on national security policy since he began running in the primaries. He is currently the head of the School of Advanced International Studies at Johns Hopkins University. He seems assured to have an influential position in the Bush government.

John Bolton, executive vice president of the American Enterprise Institute think tank, is a former assistant attorney general, and later assistant secretary for international organizations in the State Department. He has testified before Congress in support of Taiwan's membership in international organizations, a cause in support of which he has had several articles published. His stalwart help to Bush in the Florida debacle, and his broad experience in both law and international affairs, also make him a likely candidate for an influential position in the Bush government.

Mike Armacost, now the head of the Brookings Institute, has welcomed scholarly exchanges with Taiwan in that capacity. He has been a special advisor to the US ambassador to Japan, a deputy assistant secretary in both State and Defense, and the undersecretary of state for political affairs during the Reagan administration.

For the media, pursuing leads on possible appointees will get increasingly difficult. Not only are the numbers of assistant secretaries, and for many departments even deputy assistant secretaries, much greater, but the number of people involved in making each decision increases.

Though there is a tradition that a new president is given the benefit of the doubt on his initial appointments, interest groups are not a part of that tradition. Already some are preparing to pressure Senate members to vote against the attorney-general-designate, but most observers believe he will be confirmed.

The designated Cabinet members and deputy secretaries generally are quickly scheduled for hearings. While there will be many partisan battles on both issues and ideology, national security concerns with a new government taking power make Congress reluctant to leave these positions open. Candidates such as the four mentioned above, however, are a good sign for the US-Taiwan relationship.

Nat Bellocchi is the former chairman of the American Institute in Taiwan and is now a special adviser to the Liberty Times Group. This article represents his personal views.