The Global Economic Crisis and Future Ambassadorial Appointments

In the next few weeks, President-Elect Obama will fill out the remaining parts of his economic team, announcing the Secretaries of Labor and Commerce, the United States Trade Representative, and senior positions at Treasury and the other major departments.   But there is one other category of appointment that has traditionally not been seen as part of the "economic team" that will need to be in the challenging years ahead - the Ambassadors to the G20 nations. 

It is my hope that these critical appointments - particularly to the new emerging powers such as China, India, Brazil and Mexico - are given to candidates with strong economic backgrounds.  For most of the nations of the world, the core of their relationship to the United States is economic, not political or security-related.  We will need leaders with strong economic backgrounds to help these nations navigate the rough global economic seas ahead, and to fashion new collective systems of cooperation that tackle the truly common global challenges all the nations of the world face today. 

The age of Obama will see an almost instantaneous change in language and world view, but perhaps nowhere more starkly than in our understanding of what are the most important threats to our national security. Yes, we will have those traditional "security" oriented threats like nuclear proliferation, radical Islam and the worsening politics of the belt from Pakistan to Lebanon, but we will also have a whole basket of threats to stability that are more about helping governments adapt to the opportunities, rigors and failures of 21st century globalization, and the enormous challenge of climate change and moving to a low-carbon future. 

In the years ahead, the worst geopolitical crises may emerge not from terrorists and radical Islam, but from the instability brought about from collapsing domestic financial systems and prolonged recessions in failing and fragile states. Since the fall of Communism 20 years ago, this chapter of global human history has been largely a very positive one - a weakening of totalitarian leaders and ideologies, rising standards of living throughout the world, the spread of a global communications network that is helping bring isolated people and communities into modernity as never before. That global era - the post-Communist era - seems to be crashing, coming to a close, now.   A whole new global era of politics, economics. communications, climate management and security seems to be emerging, one very different from the one that came before.  And while the government Barack Obama is building is loaded with talent, and may be among the very best ever assembled, one also gets the sense that the structure of it - State, Defense, Treasury, USTR, Commerce, Transportation, Energy, Labor, the National Security Council, the National Economic Council - seems itself built for another day.

For example, in this age, who will really be in charge of our global economic portfolio, and the management of the geopolitics of the coming global recession? State? Treasury? Commerce? The NEC? Energy? What role will USTR, Defense, the CIA, play?  Or who will take the lead in developing our comprehensive strategy for moving America and the world to a low-carbon future and all that that entails, as all of these departments and domestic ones like HUD, EPA and Transportation have a role to play here? 

Barack Obama has already shown himself to be a creative, insightful and wise leader.  He will need all of those traits as he confronts not just daunting global challenges, but confronts a whole new age of global politics armed with aging institutions and anachronistic strategies that may do as much - no matter the talent - to prevent comprehensive solutions as enable them.