National Intelligence Council Vice Chairman David Gordon to be Condi’s Next Policy Planning Director


The first Director of Policy Planning at the State Department was George Kennan. The 25th will be National Intelligence Council Vice Chairman David Gordon. The formal announcement is likely to be made in the next two weeks.
David Gordon is an outstanding choice for this key position in America’ foreign policy establishment. Gordon is polymathic and knows that there is an enormous gap between yesterday’s threats and tomorrow’s. He worries about the declining water table in China. He thinks about resource wars and about the proliferation of “half-states”, or “failing but not quite totally failed” states. He has great facility with classic military and geostrategic thinking — but he’s been trying to work through the many dark nightmares outlined by people like Robert Wright, Robert Kaplan, and Bill Joy for some time.
A few years ago, I spent a great weekend with Dave Gordon and about 20 other top tier national security thinkers at a meeting organized by Al Gore National Security Advisor Leon Fuerth at the Rockefeller Brothers Fund’s Pocantico retreat. We were all there to hammer through a futurist/policy planning framework that Fuerth has been developing for some time titled “Forward Engagement.” Frankly, Fuerth’s views deserve far greater discussion than they have thus far received (and if Fuerth reads this, I should get signed back up with his efforts).
Gordon was the perfect partner for this discussion on network effects and “forward engagement” to confront complex future policy challenges and was working then on his Global Trends 2015 report — and gave a brilliant “chat” about China, its development and what hard choices China’s rise meant for the rest of the world. The meeting was off-the-record but suffice it to say that virtually none of Dave Gordon’s roster of concerns matched those in normal, smart wonk society. He was thinking about global competition on a different level, far beyond the simple, binary and immediate. I remember clearly, for instance, the two of us discussing China’s deep political and economic involvement in Latin America and Africa, something that was not ‘then’ on the radar of most other policymakers or even China watchers.
I had originally recommended that the current “Acting Director” at Policy Planning, Matthew Waxman, be retained to provide a 21st century take on how American foreign policy and national security efforts could be reorganized — perhaps via some vehicle like a modernized version of Eisenhower’s brilliant Solarium exercise. Waxman is a younger version of David Gordon, and the two should make an outstanding team for the period of time they work together. (Recently, I spoke at a forum of well-heeled legal types in New York and met a dean or two of some prominent law schools and understand that a bidding war may be in play to lure Waxman to a teaching position). Whether Waxman stays or goes, it would be wise for the high priests in America’s foreign policy establishment to keep someone of Waxman’s talents and moral clarity “in the network” — and working with Gordon.
Why is it only in the twilight of this administration that we are seeing highly sensible appointments — and a new commitment to healthy “deal-making”? It is regrettable that someone of Gordon’s intellectual capacity and stature now has just a year and half to try and do something constructive in his new role. The reality is that America’s place in the world seems to be slipping — perhaps from a globally hegemonic, ordering role to something like another better-than-average great power — and most of George W. Bush’s political capital has been spent, often on low-return battles like the recent Wolfowitz struggle.
On the bright side, Bill Clinton at the end of his presidency gave himself about 45 days flat to solve definitively the Palestinian-Israeli problem and to normalize relations with North Korea. Not enough time. But the Bush administration has 19 months to work vigorously to turn this dismal mess around.
The constructive players in the administration, at this point, include people like Chief of Staff Joshua Bolten (he has made HUGE difference in general change of course of this administration away from Cheneyesque pugnaciousness), Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice, Deputy Secretary John Negroponte (yes — for all the critics who have a problem with Negroponte, you need to take another look — he is winning bureaucratic battles for Condi now against Cheney’s team), Under Secretary of State R. Nicholas Burns (whose success at ‘lots’ of new international deal-making that was preempted in the last few years make him a great potential successor to Bob Barker on The Price is Right), Legal Adviser John Bellinger, and now David Gordon succeeding Stanford’s Stephen Krasner in George Kennan’s famous job.
Others on the side of light include Secretary of Defense Bob Gates who is strongly backing the Diplomatic Team (and by reports I’ve received is in the clear lead — though not demanding credit — in laying out a new strategic road map for American interests in the Middle East). Gordon England, Deputy Secretary of Defense, is running DoD far more competently than Paul Wolfowitz did. Mike McConnell at the Directorate of National Intelligence and Michael Hayden have completely turned around a convulsing, dysfunctional intelligence establishment that was being ravaged and distorted by Rumsfeld and Stephen Cambone into something far more ordered and constructively supportive of the current foreign policy and national security missions.
Make no mistake about my enthusiasm for the rising A Team here. I am supportive of them — but I oppose what this administration did in Iraq and think that American power and prestige in the world have suffered because of a self-inflicted, disastrous mistake that has shaken global trust in American leadership and purpose. The adoption of a so-called “war paradigm” by the administration after 9-11 showed that our government doesn’t have trust and faith in our own sacred norms as a democracy during times of stress.
Frankly, it’s only during stress that the true character of a nation or political system become evident. Constitutional protections, civil liberties, transparent government and the like never matter when its only convenient — but when there is a challenge to them.
There is still time to get some of America’s foreign policy and national security house back in order. A team is assembling that can — if driven and inspired by what is best for the nation rather than cynical political reasons — make some progress.
Many believe that the Policy Planning perch at State has slipped in significance over the years, but in my view this perceived slippage had more to do with the massive increase in complexity of global challenges and threats and the failure thus far of any administration — Democrat or Republican — to compellingly reorganize American and global structures and resources to deal with this complexity. But the position, in my view, can be extremely important.
Other policy planning directors other than Kennan include a roster of some of America’s most distinguished national security thinkers. These include Paul Nitze, Walt Rostow, Winston Lord, Anthony Lake, Stephen Bosworth, Peter Rodman, Richard Solomon, Dennis Ross, James Steinberg, Morton Halperin, Richard Haass, Mitchell Reiss — and even Paul Wolfowitz should make this list of notables.
I think David Gordon is one of a small handful of people who can bring wisdom, excellence and policy entrepreneurship to the Policy Planning activities at the State Department. He will be surrounded by increasingly depressed people who know that the chance to “do great things” during this administration is becoming increasingly constrained by the realities that face every President near the end of his tenure.
Gordon is a fun guy — and a funny guy, but he’s also serious and should ignore the naysayers. That said, he can’t win in this environment by being “the fun guy” too much. He needs to pick the one or two policy arenas in which he wants to make a profound difference — and tenaciously fight for them.
There are a lot of new good people — working together finally — in this administration. But Vice President Cheney, and his national security spearcarriers — David Addington, John Hannah, and David Wurmser — will be out there to sabotage and oppose him at every turn. These rivals can’t be seduced to support David Gordon’s logic. They need to be out run, embarrassed, exhausted, pushed out of the room, or crushed.
That’s how one wins against Cheney’s followers. David Gordon’s appointment is a sign that smart realists are ascendant.
— Steve Clemons


16 comments on “National Intelligence Council Vice Chairman David Gordon to be Condi’s Next Policy Planning Director

  1. Dan says:

    The new Bush team, although temperamentally and ideologically far better than the neocons, has been woefully unimpressive in their results- what do we get from them – The Surge… Painfully narrow negotiations with Iran that do not resolve the major conflicts… Zero on Israel-Palestine.


  2. Not So Fast says:

    While Gordon might have come across as visionary during your brief get-away weekend with him, many in government who have run into him or organizations that he has run have not been so dazzled. Under Gordon’s day-to-day stewardship, the National Intelligence Council (NIC) has not enhanced the quality or efficiency of production of National Intelligence Estimates. Prior to arriving at the NIC, Gordon oversaw CIA’s Office of Transnational Issues–an office that many at CIA view as bloated, without focus, and sort of a “kitchen sink” for issues that don’t fit neatly anywhere else. His knowledge of minutaie–such as his focus on the water table level in China–highlight his perceived weakness when it comes to traditional grand strategy. The great pantheon of Policy Planning chiefs were notable for their strategic insights. By many accounts, Gordon is no Cohen or Zelikow or Haas.


  3. Carroll says:

    Crush them Steve, crush them.
    “Ms. Rice’s assurance on U.S. strategy came as senior officials at the State Department are expressing fury over reports that members of Vice President Cheney’s staff have told others that Mr. Cheney believes the diplomatic track with Iran is pointless, and is looking for ways to persuade Mr. Bush to confront Iran militarily.
    Reports about hawkish statements by members of Mr. Cheney’s staff **first surfaced last week in The Washington Note, a blog run by Steve Clemons** of the left-leaning New America Foundation. The report has alarmed European diplomats, some of whom fear that the struggle over Iran’s nuclear program may evolve into a decision by the Bush administration to resort to force against Iran.
    In interviews, people who have spoken with Mr. Cheney’s staff have confirmed the broad outlines of the report, and said that some of the hawkish statements to outsiders were made by David Wurmser, a former Pentagon official who is now the principal deputy assistant to Mr. Cheney for national security affairs. The accounts were provided by people who expressed alarm about the statements, but refused to be quoted by name.”
    During an interview with BBC Radio that was broadcast today, Mohamed ElBaradei, the director-general of the International Atomic Energy Agency, said he did not want to see another war like the one still raging in Iraq five years after the American-led invasion there.
    “You do not want to give additional argument to new crazies who say, ‘let’s go and bomb Iran,’“ Mr. ElBaradei said, in his strongest warning yet against the use of force in Iran. “I wake up every morning and see 100 Iraqis, innocent civilians, are dying.“


  4. Carroll says:

    Here is a little declassified bombshell dropped today..although you won’t see it in the US papers.
    Israeli agents ‘helped Entebbe hijackers’
    By Peter Day
    Last Updated: 2:29am BST 02/06/2007
    An extraordinary claim that Israeli intelligence may have had a hand in an airline hijacking before sending in commandos to rescue the hostages at Entebbe was made to the Foreign Office.
    It came via David Colvin, the first secretary at the British embassy in Paris, according to a newly released National Archives file.
    He heard it from a contact in the Euro-Arab Parliamentary Association three days after the Air France flight from Tel Aviv to Paris was seized in mid-air by Palestinians and German terrorists on June 27, 1976.
    Mr Colvin told his superiors that his source suggested that the attack was carried out by the Popular Front for the Liberation of Palestine with help from the Israeli Security Service, the Shin Bet.
    It was designed to torpedo the rival Palestine Liberation Organisation’s standing in France and to prevent what they saw as a growing rapprochement between the PLO and the Americans.
    ”My contact said that the PFLP had attracted all sorts of wild elements, some of whom had been planted by the Israelis,” Mr Colvin added. The message was received without comment by the Foreign Office but later officials recorded that a journalist from the Liverpool Post, Leo Murray, had also told them that a splinter group of PFLP was planning a series of spectacular incidents to disrupt contacts between the PLO leader Yasser Arafat and the US.
    An official noted: ‘If, as Mr Murray’s sources allege, the aim of the Entebbe hijacking was to prevent the development of relations between Arafat and the West, and Arafat knew this, it would provide another motive for Arafat’s approach to the French in Cairo warning us of further attacks.”….
    I always said time was not on Israel’s side and it’s not going to be on Cheney’s side either if he hasn’t already shreded all this adm’s papers…..and time runeth out as more and more classified official goverment documents and memo’s reach their “declassification” time period and are made availabe to the public and inguiring minds of reporters….I hope we all live long enough to see it.


  5. Gadfly says:

    We all know that Dick Cheney is a war-monger- traitor- liar- and, war-profiteer– who will continue to undermine any efforts on the part of Americans who desperately want peace.
    However, it is sheer folly to pretend that Condi Rice is any different from Dick Cheney. When will Americans start actually LISTENING to the corrupt & incompetent Rice’s statements, which are no different from Cheney’s instead of WATCHING her in awe of her photo-ops replete with fashion… That may be just fine for “Entertainment Tonight”– but, as a Secretary of State, Rice is an abject failure.
    Moreoever, Rice is to be Gordon’s boss– ergo, Gordon is sunk from the start. For, irrespective how competent, enlightened, and brilliant an underling– when the boss is a corrupt, asinine failure, like Rice– then your efforts are sabotaged from the outset.
    No– until the incompetent & corrupt Rice returns to kissing the fat-asses of the Oil Pimps who put this whore in place– America is doomed! Rice is the laughing stock of the diplomatic corps– and with good reason:– she has nothing to show for her ‘around-the-world’ junkets– except photographs of herself! Nauseating!


  6. David N says:

    But in fact there were reasonable, sensible people appointed from the very beginning of the Bush administration. One can name Colin Powell, O’Neal, and Dick Clarke among the very few.
    The problem was that they were very few, and they were ignore, pre-empted, or used by the Cheney/Bush hard/liners.
    The question is not, are sensible people being appointed. The question is, will they be able to act to repair some of the damage Bush has done?
    The question then becomes, how will the media use Rove’s spin to claim that a year and a half of damage control makes up for six years of damage?
    And will any Democrat be able to actually make the arguement that a few photo-ops worth of damage control does not balance the catastrophes that Bush and the Republican party have been responsible for?
    Are the Democrats really so feckless that they believe that leaving Bush in place is the only way they’ll win in 2008?


  7. Robert M. says:

    Excellent “reality-based” reportage! Bernard Fall-ish but so-right-now. Would that any one at the NYT had understanding and connections like yours (& they should have, of course, should be an A1 priority for a Times PUBLISHER). Not just the facts of appointment but the broader picture of what it CAN mean. (I don’t trust Cheney even AFTER the Dems win in Nov 2008. He might be at his most dangerous then, especially if Bush begins drinking again.)
    I think the one word I liked best was:
    I’m just hoping your blog is becoming REQUIRED reading set by profs for both their under- & graduate level courses. I could generate great mid-term short essay questions off of just the past four months of your reporting.


  8. Carroll says:

    “Why is it only in the twilight of this administration that we are seeing highly sensible appointments — and a new commitment to healthy “deal-making”? ”
    I think I can answer that for you….as only those who have no career, agenda or ideology dependent of the continuation of US Goverment as a Domestic and International World Wide “Private” Industry …can.
    Short version…the public is at long last onto, and turning against the entire “system’ that has served almost exclusively the interest of those like Bush, the politicans and other “special parties.”
    They have gone too far and need to backtrack “a bit” or risk having the democracy in name only system that has served them all so well imperiled by popular demand.
    If that were to happen they lose it all…so they have to make some adjustments to keep the system intact.
    Frankly I am hoping the engine blows completely despite their patch up jobs so we can buy a new one instead of spending all our blood and money on repairs.


  9. Linda says:

    It’s difficult to see how realists can accomplish much in a year and a half that will change significantly the damage that has been done. Some of them like Rice failed in both her roles at NSC and State and were part of that mess.
    On all issues, Bush is suddenly seeing the light and flip-flopping because his and Rove’s legacy also has badly hurt Republican conservative future. See Peggy Noonan’s op-ed in today’s Wall Street Journal that you can get via link in ABC’s “The Note” even if you don’t subscribe to WSJ or its website.


  10. Ben D says:

    I would argue you left out Eliot Cohen as another intelligent and practical player who was added to the roster. He has a less public role, but an intimate position none-the-less.


  11. pauline says:

    Steve wrote:
    “Other policy planning directors…and even Paul Wolfowitz should make this list of notables.”
    from Wed nite —
    Charlie Rose: And in your judgment, [your anti-corruption effort is] what it was about, right there?
    Paul Wolfowitz: Maybe it was — look. Maybe I could have done it differentially. Maybe I could have consulted more. Maybe if it weren’t me and somebody else doing it, look. I’ve said from the beginning —
    Charlie Rose: Somebody who was not an architect of the war and all that.
    Paul Wolfowitz: I’m not an architect of anything. But somebody who is not so closely associated with a controversial Iraq policy, yeah.
    Steve, this guy just can’t stop lying. He was foaming at the mouth moments after 9/11, wanting to attack Iraq with full guns a’blazin. How can you possibly consider him noteworthy of anything?


  12. JohnH says:

    Let’s hope this rising group of realists understands that peace goes hand in hand with prosperity, not just for a handful of people, but for populations in general. This is the post-war message of Europe and Japan, where relatively egalitarian societies, pampered with a broad range of social services and human rights, have little desire to fight. It is also the message of places like Venezuela, where relative social peace has been bought by pandering to the people, despite resistance from foreign powers and self absorbed elites.
    The historical US model of backing greedy elites in the third world is inherently an unstable one. Instead of having the world economy dependent on oil field security provided by a few heavily armed thugs, a more enlightened and practical strategy would entail having the oil fields protected by an entire populace, motivated to preserve production by their own prosperity and self interest.


  13. Pissed Off American says:

    Speaking of Rice, I wonder how long she gets to ignore the Congressional Subpoena Waxman served her with. It must be nice being above the law, eh? Perhaps we oughta make her President, she’s as good at saying “fuck you” to the American people as Bush is.
    And golly, how about those Democrats? Have you ever seen a more spineless batch of posturing assholes? Honestly, I give up. I doubt I will even vote again. The American people have lost thier representation, and short of massive dissent nationwide we are not going to get it back. And this miserably obvious deception of two party politics, and the division it purposely nurtures, precludes any chance we have of reaching a consensus as Americans, and speaking in one voice against the monster that has taken Washington captive.
    Our goose is fuckin’ cooked. We lose.


  14. pauline says:

    Steve wrote:
    “But the Bush administration has 19 months to work vigorously to turn this dismal mess [Palestinian-Israeli problem] around…”
    Good luck to David Gordon. How anyone could effectively work for/with these warmongers, especially with a president who “was setting Iraq up so his successor could not get out of “our country’s destiny,” is way beyond my comprehension.
    see below from yesterday —
    “Georgie Anne Geyer writes today in the Dallas Morning News about President Bush’s strange behavior during a recent meeting with “[f]riends of his from Texas.”
    But by all reports, President Bush is more convinced than ever of his righteousness.
    Friends of his from Texas were shocked recently to find him nearly wild-eyed, thumping himself on the chest three times while he repeated “I am the president!” He also made it clear he was setting Iraq up so his successor could not get out of “our country’s destiny.”
    This is the second time in recent weeks that accounts have surfaced of Bush lashing out or “ranting” in private meetings when responding to criticism of his Iraq policy. Chris Nelson of the Nelson Report offered a similar account earlier this month:
    [S]ome big money players up from Texas recently paid a visit to their friend in the White House. The story goes that they got out exactly one question, and the rest of the meeting consisted of The President in an extended whine, a rant, actually, about no one understands him, the critics are all messed up, if only people would see what he’s doing things would be OK,etc., etc. This is called a “bunker mentality” and it’s not attractive when a friend does it. When the friend is the President of the United States, it can be downright dangerous. Apparently the Texas friends were suitably appalled, hence the story now in circulation.”


  15. Rich says:

    I’m not sure I’d exhalt the likes of Nitze and Rostow. Along with his brother, Rostow seemed to be one of the few bitter end defenders of the Vietnam War and, as such, someone who clearly did not benefit from experience (or even exercise original thinking in the defense of that afiled conflict).


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