My Secretary of State –

Forget about Benghazi for now.  What is the key objective that the next US Sec State, our diplomat-in-chief, needs to accomplish?  Thomas Friedman presses the case for an educator and for moving Arne Duncan over from Dept of Ed:

Let’s start with the obvious. A big part of the job is negotiating. Well, anyone who has negotiated with the Chicago Teachers Union, as Duncan did when he was superintendent of the Chicago Public Schools before going to Washington, would find negotiating with the Russians and Chinese a day at the beach. A big part of being secretary of education (and secretary of state) is getting allies and adversaries to agree on things they normally wouldn’t — and making them think that it was all their idea. Trust me, if you can cut such deals with Randi Weingarten, who is president of the American Federation of Teachers, you can do them with Vladimir Putin and Bibi Netanyahu.

A big part of the job of secretary of state is also finding common ground between multiple constituencies: Congress, foreign countries, big business, the White House, the Pentagon and the diplomats. The same is true for a school superintendent, but the constituencies between which they have to forge common ground are so much more intimidating: They’re called “parents,” “teachers,” “students” and “school boards.”

There is a deeper point here: The biggest issue in the world today is growth, and, in this information age, improving educational outcomes for more young people is now the most important lever for increasing economic growth and narrowing income inequality. In other words, education is now the key to sustainable power. To have a secretary of state who is one of the world’s leading authorities on education, well, everyone would want to talk to him. For instance, it would be very helpful to have a secretary of state who can start a negotiating session with Hamas leaders (if we ever talk with them) by asking: “Do you know how far behind your kids are?” That might actually work better than: “Why don’t you recognize Israel?”

via My Secretary of State –


9 thoughts on “My Secretary of State –”

  1. What an interesting approach to global diplomacy? I like new and innovative ideas and think that a change up could have potential positive outcomes. However, the problem with this is that diplomats aren’t only talking about education and growth. They are talking about security, war, conflict, missile treaties, etc. That is great that she has negotiation skills and focuses on education, (which I agree we should be more focused on) but how can you have the secretary of education negotiating international affairs when she has not background in security studies for the United States? That seems like a major problem to me. Plus, how will it look for foreign nations if we send someone with no experience in international affairs to negotiate with their chief diplomats? You must have credibility in negotiations between diplomats. Sadly, I don’t think this change lends itself to the kind of credibility we need.

    In situation credibility matters

  2. I think the comment that alarms me the most is when Rice said, “If we use the word ‘genocide’ and are seen as doing nothing, what will be the effect on the November [congressional midterm] election?”

    From my perception of the position of Secretary of State, the diplomat should be more concerned about the state of foreign relations, opposed to concerning their time and efforts with domestic politics. That being said, one cannot forget about them all together, but a separation would be nice as foreign policies will be around a lot longer than four (or eight) years.

    Check out the boxed portion:

  3. In all honesty, the president is running low on opportunities to foster bipartisanship. Talks on the fiscal cliff are slowly imploding and people are getting impatient. Why insist on nominating Rice as Sec. of State when there is so much controversy surrounding her ( This is the most visible cabinet position, and ought to be filled with an eye toward building political consensus. Benghazi was the low point of Obama’s foreign policy. He shouldn’t want to revisit it. That being said, Friedman’s idea is refreshing. Who knows how much–if any–experience Duncan has in foreign affairs. But I would argue that a lot of diplomacy has to deal with people skills (the same things we’ve been learning in class). Give Duncan a few weeks of briefings, and he should be up to date on the basics. It might be nice to have someone from the “outside” come in and provide a new perspective on how the world works. Then again, I would hate to see Duncan leave his current post–we need him there!

  4. This is a very interesting concept and a different approach to foreign policy and international relations. While I definitely think it has the potential to have many positive effects, I’m not sure if I agree that education should be the biggest focus of the Secretary of State. I think there are several more pressing matters that should probably be addressed first, such as national security, decreasing conflict, etc., before education can be emphasized. It would be great if the new Secretary of State could help both aspects of the situation.

  5. Thank you Friedman. The correlation between education and democracy is strong and even our founding fathers recognized this, as when Jefferson stated, “Every government degenerates when trusted to the rulers of the people alone. The people themselves, therefore, are its only safe depositories. And to render them safe, their minds must be improved to a certain degree.” This idea that we can foster democracy while not also trying to support a strong public education system is ludicrous. In my past political science classes and history classes the lesson of the link between these two ideas has also been focused on, though most of the public doesn’t seem to realize it. However, in the other article I read, there was an interesting point. Education isn’t just to strengthen the public, but to create the public. Which is true, without an education system, our system would fall apart. And the same is true with any nation. JFK said that “The ignorance of one voter in a democracy impairs the security of all.” So, having a specialist in education be the Secretary of State might be a good change. From this maybe we can change our attempts at spreading democracy by war (something that won’t work in the long term) to trying to establish better educational systems in other countries which a sustainable democracy will follow.

  6. I do not see this article as one being “let’s make the secretary of education the secretary of state”. To me this article is all about what is the role of the secretary of state? I agree with the author on many parts. Most international movements these days are not military nor deal with military issues. (We just see those all the time because it is good news) Most negotiations today are dealt in my opinion about the economy. Education is a major issue that needs to be covered because it is essential to development within a country. Isn’t the Secretary of State supposed to help countries develop and improve? Obviously security issues are a problem, but wouldn’t educating the people decrease that problem? Teaching people basic skills can help them have peaceful movements to bring down regimes and improve their security issues. Educating people the basics will help them want to go to college, enter into business, engineering, and other careers. In this globalized world, we need leaders who will address issues of improving these. May be we can have a Secretary of State who deals with major security issues, and he or she can have an undersecretary of state who only deals with education, or another who only deals with the economy. The author is right when saying that in our day and age, security is not the only issue the secretary of state needs to worry about. They need to improve help improve the little things in order to create greater international cooperation.
    This website explains that importance UNESCO is putting on education to increase development.

  7. As Mr. Friedman has written before, it isn’t all about jobs that require a college degree.. Only about a third of American adults have ever had a bachelor’s degree, and the laws of supply and demand aren’t likely to move that percentage much one way or the other. We have lost focus on preparing students for careers that don’t involve a four-year degree. American manufacturing won’t ever again involve large scale, massive, repetitive production. That has moved elsewhere. That’s why I think MUN is such an important class, it help us to acquire and develop skills that are preparing us for our future careers.

  8. This article on the four traits that make a good Secretary of State offers an interesting perspective on the criteria the president should look for in a candidate, although it seems that this post has become more of a political statement than criteria based. Effective secretaries of state need to be good negotiators, and know how to manipulate a situation to their advantage. This article also talks about how the president needs to give the secretary of state a considerable amount of freedom, which this author argues Obama did not do with Hillary Clinton.

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