During President Obama’s first term, there was hidden friction between powerful Cabinet secretaries and a White House that wanted control over the foreign-policy process. Now Obama has assembled a new team that, for better or worse, seems more likely to follow the White House lead.
The first term featured the famous “team of rivals,” people with heavyweight egos and ambitions who could buck the White House and get away with it. Hillary Clinton and Bob Gates were strong secretaries of state and defense, respectively, because of this independent power. Leon Panetta had similar stature as CIA director, as did David Petraeus, who became CIA director when Panetta moved to the Pentagon.
The new team has prominent players, too, but they’re likely to defer more to the White House. Secretary of State John Kerry has the heft of a former presidential candidate, but he has been a loyal and discreet emissary for Obama and is likely to remain so. Chuck Hagel, who will probably be confirmed next week as defense secretary, is a feisty combat veteran with a sometimes sharp temper, but he has been damaged by the confirmation process and will need White House cover.