James M. Lindsay

The Water's Edge

Lindsay analyzes the politics shaping U.S. foreign policy and the sustainability of American power.

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The World Next Week: Confirmation Hearings Begin for Obama’s Cabinet Nominees, Biden Visits Europe, and the WTO Searches for Its Next Director-General

by James M. Lindsay
January 24, 2013

U.S. Senator John Kerry (D-MA) testifies at the Senate Foreign Relations Committee hearing on his nomination to be secretary of state (Gary Cameron/Courtesy Reuters). U.S. Senator John Kerry (D-MA) testifies at the Senate Foreign Relations Committee hearing on his nomination to be secretary of state (Gary Cameron/Courtesy Reuters).


The World Next Week podcast is up. Bob McMahon and I discussed the confirmation hearings for President Obama’s cabinet nominees, Vice President Joe Biden’s visit to Europe, and the World Trade Organization’s search for its next director-general.

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The highlights:

  • Today the Senate Foreign Relations Committee opened hearings on Senator John Kerry’s nomination to be secretary of state. (Kerry, who remains chair of the committee, recused himself from its deliberations.) Meanwhile, next week the Senate Armed Services Committee opens hearings on former senator Chuck Hagel’s nomination to be secretary of defense, and the Senate Intelligence Committee begins hearings on John Brennan’s nomination to be CIA director. The conventional wisdom has all three men winning confirmation, though Hagel and Brennan will both probably face some tough questioning first. The long history that Obama has with each of his three nominees suggests that his foreign policies aren’t likely to change substantially, even with the turnover in his national security team.
  • Vice President Joe Biden is off to Europe late next week. His trip will start in Germany where he will meet with Chancellor Angela Merkel and give a speech at the annual three-day Munich Security Conference. He will then visit France and Britain for meetings with Francois Hollande and David Cameron. Afghanistan, Mali, the Algerian hostage crisis, and even climate change could figure prominently in his discussions at all three stops. Biden’s most interesting stop could potentially be London. Prime Minister Cameron announced plans this week to hold an in-out referendum on Britain’s membership in the EU. U.S. officials had previously been urging London not to diminish its EU ties.
  • Pascal Lamy is stepping down as the director-general of the World Trade Organization (WTO) at the end of August, so the global trade organization is searching for a successor. The nine candidates that were nominated by the December 2012 deadline will formally present their vision for the WTO’s future at a General Council meeting on January 29.  The WTO hopes to decide via a consensus process involving all 157 members on a new director-general. If no consensus emerges by May 31, the WTO could resort to a vote, though this would be highly unusual. Unlike the top job at the World Bank, which by tradition goes to an American, or the top job at the International Monetary Fund, which by tradition goes to a European, the top job at the WTO is open to anyone from a member country. All past WTO director-generals, except one, have been white men from developed countries. This year may produce another exception as three of the candidates are women and seven are from developing countries.
  • Bob’s Figure of the Week is 80,000. My Figure of the Week is Abdelmalek Sellal. As always, you’ll have to listen to the podcast to find out why.

For more on the topics we discussed in the podcast check out:

The Senate holds hearings on President Obama’s cabinet nominees: The Hill reports on the beginning of Senator John Kerry’s hearing. The New York Times covers secretary of defense nominee Chuck Hagel’s recent meeting with Senator John McCain. The Washington Post argues that the Senate should use confirmation hearings as an opportunity to weigh in on Obama’s foreign policy.

Joe Biden visits Europe: The Hill outlines Biden’s European itinerary. Radio Free Europe reports that Russian foreign minister Sergei Lavrov hopes to meet with Biden while in Munich. The U.S. Embassy in Germany has a transcript of Biden’s speech at the 2009 Munich Security Conference. The New York Times reports on Prime Minister David Cameron’s call for a referendum on Britain’s EU membership and on Assistant Secretary of State Philip Gordon urging London not to jeopardize its relationship with the EU.

The World Trade Organization looks for a new Director-General: AFP reports on the director-general selection process and the nine candidates. The World Trade Organization has biographies of each of the candidates. The Globe and Mail covers candidates’ “campaign stop” at the World Economic Forum in Davos, Switzerland. The Economist discusses the WTO’s stalled Doha talks and suggests ways to move ahead.


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