Who might serve in Obama's second term?
November 7th, 2012
10:24 AM ET

Who might serve in Obama's second term?

Now that President Obama has won a second term, this is what CNN's national security team is hearing through the grape vine on what the President's national security team might look like, though don't expect many changes, just a couple of big ones.

There is only one vacancy on his national security team that we are certain of. Secretary of State Hillary Clinton has made clear she wants to return to private life and does not intend to serve in a second Obama term. Secretary Panetta has been less vocal about what his future holds, but at 74, and after decades of service to multiple administrations, he could decide that he wants to return to his home in California early in a second term. Of course, there are always the rumors of CIA Director David Petraeus's interest in the presidency at Princeton University should it open up.

With the Obama win on Tuesday, here is a list of officials seen as likely candidates for his second term national security team should a vacancy occur:


Michèle Flournoy
Flournoy had been the highest ranking woman at the Pentagon and was considered an early contender to succeed Defense Secretary Robert Gates last year. As the No. 3 official from 2009 to 2012, she advised Gates and his successor, Leon Panetta, in the formulation of national security and defense policy and had oversight of military plans and operations. With a strong background in defense academia and defense policy analysis, she co-founded the Center for a New American Security, a defense-oriented think tank, and was also senior adviser at the Center for Strategic and International Studies as well as a professor at the National Defense University. Flournoy would be the first woman named to the top job, and would bring a sharp and critical mind to the position with the ability to see the small and big picture of how the military should operate post-Iraq and Afghanistan. Flournoy was an adviser on the most recent Obama campaign.

Ashton Carter
Carter is currently the Pentagon's No. 2 official as chief deputy to Secretary Leon Panetta. Prior to this, he headed weapons procurement as under secretary for acquisition, technology and logistics from April 2009 to October 2011. In that role, Carter was most noted for accelerating the urgent need for vehicles that protected troops from roadside bombs in Iraq. Carter is considered a top defense-oriented academic mind with stints at Harvard’s Kennedy school and as co-director of the Preventive Defense Project. In the Clinton administration, he was an assistant secretary at the Pentagon for international security policy. Some liken his leadership thinking to William Cohen, one of President Bill Clinton's defense secretaries who focused on internal operations rather than global perspectives. With upcoming budget cuts and shifting focus away from the last two wars, Obama will need somebody to guide that change in Pentagon thinking.

Sam Nunn
Nunn was a Democratic senator from Georgia from 1972-1997 and his name has been bounced around as a candidate for the top Pentagon job in numerous administrations. At 74, Nunn’s name is still out there. While in the Senate, Nunn championed defense issues and served as chairman of the Armed Services Committee and is well versed on the politics and operations of the Pentagon. He played a key role in getting landmark legislation passed in the 1980s that reorganized how the military operates and fights. He also helped to create a program that helps Russia and former Soviet republics secure and eliminate excess nuclear weapons. After leaving Congress, Nunn joined a bipartisan think tank, the Center for Strategic and International Studies, and continued with efforts to reduce nuclear weapons.

Chuck Hagel
A highly decorated Vietnam War Veteran, Hagel was a Republican senator from Nebraska from 1997-2009 where he was a member of the Foreign Relations and Intelligence committees. In 2008, he was rumored to be on Barack Obama's short list for defense secretary in his first term. A Hagel pick then would have illustrated Obama’s willingness to reach across party lines for a big role in his administration. Hagel is currently a chairman of the Atlantic Council, a Washington think tank that focuses on international affairs, and a professor at George Washington University.

Colin Powell
Still an icon within the military ranks, he served as the first African-American chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff during the 1991 Gulf War. That’s where he gained much of his notoriety as the highest ranking member of the military and a strong presidential adviser. After retiring from the military, Powell focused on more social issues, starting America's Promise which pushed for advancing children's issues.

Under President George W. Bush, he was the first African American secretary of state from 2001 to 2005. After the September 2001 attacks, Powell built an international coalition of countries to support the U.S. role in the war on terrorism. There is little doubt Powell would be a home-run pick because of his credentials and his ability to navigate the political and civilian-military demands of the top job. A question mark, however, is whether Powell’s role in making the case for invading Iraq – publicly backing evidence that was later discredited – would hobble his chances.


John Kerry
The most frequently mentioned possible successor is the 2004 Democratic nominee for president. As chairman of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee since 2009, Kerry has been heavily involved with the U.S. response to the Arab Spring revolutions – most prominently the civil war in Syria. Kerry has also played a role in U.S. relations with Pakistan, having traveled there to mend fences after a series of incidents, including the raid that killed Osama bin Laden, set back relations. As head of the committee that questions diplomatic nominees, Kerry interacted with those heading U.S. embassies.

Susan Rice
As U.S. Ambassador to the United Nations, Rice is steeped in almost every foreign policy issue facing the United States. From the Palestinian bid for statehood to pushing Russia and China to support a strong resolution on Syria at the Security Council, Rice has been an important figure on national security. Her role, however, in the early attempt to explain circumstances surrounding the deadly terror attack on the U.S. mission in Benghazi, Libya, was criticized by some in Congress as the description of events changed, and could pose a problem at any confirmation hearing.

Tom Donilon
As national security adviser, Donilon is the president’s top aide on those issues and is widely regarded for his managerial skills. His name repeatedly comes up in Democratic foreign policy circles as a possible secretary of state. A lawyer and a former senior official at Fannie Mae, Donilon joined Obama's campaign in 2008 as an adviser on foreign policy and helped prepare him for those presidential debates. Donilon is a protégé of former Secretary of State Warren Christopher.


Denis McDonough
As the current deputy national security adviser, McDonough is a longtime foreign policy adviser to Barack Obama going back to his days as a U.S. Senator from Illinois. If current National Security Adviser Tom Donilon were nominated for secretary of state or decided to leave the administration, many have said McDonough likely would be likely promoted. McDonough's first role in the administration was deputy national security adviser for strategic communications, and then was chief of staff for the National Security Council. McDonough travels frequently overseas on behalf of the Obama administration, most recently to Iraq and Afghanistan to discuss bilateral issues.

Susan Rice (see Secretary of State)


James Clapper
The word on the street is that James Clapper will likely leave the job he has held for more than two years, but it's no sure thing. If he does go, his possible replacement might be.

James Cartwright
After 40 years in the military, the four-Marine Corps general retired last year, last serving as the vice chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, the second highest position in the military. In that role, he developed a close relationship with President Barack Obama and has been referred to as his favorite general. Nicknamed "Hoss," Cartwright also lead the U.S. Strategic Command and is said to be a master of complex technical issues. After leaving the military, he joined CSIS as an expert in defense policy and serves on the Defense Policy Review Board, which provides advice to the defense secretary.


David Petraeus
As the current director, Petraeus is expected to stay in the job he has described as one in which he is "living the dream." The retired four-star general had a distinguished 37 year career in the military, helping turn the tide against insurgencies while he served as commander of forces in Iraq and then Afghanistan. He has won the praise of both Democrats and Republicans alike. He took the helm of the CIA in September 2011. And unlike his time in senior military positions, he has kept a low key profile.

Filed under: 2012 Election • Security Brief
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    all left wingnuts

    November 7, 2012 at 4:52 pm | Reply
    • Liberace; America's Greatest American

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      November 7, 2012 at 9:00 pm | Reply
  29. LOLI

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    November 7, 2012 at 4:34 pm | Reply
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      November 7, 2012 at 5:48 pm | Reply
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  31. some guy

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    November 5, 2012 at 12:13 pm | Reply
    • Mellowfellow

      Anyone would be better than a democrat. I’ve flushed things down the toilet that have more “values” than a democrat.

      This is an example of the education level of the "average voter," anyone with an iQ above room temp should be afraid.

      November 5, 2012 at 1:14 pm | Reply
    • falcon53

      And people call republicans the party of hate?

      November 8, 2012 at 1:45 pm | Reply
      • EvilUSA

        Truth is they Republicans got us into this mess but won't admit that. Another truth is that most Romney supporters are the same people that reelected Bush. If you people are so concerned about were money is going why don't you ask your boy Rumsfeld were that 2.3 Trillion went. Yah you won't! Electing Bush twice is by far the worst thing that has ever happened to this country. If I remember correctly he was Republican just a wild guess. Nothing Obama has done is as bad or will be as bad a Bush. Nothing you Republicans say will ever fix that:)

        November 9, 2012 at 1:15 am |
  35. Mellowfellow


    "With a strong background in defense academia and defense policy analysis"

    Would we really want someone from "defense academia" to be the defense secretary?

    November 5, 2012 at 9:56 am | Reply
    • Kill all Chickenhawks

      Someone who isn't a chickenhawk praying for war would be nice.

      November 7, 2012 at 10:31 am | Reply
    • justme

      Academics love playing with a stacked deck, and since CNN won't print my suggestion today, I'll just say hang on to your hats, people. And, yes, no academics in high positions any longer.

      November 13, 2012 at 4:20 pm | Reply

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