President Obama Appoints James O’Brien as First Special Presidential Envoy for Hostage Affairs

Posted: 1:34 pm EDT
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On August 28, President Obama announced the appointment of James O’Brien as Special Presidential Envoy for Hostage Affairs. The WH released the following brief bio:

James O’Brien is Vice Chair of the Albright Stonebridge Group.  Mr. O’Brien joined the Albright Group in 2001 as a Principal.  Prior to that, Mr. O’Brien served at the Department of State in a number of positions from 1989 to 2001, including Special Advisor to the President and Secretary of State for Balkan Democracy, Senior Advisor to Secretary of State Madeleine Albright, and Principal Deputy Director in the Office of Policy Planning.  He began his career at the State Department in 1989 as Attorney-Adviser in the Office of the Legal Adviser.  Mr. O’Brien received a B.A. from Macalester College, an M.A. from the University of Pittsburgh, and a J.D. from Yale Law School.

Special envoys are typically not subject to Senate confirmation.  Secretary Kerry also made the following remarks on Mr. O’Brien’s appointment:

On behalf of the State Department, I welcome the appointment of Jim O’Brien as the first Special Presidential Envoy for Hostage Affairs. Jim is exactly the right person for a job that demands a high level of diplomatic experience and the ability to analyze and find effective remedies to complex problems.

The creation of this new post stems from the U.S. government’s comprehensive hostage policy review which was completed earlier this summer. That review recognized the need for fully coordinated action across U.S. agencies in responding to hostage situations and to the military, diplomatic, legal, and humanitarian issues that such situations generate.

In his new position, Jim will be focused on one overriding goal: using diplomacy to secure the safe return of Americans held hostage overseas. To that end, he will be in close contact with the families of American hostages, meet with foreign leaders in support of our hostage recovery efforts, advise on options to enhance those efforts, participate in strategy meetings with other senior U.S. policymakers, and represent the United States internationally on hostage-related issues. The new Special Presidential Envoy will work closely with the interagency Hostage Recovery Fusion Cell that was also created as a result of the hostage policy review.

Jim O’Brien is currently Vice Chair of the Albright Stonebridge Group, a global strategy and business advisory firm. Previously, he served as Special Presidential Envoy for the Balkans during the late 1990s, helping to chart a path out of the military and political strife that divided the region. He also served as Deputy Director of the State Department’s Office of Policy Planning and as a senior adviser to UN Ambassador and Secretary of State Madeleine Albright. In those capacities, he helped to formulate the 1995 Dayton Accords, which ended the war in Bosnia; and guided U.S. support for the International Tribunal for the Former Yugoslavia, which helped bring to justice persons responsible for war crimes and crimes against humanity.

Jim O’Brien is a person of proven diplomatic skill with a strong commitment to the peaceful resolution of disputes and to justice. I congratulate him on his new assignment and I have made clear to him that he can count on my full support – and that of the entire State Department – in fulfilling his vital mission.

Mr. O’Brien’s biography is available here via the Albright Stonebridge Group (ASG).

ASG provides strategic advise and commercial diplomacy and is headed by former secretary of state, Madeleine K. Albright, former National Security Advisor to President Bill Clinton, Samuel R. Berger and former U.S. Secretary of Commerce from 2005 to 2009 under President George W. Bush, Carlos M. GutierrezWendy Sherman, the current Under Secretary of State for Political Affairs, the fourth-ranking official at State was previously vice chair of ASG.

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State Dept’s Wendy Sherman Now Dual-Hatted as “P” and New Acting Deputy Secretary

— Domani Spero
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On November 3, the State Department’s No. 4 official, the Under Secretary for Political Affairs (P), Wendy Sherman was designated as the acting deputy secretary of state pending the official nomination of Bill Burns’ successor. We do not know how long is this interim period but since the appointment is in an acting capacity, the vacancy at “P” will also be for an acting capacity. If Ms. Sherman is officially nominated as deputy secretary, there will be an official vacancy at “P,” a post traditionally encumbered by a career Foreign Service Officer. If another individual is nominated as deputy secretary of state (White House deputy national security adviser Tony Blinken is rumored to be in the running), Ms. Sherman may just return to her previous assignment at “P.” Place your bets now, folks.

The Secretary has requested and the President has designated Wendy R. Sherman to assume all authorities and responsibilities of the Deputy Secretary, effective November 3, 2014.

Ambassador Wendy R. Sherman was sworn in as Under Secretary of State for Political Affairs on September 21, 2011, a position she will retain during the interim period.

Prior to this position, Under Secretary Sherman served as Vice Chair of Albright Stonebridge Group, a global strategy firm, and a member of the Investment Committee of Albright Capital Management, an affiliated investment advisory firm focused on emerging markets.

Ambassador Sherman served as Counselor for the State Department from 1997 to 2001, as well as Special Advisor to President Clinton and Policy Coordinator on North Korea. From 1993 to 1996, under Secretary of State Warren Christopher, she was Assistant Secretary for Legislative Affairs.

Ambassador Sherman served as Chair of the Board of Directors of Oxfam America. She also served on the U.S. Department of Defense’s Defense Policy Board, a group tasked with providing the Secretary of Defense with independent, informed advice and opinion concerning matters of defense policy.

In 2008, Ambassador Sherman was appointed by Congressional Leadership to serve on the Commission on the Prevention of Weapons of Mass Destruction, Proliferation and Terrorism.

Ambassador Sherman attended Smith College, and received a B.A. cum laude from Boston University and a Master’s degree in Social Work, Phi Kappa Phi, from the University of Maryland.

Just curious —  is there at all, any career diplomat,being considered or is in the running for the D or P positions?

Originally posted as State Dept Gets a New Acting Deputy Secretary; Hurry, Now Vacancy for “Acting  P.”

Update:  The Cable’s John Hudson is reporting that an internal notice went out to employees today informing them  that Ms. Sherman will “assume all authorities and responsibilities of the Deputy Secretary,” effective immediately. At the same time, she will apparently continue to hold the position of undersecretary of state for political affairs and operate out of her same office.  The same report also says that President Barack Obama reportedly now favors the nomination of Deputy National Security Advisor Tony Blinken for deputy secretary of state, the No. 2 position in Foggy Bottom and that “Ms. Sherman has been informed that she is not the permanent pick for the job.” Information is sourced from multiple unnamed sources.

Maybe this is all true, or maybe it’s an effort to shore up support for the “D” candidate floated around, and/or see what kind of Hill reaction surfaces.   Makes one wonder one thing though, if Blinken is now the top pick, how come the White House has not made an official announcement.  Instead, what we have are anonymous talks about Blinken as the WH preferred candidate. Is the WH waiting to make an announcement after the election or after a new Congress is seated?  Hold on, maybe, the WH is waiting for President Obama to actually make up his mind?

As a side note, given the nature of the two jobs, we can’t imagine that Ms. Sherman can remain dual-hatted as “D” and “P” for a lengthy period. The John Hudson report also cited a State Department staffer saying that the Sherman “promotion” was in part prompted by “the bureaucratic need to have “D-level” signatures sign off on important State Department business, such as contracts.” Wait, what?  If the deputy secretary of state (“D”)  actually need to sign contracts, what’s the Deputy Secretary of State for Management and Resources for?

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