Who will be whispering in Hillary Clinton’s ear now?

Secretary Hillary Clinton, eager for the State Department to have its own advisory panel of big thinkers, is convening the new, 25-member Foreign Affairs Policy Board this month.

J. Scott Applewhite/Reuters
Hillary Clinton meets with Afghan civil society representatives in Bonn, Germany, Monday. The US Secretary of State is convening a new Foreign Affairs Policy Board, modeled after the Pentagon's Defense Policy Board.

Since she came into office, Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton has been on the lookout for big ideas to help the State Department do a better job of addressing the nation’s international priorities.

Now she’s going to have an advisory board of big foreign-policy thinkers to help her come up with those big ideas.

Later this month, the new Foreign Affairs Policy Board will hold its first meeting, with Secretary Clinton personally convening the inaugural session. The new group, modeled after the Pentagon’s Defense Policy Board, will be tasked with focusing on “broad strategic questions” and is to provide Clinton and other senior State Department officials “with insights, perspectives, and ideas,” according to a statement Monday from Clinton’s spokesperson.

The new board will be composed of 25 members, some of whom are well-known Democrats – John Podesta, Mack McLarty, Jane Harman – while others are Republican foreign-policy luminaries: Carla Hills, Jim Kolbe, John Negroponte. The Brookings Institution’s president, Strobe Talbott, will chair the new board.

Mr. Talbott was deputy secretary of State under former President Clinton.

That naming this new advisory group appears to mimic things across the Potomac River at the Defense Department is not happenstance. Based in part on knowledge gained as a senator on the Armed Services Committee, Clinton has pressed in her time as secretary to see the State Department operate more like the Defense Department in terms of setting and executing priorities and envisioning over-the-horizon challenges.

Last year Clinton delivered the State Department’s first-ever Quadrennial Diplomacy and Development Review, or QDDR, (sound anything like the Pentagon’s Quadrennial Defense Review?) and she worked closely with former Defense Secretary Robert Gates on initiatives to allow for shifting some of the Pentagon’s foreign-policy burdens to the State Department.

The State Department already has something akin to a think tank in what is called the Policy Planning Staff. And the secretary can also sound out the department’s deputy secretary (actually the State Department now has two deputy secretaries, after Clinton upon assuming her post in 2009 created a second deputy to focus on managing the department’s budget and resources).

But apparently Clinton felt the secretary of State needs more access to the Big Thinking going on in the country on foreign affairs. Her former policy planning director, Anne-Marie Slaughter, whose big project was creating the department’s new QDDR, returned to Princeton last year but will serve on the new policy board.

The secretary already knows one area she wants to hear more about: the economy.

When the new board meets for its inaugural session Dec. 19, a top agenda item will be to brainstorm on how the State Department can increase and vary the role it plays in the world’s economic affairs.

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