I met Spencer Ackerman a while back when he was with Think Progress, and I’ve been impressed with the amount of thought he puts into foreign policy. Over at The Washington Independent, he has a post up titled Five Critical Foreign Policy Posts To Watch: Work Gets Done by Federal Agencies Throughout the Ranks, Not Just the Top

But all the focus on who will sit in Obama’s cabinet overlooks a basic fact of governance. Much, if not most, of the actual substance of policy — from its detailed conception to its experimentation to its implementation — doesn’t come from the heads of the federal agencies. It comes from deep in their guts.

This is particularly true for national security and foreign policy. When it comes to managing foreign relations and securing the country, the middle-to-upper-middle tiers of the Departments of State, Defense and Justice, along with the National Security Council staff and the intelligence community, are often critical posts. Those positions are policy laboratories and career boosters, offices where policy is refined and offices where policy gets killed by poor implementation or bureaucratic machination. As one Democratic foreign-policy expert recently put it, “These are your foreign-policy change agents.”

The positions he assesses are:

  1. U.S. Ambassador to Iraq
  2. Assistant Secretary of Defense for Special Operations, Low-Intensity Conflict and Interdependent Capabilities
  3. Assistant Attorney General, Office of Legal Counsel
  4. Undersecretary of Defense for Policy
  5. Director for the Middle East on the National Security Council.
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