WASHINGTON – Randall Schriver, a George W. Bush-era State Department official with experience in the Pentagon, is a leading candidate to be undersecretary of defense for policy, multiple sources tell Defense News.
A final decision has not been made, but Schriver has already gone through significant vetting from the White House and had at least a preliminary discussion with Secretary of Defense Jim Mattis about the role, according to the sources.
If given the job, Schriver would bring a wealth of experience in the Pacific region to the Pentagon. He served as deputy assistant secretary of state for East Asian and Pacific Affairs from 2003 to 2005, and as chief of staff and senior policy adviser to Richard Armitage, then deputy secretary of state, from 2001 to 2003.
Before heading to State, Schriver served in a number of Pacific-focused jobs at the Pentagon, including as senior country director for China, Taiwan, and Mongolia at the Office of the Secretary of Defense from 1997 to 1998; his bio notes that as a Navy reservist, he served as special assistant to the Joint Chiefs chairman in 1999 and spent time as a military attaché to the embassy in Beijing.
When Armitage left the State Department and formed a private consultancy known as Armitage International, Schriver went with him, and has worked with his former boss ever since. He is also president and CEO of the Project 2049 Institute, a think tank with the goal of creating "a more secure Asia by 2049," according to its website.
Reached via email, Schriver declined to comment. But a pair of former Pentagon officials familiar with Schriver said he would be an asset to Mattis.
One former official called Schriver "very solid," saying "he is the last person to throw a temper tantrum, he has a very cool head and he thinks stuff through. He is an adult, he’s been through this process, he has worked for very senior folks at senior levels of government, and he knows how the place works.
"In terms of intellectual background, in terms of career development, he’s just a great fit," the former official added. "I think he would be a great pick."
The second former Pentagon official said Schriver was a "good person."
"He's not an ideologue," the second source said. "Obviously he's junior for a USDP candidate, without requisite management or more rounded pol-mil experience. But, they could get him through the White House at a time when lots of people won't or can't be considered."
His expertise in the Pacific could be helpful at a time when the Trump administration is reassessing the Obama-era "pivot to the Pacific," and has ruffled feathers in the region by dropping out of the Trans-Pacific Partnership trade agreement. In editorials, Schriver has shown support for Taiwan, notable given the firestorm Trump set off in December when he took a call with Taiwan's president, despite the longstanding "One China" policy of the U.S.
In a piece published in The National Interestshortly after that call, Schriver and co-author Dan Blumental wrote that "higher-level engagement with Taiwan serves U.S. national interests and values," and said the phone call was "a good first step toward rebalancing a trilateral China-Taiwan-U.S. relationship that has been increasingly defined by the People’s Republic of China."
The White House advanced Schiver's name, but he has at least a passing connection to Mattis through the Center for a New American Security think tank, where Schriver serves on the advisory board and Mattis previously served on the board of directors.
While the White House remains adamantly against giving jobs to anyone who slammed Trump during the campaign, it appears the Trump team is not tying Schriver too closely to Armitage, who last June declared he would be voting for Democratic nominee Hillary Clinton.
Although the Trump administration has largely been slow in filling top DoD positions, the USD-P job has proven particularly difficult, as the White House and Mattis have floated a number of names to one another, only to be shot down by the other side.
The most recent and most public of those fights centered on Anne Patterson, a retired diplomat Mattis wanted in the role. After members of the Senate raised objections, the White House killed Patterson’s job prospects, reportedly to the frustration of Mattis.
Another potential complication in filling the spot is that the deputy policy job has already been handed out. The administration nominated David Joel Trachtenberg as principal deputy undersecretary of defense for policy on March 16, and whether Schriver would want the policy role without a say in who his top deputy is remains unclear.
Trachtenberg is President and CEO of Shortwaver Consulting, which focuses on national security issues, a former House Armed Services Committee staffer and served as principal deputy assistant secretary of defense for international security policy from 2001 to 2003.
Aaron Mehta was deputy editor and senior Pentagon correspondent for Defense News, covering policy, strategy and acquisition at the highest levels of the Defense Department and its international partners.