• Michele Flournoy in 2009. (Alex Wong / Getty Images)

    Perfect Fit

    Smashing the Pentagon’s Glass Ceiling

    As speculation swirls about Defense Secretary Panetta’s likely exit, Michele Flournoy ranks high on the short list. Eleanor Clift on the woman who could be just right for the job.

    It was just a year ago that Michele Flournoy stepped down as under secretary of Defense for policy, the third-highest civilian job at the Pentagon. As the first woman to hold such a senior position in the testosterone-laden military community, Flournoy’s decision to leave for family reasons raised some eyebrows. But she spent the time well, reclaiming her home life after three demanding years in the administration, and serving as a surrogate on foreign policy and national security issues for the Obama campaign. Now, as the president contemplates his second-term team, Flournoy is on the short list to succeed Leon Panetta as secretary of Defense.

    Her qualifications are impeccable. There are the requisite degrees from Harvard and Oxford, a stint at the Kennedy School and the Army War College. During the Clinton administration she worked at the Pentagon, tasked with developing and overseeing strategy and threat reduction. In 2007, she cofounded the Center for a New American Security (CNAS), a think tank whose stated mission is to “develop strong, pragmatic, and principled national security and defense policies that promote and protect American interests and values.”