- The Washington Times - Tuesday, December 16, 2008

The refrain rises immediately to the lips of anyone who is asked about David H. McCormick, the undersecretary of the Treasury for international affairs.

He is good with people.

It’s a nice sentiment, but it’s a mystifying way to explain why he is, after a little more than a year at Treasury, “a star,” to quote Commerce Secretary Carlos M. Gutierrez.

Turns out that some of the biggest moves made by Treasury as it has responded to the financial crisis have moved along tracks greased by Mr. McCormick’s relational network.

“David has developed strong relationships so that, when necessary, the Treasury had relationships at the right places in the financial institutions,” said Robert E. Diamond Jr., president of Barclays PLC, one of the top global financial institutions.

At a time when other nations have been clamoring to knock the United States down a notch in the wake of the crisis, Mr. McCormick has been an able persuader and representative of U.S. interests and opinion.

“He’s got a real strong presence,” Treasury Secretary Henry M. Paulson Jr. said in an interview.

The global nature of the crisis has required Mr. McCormick’s involvement in both the domestic and worldwide response.

“This is a guy that he’s operated, virtually acted like a Cabinet officer because he’s needed to,” Mr. Paulson said.

“He’s an undersecretary, but when he goes to China, he meets with [vice premier and Treasury secretary equivalent] Wang Qishan,” Mr. Paulson said. “When he goes to France or Germany or the UK, he meets with the finance minister, so he deals at the principal level.”

At 43, Mr. McCormick is something of a phenom, having graduated from West Point and served as an Army officer in the 1991 Gulf War, then gone on to get his doctorate from Princeton, after which he struck it rich as a tech company chief executive.

Mr. McCormick, during an interview in the large and historic Andrew Johnson suite that serves as his office, where President Lincoln’s vice president worked for six weeks as commander in chief following Lincoln’s assassination, admitted the past year has been a wearying one.

“This job’s an ager … it’s been really a challenging time to be here,” he said.

“I think we’ve largely done the right thing. I’m sure there’s mistakes that were made, but I think we’ve been on the right side of most of these decisions,” he said, expressing enthusiasm at the opportunity to “be working in such a historic period.”

Mr. McCormick’s negotiating skills have been critical in pushing China over the past year to more fully participate in the global economy and in prodding the International Monetary Fund to more accurately report on Beijing’s currency manipulations.

“He gives no quarter; he’s effective, but he’s not aggressive about it, which is important in dealing with people like the Chinese, for whom loss of face is a big issue,” said a senior foreign government finance official.

The official, who has participated in many Group of Seven meetings with Mr. McCormick, provided a peek into the private world of high-powered negotiating sessions, which he called a “repeated game.”

“The G7, the way a lot of [it] works is there are seven people in a room, and most of it is run by the undersecretary equivalents. So you frequently talk on the phone, frequently meet, and it’s just you. And you work through, for the consideration ultimately of your ministers, a huge range of issues,” the official said.

“It’s the same people, you are more or less negotiating consistently, even when you’re quasi-socializing. The guys are all very smart, and they retain, generally - the best ones, and Dave’s up there - they retain everything you say and use it against you down the road.”

“So it’s one of those things where you’re always on. Uh, he’s very good at that,” the official said. “He has a very strategic mind, and he’s got a nice personality.”

Often Mr. McCormick would “draw out some of the Europeans on issues that he cared less about without revealing that he cared less about [them], and so they would … really push and push to get something that he was going to give them anyway.”

“And then he would move on to the issue where he really cared,” the senior official said. “There were a couple times where I saw him doing this, and he would wink. He knew what was going on.”

Finally, Mr. McCormick also has been an asset to senior banking executives looking for intelligence on how to do business in China.

“There have been one or two specific situations where he was able to give us clarity around some of the things that were happening in China, that actually helped us think through how we approached a situation with a client,” said one such executive.

Mr. McCormick has a strong working knowledge of the important figures and relationships in China and how decisions get made in a system where the major banks are essentially state-owned.

Unlike the high-powered trips he makes to Southeast Asia, Mr. McCormick’s first visit to the region was as a backpacker in 1993 after finishing a five-year tour in the Army.

Two years earlier, he had been part of the first wave of U.S. troops into Kuwait during Operation Desert Storm, when President George H.W. Bush pushed Iraqi dictator Saddam Hussein out of his oil-rich neighbor.

As a company executive officer in the 82nd Airborne, Mr. McCormick spent eight months preparing for the offensive in Riyadh as a purchasing officer, procuring equipment and a fleet of 18-wheel trucks.

Once in Kuwait, he was attached to a French armored unit that swept into the country on the western flank and then took on the task of clearing minefields and destroying Iraqi munitions.

After his six-month trip through the Middle East and Asia, Mr. McCormick got his doctorate from Princeton’s Woodrow Wilson School of Public and International Affairs. His dissertation, dealing with the downsizing of the military under President Clinton, was published in 1998.

Mr. McCormick possessed “a rare combination of intellectual seriousness, public-spirited perspective and deep interest in public policy and administration related to defense, international and military affairs,” said John Dilulio, who advised Mr. McCormick on his project and later became President Bush’s first director of the Office of Faith-Based and Community Initiatives.

“If I have any regrets about Dave and his career path, they would be not encouraging him into the electoral end of public and international affairs,” Mr. Dilulio said. “He would have made or could yet make a superb elected leader, too.”

Mr. McCormick said he has no immediate plans to serve in government again, though he would welcome the opportunity. For now, he, his wife and their four daughters are staying in Washington, where he plans to join the private sector.

Mr. Paulson said Mr. McCormick would make “a very strong CEO of a big global financial company.”

Copyright © 2018 The Washington Times, LLC. Click here for reprint permission.

The Washington Times Comment Policy

The Washington Times welcomes your comments on Spot.im, our third-party provider. Please read our Comment Policy before commenting.


Click to Read More and View Comments

Click to Hide