Monday, December 1, 2008

Barack Obama's security team delights the hawks

From The TimesDecember 1, 2008

Barack Obama's security team delights the hawks

Bush’s Defence Secretary to stay at Pentagon
Bill Clinton has agreed to no fewer than nine concessions to clear the way for Hillary to become Secretary of State

Tom Baldwin in Washington
Barack Obama will announce his national security team today to approval from the military establishment and Republicans, distant cries of dissent from liberals and head-scratching from others.

The President-elect is expected to confirm the nomination of Hillary Clinton as Secretary of State, ask Robert Gates to remain at the Pentagon, and make General Jim Jones his National Security Adviser.

All three are heavyweight figures with whom Mr Obama has policy disagreements of varying intensity, and these choices are intended to emphasise his policy of reaching out to former rivals and opponents.

“You don’t just put the people who were on your side in the campaign,” said Claire McCaskill, a Democratic senator, yesterday. “He wants the best and the brightest and he does not care about their political stripes.”

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Yesterday Republicans were showering praise on these selections. Senator Lindsey Graham said that Mr Gates, President Bush’s Defence Secretary, had “led us through difficult times in Iraq” and that Mrs Clinton had a “little harder line” than Mr Obama on foreign policy.

Admiral Mike Mullen, Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, is said to have formed a “very positive” early impression of Mr Obama and been similarly heartened by his appointments. Mr Gates differs from Mr Obama on nuclear policy. General Jones has served the Bush Administration as an envoy in the Middle East, where he was critical of Israel, and, though supportive of redeploying troops to Afghanistan, has previously suggested that a precipitate withdrawal from Iraq would be against the national interest.

It is, however, Mrs Clinton’s nomination as Secretary of State that will attract the most attention after a long battle for the Democratic nomination in which she had sulphurous disputes with Mr Obama on foreign policy. He criticised her vote to authorise military action in Iraq and scorned her claims to international expertise. She suggested that he lacked credentials to be commander-in-chief.

Yet so strong has been the determination to ensure that Mrs Clinton becomes Secretary of State that Bill Clinton has agreed to no fewer than nine concessions to clear the way for his wife which include publishing a once-secret list of 200,000 donors to his foundation and accepting no more foreign money for his charity.

Critics from the Left have said that Mr Obama is breaking promises to bring change. The Nation magazine has noted that “not a solitary dyed-in-the-wool progressive” has been floated for a senior Cabinet position.

In Chicago today three other expected appointments will be confirmed. Eric Holder is to be Attorney-General, Janet Napolitano, the Governor of Arizona, is to be Homeland Security Secretary, and Susan Rice will be Ambassador to the UN. Although these last two names are among the mere handful of Mr Obama’s prominent backers to secure significant posts, like Mr Holder they also worked for Bill Clinton’s Adminstration.

The President-elect has said that he is seeking to combine “experience with fresh thinking”. Some wonder whether it can work. Matthew Dowd, a former adviser to President Bush, said yesterday that it would be a “communications nightmare” keeping all these different talents and egos reading from the “same script on the same day”.

Ah, but that was then . . .

What he said about her

“What exactly is this foreign experience she’s claiming? I know she talks about visiting 80 countries. It is not clear, was she negotiating treaties or agreements, or was she handling crises during this period of time? My sense is the answer’s ‘no’ ” Speaking on March 5 this year

“You’re likeable enough [without meeting her eyes]” January 5, 2008, in New Hampshire debate

“So ask yourself, who do you trust to end a war — someone who opposed the war from the beginning, or someone who started opposing it when they started preparing a run for president?” March 2008

What she said about him

“I think it’s imperative that each of us be able to demonstrate we can cross the commander-in-chief threshold. I believe that I’ve done that. Certainly, Senator McCain has done that and you’ll have to ask Senator Obama with respect to his candidacy” March 6, 2008

“I thought that was irresponsible and frankly naive” July 24, 2007, on Mr Obama’s offer to meet leaders from countries such as Iran and Cuba without preconditions

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