The Audacity of Obama : Centrist Appointments a Smoke Screen

Barack Obama at a book signing in 2006. “The writing style of Audacity of Hope reveals how complex and perceptive Obama is.”

These various initiatives, which will collectively set the nation on a path towards energy independence, ending the war and redistributing financial resources downward, are presented as unconnected pieces of legislation but actually they are interlocking components of Obama’s coherent multi-layered agenda.

By Jeff Jones / The Rag Blog / November 29, 2008

Also see Obama Chooses an Unlikely Team of Hawks by Peter Beinart, Below.

I agree with Mark Rudd’s perceptive article Let’s Get Smart About Obama in The Rag Blog.

The writing style of Audacity of Hope reveals how complex and perceptive Obama is: he is hyper-literate, almost Ciceronian, and unlike most of his speeches, amazingly precise. He expresses what he thinks and feels without resorting to binary thinking. He does not interpret reality in black and white terms: he is the nation’s first post-modern president.

All of this leads me to the same conclusion reached by Mark Rudd: this guy is really SMART. He is setting Hillary Clinton up to be the public face of his effort to end the Iraq war. He is going to sucessfully extort green concessions from Detroit. He will convince Congress to pass a major stimulus package that will lay the foundation for the development of an alternative energy manufacturing industry. He will do something to help reduce housing foreclosures. He will let the Bush tax cuts for the wealthy expire.

These various initiatives, which will collectively set the nation on a path towards energy independence, ending the war and redistributing financial resources downward, are presented as unconnected pieces of legislation but actually they are interlocking components of Obama’s coherent multi-layered agenda. His centrist appointments are a smokescreen; they co-opt the moderate center, but he’s still the commander in chief. Even Lenin would be impressed!

Please see Mark Rudd : Let’s Get Smart About Obama by Mark Rudd / The Rag Blog / Nov. 28, 2008

Obama Chooses an Unlikely Team of Hawks
By Peter Beinart / November 26, 2008

In liberal blogland, reports that Barack Obama will probably choose Hillary Clinton as Secretary of State and retired general James Jones as National Security Adviser and retain Robert Gates as Secretary of Defense have prompted a chorus of groans. “I feel incredibly frustrated,” wrote Chris Bowers on

“Progressives are being entirely left out.”

A word of advice: cheer up. It’s precisely because Obama intends to pursue a genuinely progressive foreign policy that he’s surrounding himself with people who can guard his right flank at home. When George W. Bush wanted to sell the Iraq war, he trotted out Colin Powell–because Powell was nobody’s idea of a hawk. Now Obama may be preparing to do the reverse. To give himself cover for a withdrawal from Iraq and a diplomatic push with Iran, he’s surrounding himself with people like Gates, Clinton and Jones, who can’t be lampooned as doves.

To grasp the logic of this strategy, start with the fact that Obama’s likely national-security picks don’t actually disagree very much with the foreign policy he laid out during the campaign. Jones is on record calling the Iraq war a “debacle” and urging that the detention center at Guantánamo Bay be closed “tomorrow.” Gates has also reportedly pushed for closing Gitmo and for faster withdrawals from Iraq.

He has called a military strike against Iran a “strategic calamity,” urged diplomacy with Tehran’s mullahs and denounced the “creeping militarization” of U.S. foreign policy. (You don’t hear that from a Defense Secretary every day.) For her part, Hillary Clinton during the presidential campaign embraced an Iraq-withdrawal position virtually identical to Obama’s. And although they fought a sound-bite war over sitting down with the leaders of countries like Iran, the two candidates’ actual Iran policies were pretty much the same. Both wanted intensive diplomacy; both wanted to start it at lower levels and work up from there.

On key policy issues, Jones, Gates and Clinton aren’t significantly more hawkish than Obama. What they are is more hawkish symbolically. Gates is a Republican; Jones is a Marine general who once worked for John McCain; Clinton, as Senator from New York, has gained credibility with hawkish pro-Israel groups. In other words, what distinguishes Gates, Jones and Clinton isn’t their desire to shift Obama’s policies to the right; it’s their ability to persuade the right to give Obama’s policies a chance.

Obama knows that although Iraq has tarnished the GOP foreign policy brand, Democrats remain vulnerable. When the moderate Democratic group Third Way asked voters in September whom they trusted more on national security, Democrats trailed by 14 points. (The gap has widened substantially since late 2006.) On the question of “ensuring a strong military,” they trailed by 30 points–an astonishing figure, given that it is a Republican President who has stretched the Army to its breaking point.

Politically, therefore, Obama is playing with fire. If he accelerates troop withdrawals and violence in Iraq flares up again, the GOP will pounce. If he cuts a nuclear deal with Iran, it will probably do the same, accusing him of putting his faith in an inspection agreement that Tehran will never obey. And if he pushes hard for a peace deal between Israel and the Palestinians, right-leaning Jewish groups may cry foul. That’s the beauty of his emerging national-security team. Even Republicans will find it hard to call Gates and Jones latter-day Neville Chamberlains, and even many Likudniks will think twice before claiming that Hillary Clinton is in league with Hamas. (For cover on Israel, Obama will also be able to trot out Rahm Emanuel, whose father was born in Jerusalem, and, quite possibly, long-serving Middle East envoy Dennis Ross, who is tight with the pro-Israel lobby.)

Obama understands that foreign policy is, in international-relations-speak, a two-sided game. To get your way, you not only have to convince other governments; you also have to convince the folks back home. Bill Clinton negotiated the Kyoto Protocol on global warming with well over 100 other countries but couldn’t get it through the 100-member U.S. Senate. He crafted a nuclear agreement with North Korea but saw it sabotaged by a Republican Congress that wouldn’t provide sufficient money to carry it out. Obama knows that while it’s a tough world out there, it’s tough here as well. In Gates, Jones and Clinton, he’s found people who can do more than sell his foreign policy to Iranians, Iraqis and Israelis; they can sell it to Americans too.

[Beinart is a senior fellow at the Council on Foreign Relations.]

Source / Time

Thanks to Thomas Cleaver / The Rag Blog

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3 Responses to The Audacity of Obama : Centrist Appointments a Smoke Screen

  1. Bush Through the Obama Prism [Victor Davis Hanson]
    I think Obama may do more for George Bush’s reputation than anyone thinks.

    I’ve collated the dozens of articles from liberal thinkers that explain why so far Obama—the candidate of hope and change, and cleaning out the entrenched status quo that so warps our D.C. politics and ensures stasis in our policies—has surrounded himself either with Clintonites, outright Bush people or those who worked closely with them, and centrists of ambiguous politics. The explanations are quite creative and run the gamut:

    1) Whom else might a Democrat pick, given that the Carterites are now 28 years out of office, and team Clinton the only experienced circle of liberals still around (and given that Democrats have only been in the executive branch for 8 out of the last 28 years)?

    2) This is part of Obama’s brilliant grand strategy. Just wait and see how Machiavellian it works out: By coopting power-hungry centrist pros to enact HIS “progressive” policies, he can advance a leftist agenda much more effectively and fend off gratuitous attacks from the right-wing attack machine.

    3) Review what Obama actually promised and you will learn he actually ran a centrist campaign; the problem is that too many liberals simply projected their own agendas on him, and saw what they wished rather than what was there.

    4) These are not centrists at all. Gates was at heart a sort of anti-Bush maverick. Hillary and others are liberals that used to be the bane of right-wingers. The new economic team wants to assume government control of essential industries.

    5) This is just a small sampling of appointments; wait until you see the U.N. rep, NEA, NEH, key figures at State and Justice. By picking bumper-sticker centrists at the figuratively top spots, he can appoint real progressives under the radar at the bread and butter posts where real policies happen.

    Note that the most obvious and embarrassing explanation is taboo and blasphemous: That Obama is a masterful politician who never has had any real ideology or persona other than his own diversity story and history, youth, and charisma that together allow him to be whatever is politically expedient at the time.

    That is, there is a pattern here: public campaign financing, FISA, NAFTA, drilling, nuclear power, coal, guns, capital punishment, abortion, Iran, Iraq, the surge, etc. all were repackaged as the primary and general elections evolved. A community organizing past that once welcomed in a Wright, Pfleger, Ayers, Khalidi, became inoperative lest he meet a McGovern-like fate.

    And rather than assess carefully the Bush policies, it made better sense to lump them altogether under the general rubric that Bush shredded the Constitution and, as a unilateral preemptivist, ruined the American brand over seas (while knowing privately that when Obama himself assumed office he would leave alone the homeland-security measures, Patriot Act, FISA, etc. to ensure the continuance of the 7-year hiatus from a major attack, and follow Bush/Petraeus in getting out of Iraq to preserve the unexpected victory).

    Likewise, privately Obama knew the meltdown was not Bush’s fault per se but a bipartisan miasma a decade in the making, fueled by Wall Street greed, wrongheaded utopian politics, and corruption at Freddie and Fannie—and thus the Bush response was largely to be followed (and this apparently may even extend to not tampering immediately with the existing tax rates.)

    The result of all this?

    I think we are slowly (and things of course could change) beginning in retrospect to look back at the outline of one of most profound bait-and-switch campaigns in our political history, predicated on the mass appeal of a magnetic leader rather than any principles per se. He out-Clintoned Hillary and followed Bill’s 1992 formula: A young Democrat runs on youth, popular appeal and charisma, claims the incumbent Bush caused another Great Depression and blew Iraq, and then went right down the middle with a showy leftist veneer.

    Second, we will come, through the Obama prism, to see that Bush’s sins were largely the absence of rhetorical skills, unfortunate shoot ’em braggadocio in 2003-4, the federal response to Katrina, and a certain administration haughtiness about the problems in Iraq between 2002-6, but not most of his policies that included prescription drugs, No Child Left Behind, AIDs relief in Africa, the removal of two odious regimes, and consensual governments in their places, a framework at home to stop 9/11-type terrorism, and good working partnerships with key allies abroad such as Britain, Germany, France, Italy, India, et al, and a pragmatism in handling rivals like Russia and China.

    In short, given all that, Obama’s victory (predicated on painting Bush as a Hoover/Nixon redux), more so even than perhaps a John McCain’s, may do more for Bush’s reputation that anyone ever imagined. And the Mumbai mess (over there, not here) will only empasize all this, as an array of old 9/11-era experts who used to warn us about radical Islam, then, in the subsequent respite at home, screamed that Bush fabricated a war against terror against bogeymen, and now in their third manifestation are paraded once more out to warn us about?—why, yes, radical Islam!

    11/29 09:58 AM

  2. RogerB says:

    The link below is the best response I have seen to the optimistic theory that Obama is appointing the same guys who caused our problems in order to solve our problems (Larry Summers being a good example).

    It is conceivable that Obama is covering his ass from right wing attack in doing so, but I don’t think it is likely. I think it will take popular struggle against the corporate empire to get to where we need to go. Global capitalism is now in such a serious crisis that events beyond the control of the politicians may actually be our best hope.

  3. Anonymous says:

    I fear that given the very weak state of the “Left” in the USA, this crisis will, in the end, lead Obama to institute IMF style austerity here in the “belly of the beast”…That Wal Mart trampling on “black friday” I expect to occur more often as many who never expected to have to stand in a soup kitchen line have to.

    Kuttner I’ve seen speak. Have to get around to reading his short book on Obama. Klein methinks oversimplifies…and though I despise free market ideology this Cato Inst. critique of her last book was useful,

    Full Text of Briefing Paper no. 102

    (PDF, 663 KB | HTML)

    The Klein Doctrine: The Rise of Disaster Polemics

    shorter version available at Reason magazine archive, check their hit and run blog.
    Doug Henwood (who has a good podcast available of his WBAI-FM show available) thinks Hudson is a bit loony.

    On Sun, Nov 30, 2008 at 11:08 AM, RogerB

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