The announcement that Reverend Rick Warren will be delivering the invocation at Barack Obama's inauguration has already drawn some harsh criticism.
High on the list of complaints is that Warren, pastor of the Saddleback mega-church in Orange County, California, is anti-gay-marriage and recently threw his support behind California's much-debated Proposition 8. The Human Rights Campaign has sent Obama a letter asking him to "reconsider."
Liberal bloggers also denounced Obama's selection. Ezra Klein at The American Prospect said:
There's a difference between reaching out to the evangelical community with respect and surrendering to it. Obama could have called on an Episcopalian or a Methodist or any number of more complicated and nuanced religious figures. Giving Warren this sort of political-religious opportunity effectively codifies his position as America's most politically important, and accepted, religious leader. That seems unwise, and unnecessary."
As Klein himself points out, Warren "is the author of the best-selling book of all time" and concedes an argument (albeit an unlikely one in his opinion), can be made that "Obama's demonstrated respect for the preacher might build some level of rapport, or at least openness, with that community."
But how surprised are we really by this invitation? Obama has reached out to America's most powerful evangelical before, sharing the stage with him for an event on AIDS prevention, (that time it was Warren who drew criticism from his followers) and participating in a campaign forum at Saddleback.
We've had our eye on Warren's rise in U.S. politics. In our World's Top Religious Power Brokers List from October, I wrote, "Whichever candidate wins in November, he’ll likely be making a regular pilgrimage to Orange County for counsel and support." It appears the back-scratching has begun.
Photo: David McNew/Getty Images
The William Jefferson Clinton Foundation released its donors list today. Peter Baker of the New York Times reports some of the highlights:
The two largest contributors, listed as giving more than $25 million apiece, were the Children’s Investment Fund Foundation, a grant-making charity that focuses on sub-Saharan Africa and India, and UNITAID, an international alliance formed two years ago to fight H.I.V./AIDS. Another 11 donors gave between $10 million and $25 million, including Mr. Bing, Mr. Gates’s foundation and the Saudi government.
Also in this category is Frank Giustra, the Canadian mining financier whose dealings with Mr. Clinton have drawn questions in the past. Mr. Clinton traveled with Mr. Giustra in 2005 to Kazakhstan, where Mr. Giustra was seeking uranium contracts. Mr. Clinton lavished praise on Kazakhstan’s authoritarian leader, Nursultan Nazarbayev, and Mr. Giustra’s company soon afterward signed preliminary agreements to buy into state-controlled uranium projects. [...]
Another donor listed as giving between $1 million and $5 million is Victor Pinchuk, a Ukrainian tycoon who is the son-in-law of that nation’s former authoritarian president, Leonid Kuchma, whose handpicked successor was prevented from taking power during the so-called Orange Revolution of 2004.
Among governments — or entities funded by them — that contributed, the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia was the largest donor, giving between $10 million and $25 million. Norway gave between $5 million and $10 million. Kuwait, Qatar, the Dubai Foundation, Brunei Darussalam, and Oman donated between $1 million and $5 million each.
The full list is on the foundation's website, which seems to be down from all the traffic. Stay tuned for more.
What does Barack Obama's just-named Education Secretary Arne Duncan have in common with National Security Advisor Jim Jones, Attorney General Eric Holder, U.N. Ambassador Susan Rice, and Treasury Secretary Tim Geithner?
Professional accomplishment? Certainly.
Sound judgement? Possibly.
Most importantly, they're all great basketball players. Even 81-year-old economic advisor Paul Volcker used to play at Princeton.
Duncan has a good shot at being the team's MVP. He was co-captain of the Harvard basketball team and played professionally in Australia:
“I did not select Arne because he’s one of the best basketball players I know,” Mr Obama said yesterday. “Although I will say that I think we are putting together the best basketball-playing cabinet in American history.”
Forget engagement. Obama should just bet Iran's right to a nuclear program on a game of half-court with Ahmadinejad's cabinet.
Photo: Mark Wilson/Getty Images
NBC News reports on the status of Christopher Hill, assistant secretary of state for East Asian and Pacific affairs and the point man on U.S. negotiations with North Korea:
Hill said today that he has NOT been asked to stay on in an Obama administration. "I haven't talked to anybody about my future," he said in response to a reporter's question about a possible role in the diplomatic corps of the next president, adding wryly, "I do need to figure out what I'm going to do when I grow up." [...]
[Hill] spoke to reporters today in the wake of bad news for the U.S. in six-party talks, which suffered a major setback last week when North Korean negotiators refused to sign on to guidelines for a "verification protocol" that would open up north Korean nuclear facilities to intrusive inspections, including collecting and removing nuclear samples from the country.
Photo: FILE; FREDERIC J. BROWN/AFP/Getty Images
With many of the Cabinet-level posts in the new Obama administration already filled, the identity of one big position -- the next U.S. ambassador to Iraq -- remains up in the air. Obama's national security team is convening today and the question of who will act as America's day-to-day emissary to the Iraqi government will likely be on the docket. So, who is in line to be our next man in Baghdad? Here are four possibilities:
Former Ambassador to Syria and Israel Edward Djerejian pushed the possibility of keeping on a former member of his staff, current U.S. Ambassador Ryan Crocker. "He has a record of seeking out difficult assignments," Djerejian told me. "He knows the region like the back of his hand, [and] he works well with the military." Among other impressive assignments, Crocker served in the U.S. Embassy in Beirut during the Lebanese civil war, and became ambassador at the conclusion of the war in 1990. He also was sent to Kabul to reopen the U.S. Embassy in Afghanistan in January 2002, and served as U.S. Ambassador to Pakistan from 2004 to 2007.
One person who may be able to duplicate Crocker's knowledge of the Middle East, while still allowing Obama to claim the mantle of "change," is another career diplomat, David Satterfield. He currently serves as senior advisor to Secretary Rice on Iraq, and had previously been the deputy chief of mission in Baghdad. He has also served abroad in Tunis, Jeddah, Beirut, and Damascus, as well as a stint in Washington as director of the State Department's Office of Israel and Arab-Israeli Affairs.
Ricciardone served as the U.S. Ambassador to Egypt from 2005 until earlier this year. Ricciardone has long experience working with Kurdish groups in the north of Iraq. He served as U.S. political advisor for Operation Provide Comfort, an effort by the US and Turkish military to protect Kurds persecuted by Saddam Hussein following the first Gulf War. In 1999, he was selected as the State Department's special coordinator for the transition of Iraq, tasked with coordinating the overthrow of Hussein's regime with Iraq opposition groups.
Journalist and blogger Spencer Ackerman endorsed the former U.N. Ambassador Richard Holbrooke for the position. Ackerman speculates that Holbrooke could use his experience mediating in the Balkans to help Iraq overcome its sectarian obstacles. Having evidently missed out on a place in the cabinet, serving as U.S. ambassador to Iraq is one of the few remaining positions appropriate to Holbrooke's stature. However, he lacks the Middle East experience of the other candidates, as well as fluency in Arabic, which is crucial for public diplomacy.
These are some names currently grinding through the D.C. rumor mill. Who do you think would be right for the job?
Photos: CEERWAN AZIZ/AFP/Getty Images, Mohammed Jalil-Pool/Getty Images, cairo.usembassy.gov, Alex Wong/Getty Images
Overall, Bush administration officials deserve credit for making this transition as painless and drama-free as possible. One notable exception is NASA Administrator Mike Griffin:
Tensions were on public display last week at the NASA library, as overheard by guests at a book party. According to people who were present, Logsdon, a space historian, told a group of about 50 people he had just learned that President John F. Kennedy’s transition team had completely ignored NASA.
Griffin responded, in a loud voice, “I wish the Obama team would come and talk to me.”
Alan Ladwig, a transition team member who was at the party with Garver, shouted out: “Well, we’re here now, Mike.”
Soon after, Garver and Griffin engaged in what witnesses said was an animated conversation. Some overheard parts of it.
“Mike, I don’t understand what the problem is. We are just trying to look under the hood,” Garver said.
“If you are looking under the hood, then you are calling me a liar,” Griffin replied. “Because it means you don’t trust what I say is under the hood.
He reportedly also told the head of Obama's space transition team, a former senior NASA official, that she was "not qualified" and demanded to speak to the president-elect personally.
Obama expressed skepticism about the utility of manned space flight during the campaign and has proposed partially funding his education plan by delaying NASA's manned Constellation program. In light of this, it makes sense that Griffin is suspicious, but something tells me Richard Muller's going to be very happy.
(Hat tip: Matt Yglesias)
Photo: Matt Stroshane/Getty Images
D.C.-based research analyst, blogger, and former McCain campaign advisor David Adesnik writes:
Thank you for bringing accountability to the predictions game. May I suggest, however, that you passed over one of the most strategically significant predictions falsified in 2008? In early 2007, Barack Obama stated clearly, "I am not persuaded that 20,000 additional troops in Iraq is going to solve the sectarian violence there; in fact, I think it'll do the reverse." This September, Sen. Obama acknowledged that the surge "succeeded beyond our wildest dreams." Thankfully, the president-elect's decision to keep Robert Gates as his Secretary of Defense suggests that he has learned from his mistake.
Marc Ambinder reports:
Mark Lippert, a senior national security adviser to Obama during the campaign, will be chief-of-staff at the National Security Council. In that role, he's likely to be a constant presence by Obama's side. Lippert, an intelligence officer who served in the Iraq war, was the first foreign policy adviser that Sen. Obama hired.
Sesame Street, the U.S. television show, used to have a segment called "one of these things is not like the others."
Can you spot the anomoly in this list?
You guessed it: Steven Chu is the only name on this list that is followed by the letters P, h, and D. He's also the only one with a Nobel Prize, and the only one who has run a major laboratory. Frankly, he is a badass -- and he will be looking to get things done on climate change.
The current U.S. energy secretary, Samuel Bodman, is the only other scientist on the list, but he has an Sc.D degree in chemical engineering from the Massachusetts Institute of Technology. Basically, it's the same thing as a Ph.D, but Bodman has long since stopped practicing chemical engineering.
Photo: Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory
Michael Crowley's new piece on Afghanistan should be a sobering read for liberal hawks:
For the left in the Bush era, America's two wars have long been divided into the good and the bad. Iraq was the moral and strategic catastrophe, while Afghanistan--home base for the September 11 attacks--was a righteous fight. This dichotomy was especially appealing to liberals because it allowed them to pair their call for withdrawal from Iraq with a call for escalation in Afghanistan. Leaving Iraq wasn't about retreating; it was about bolstering another front, one where our true strategic interests lie. The left could meet conservative charges of defeatism with the rhetoric of victory. Barack Obama is now getting ready to turn this idea into policy. He has already called for sending an additional two U.S. brigades, or roughly 10,000 troops, to the country and may wind up proposing a much larger escalation in what candidate Obama has called "the war we need to win."
But, as Nagl understands at the ground level, winning in Afghanistan will take more than just shifting a couple of brigades from the bad war to the good one. Securing Afghanistan--and preserving a government and society we can be proud of--is vastly more challenging than the rhetoric of the campaign has suggested [...] The challenge of exiting Iraq was supposed to be the first great foreign policy test of Obama's presidency. But it is Afghanistan that now looms as the potential quagmire.
It's certainly worth questioning to what degree the Democrats' enthusiasm for the fight in Afghanistan has been an effort to protect their right flank while opposing the war in Iraq. This isn't so say that this fight isn't necessary, but it's going to be far more painful than most of its supporters realize.
For what it's worth, the U.S. escalation in Afghanistan has, to a large extent, already begun.
That's how the president-elect plans to take the oath of office. He confirmed that he would include his middle name in an interview yesterday:
“I think the tradition is that they use all three names, and I will follow the tradition, not trying to make a statement one way or the other. I'll do what everybody else does.”
According to Mike Allen, that's not actually true, but it's still encouraging that Obama no longer has to hide his own middle name.
Al Gore is in Chicago today meeting with President-elect Obama to talk about "energy, climate change, and job creation." This has raised speculation that Obama plans to appoint him as a special "climate czar."
However, it's far more likely that Obama is just consulting with Gore on his upcoming choice for secretary of energy. Gore's staffers have made it clear that he has no intention of joining the administration:
"Vice President Gore feels now that his calling really is to educate Americans about the climate crisis," Gore spokeswoman Kalee Kreider said Tuesday morning.
"He served for 30 years in electoral politics in the House, Senate and as vice president and surely understands the great importance of serving in those types of roles and in public service, but just feels now that his calling is in educating the public and in the roles that he's serving now at the Alliance for Climate Protection."
I find this disappointing. It was one thing for Gore to take up the role of climate change evangelist when he had just lost an election and frankly didn't have much else to do. His message resonated more than anyone could have anticipated and he picked up a Nobel Peace Prize, on Oscar, and made himself a very wealthy man along the way.
But now, Gore finally has a president who's largely sympathetic to his message and it's hard to believe that he really has more of an impact as a spokesman than he would with a role in government. Folksy commercials about wind farmers stickin' it to "the boys in Tehran" aren't going to cut carbon emissions. But a serious cap-and-trade system possibly could. Getting such a system in place is going to take someone with some serious political chops, for instance, a guy with over 15 years of experience in congress and eight in the White House.
Al Gore's been a great international spokesman. But the climate crisis doesn't need its own Bono, it needs a serious and capable political leader. It's time for the Gore-acle to get his hands dirty again.
Bill Clinton has agreed to scale back his activities with the Clinton Global Initiative and disclose his donors list, but as Politico reports, he still has an awful lot of leeway for activities that could give the president-elect headaches down the road:
He can still give speeches around the world and pull down six-figure speaking and consulting fees.
He can still ask for multi-million dollar checks to fund the Clinton Foundation’s work.
His foundation can host big events overseas and accept major contributions from foreign governments to fund its international disease-fighting, development and environmental initiatives.
And if he wants to do something that makes ethics officials at State uneasy, they can flag their concerns to the Clintons, but likely won’t be able to veto Bill’s proposed activities, experts say.
If his controversial speech in Malaysia last week was any indication of his future activities, it could be a fun four years to cover the State Department.
Photo: MIKE CLARKE/AFP/Getty Images
Here's the latest on Obamaland:
Usually... when there is a change of power in any country, and even more so in a superpower such as the United States, some changes occur. We very much hope that these changes will be positive. We are now seeing these positive signals."
Putin said he had no plans to make an early return to the presidency but left open the possibility of returning for the 2012 presidential elections. He also ruled out setting up permanent Russian military installations in Venezuela and Cuba.
Check out the
full partial English transcript on Putin's Web site.
Update: Missed this exchange:
Putin was asked: "Is this true you promised to hang Saakashvili by one part?"
Smiling thinly at the question, posed over a crackling phone line by a man in the Russian city of Penza, Putin, who has in the past used coarse language to hammer home a point, waited for the laughter of his studio audience to subside before replying:
"But why only by one part?"
If you missed it, this is what that the questioner was talking about.
Five-plus years after the invasion of Iraq, here's some shock and awe for you: The 751-page report released today by the congressionally funded Project on National Security Reform. The product of two years of work, their conclusions are grim... albeit with a silver lining.
First, the bad news. The United States' national security system is antiquated, "grossly imbalanced," incapable of cooperating agency-to-agency, and unable to "help American leaders to formulate coherent national strategy," according to the report. National security agencies compete rather than working together, so decisions are delayed and watered down. Since budgets get doled out by agency, departmental goals often outweigh the big picture.
No U.S. president -- no matter how wise and sleep-deprived -- could possibly get a handle on that system.
Here's the good news: Barack Obama can fix it. Maybe.
The report offers some dramatic and common-sense reforms to get the system back in check -- starting with interagency cooperation. It calls for a central security budget based on projects, not agencies. It would merge the personnel and security clearance schemes across the government. Top officials from each agency would work on meta-teams for security issues. And the report recommends creating a new, central council so that the president can make sense of it all -- replacing the National Security and Homeland Security councils.
With any luck, the report's authors hope, the new administration will get to fixing this mess sooner rather than later. The Project on National Security Reform's executive director, James R. Locher III, tells FP in Seven Questions this week that now might be the time. It so happens that retired Gen. James L. Jones, tapped Monday to be the Obama's national security advisor, is a former member of the report's "guiding coalition" (basically, a steering committee). Two other big names who served on the coalition, former Clinton deputy James B. Steinberg and retired Adm. Dennis C. Blair, might also make it onto Team Obama. Check it out.
I don't have strong feelings yet about Barack Obama's new national security team. For one thing, it's far too early to tell how they will work together and what policy approaches they will take to the major challenges of the day -- be it battling terrorism and militancy in South Asia, withdrawing from Iraq, or combating climate change. President-elect Obama is a smart guy who has thus far demonstrated excellent judgment, and chances are his vaunted "Team of Rivals" will be very successful under his leadership.
That said, I do have what you might call "inchoate fears" about the Obama administration. Here are my biggest worries, and I stress here that these are worst-case scenarios, not predictions:
James L. Jones, for all his gravitas, will prove to be unimaginative as national security advisor. He seems to have risen to his present level of bipartisan esteem with very little scrutiny, even though his record -- getting NATO more involved in Afghanistan, improving security in the Palestinian territories, stabilizing Darfur, opposing the surge in Iraq, promoting an industry-friendly energy policy completely at odds with Obama's approach -- is certainly open to question.
Hillary Clinton won't be able to develop the close relationship with Barack Obama that a secretary of state needs to be effective. Her past positions on Israel suggest that she might hew too closely to a diplomatic line that failed in the 1990s and be too reticent to put pressure on Israel to stop the settlements. She will be cautious to a fault toward Iran. Her managerial skills, as demonstrated by her dysfunctional primary campaign, will prove disastrous within the State Department's sprawling, leak-prone bureaucracy. The national security council staff, full of Obama loyalists from the campaign, will work to undermine her.
Bob Gates will be seen as a lame duck within the Pentagon and he won't be able to effect the sweeping administrative changes and massive shifts in budget priorities the Department of Defense needs. The forces of the status quo will simply wait him out. He and his generals will not feel comfortable with Obama's timetable for withdrawal from Iraq. And if the situation in Afghanistan continues to deteriorate, he will become the fall guy as the lone Republican in the cabinet.
Joe Biden will chafe at being kept in a box and develop a pet issue, such as his widely panned plan for Iraq, on which his ideas are bad but Obama doesn't have the wherewithal to rein him in.
Barack Obama will be so distracted by the all-consuming global economic meltdown that he will be surprised or unprepared for a national-security crisis that, in retrospect, will appear to have been obvious and inevitable.
Readers, what are your biggest fears about the Obama team?
Photo: JIM WATSON/AFP/Getty Images
There seems to be a consensus in Washington about the United States' need to engage in talks with Iran. But how and when? Peter Baker reports on the debate brewing over this latter question:
Two leading research groups plan to issue a report Tuesday calling on him to move quickly to open direct diplomatic talks with Iran without preconditions.
The report by the groups, the Saban Center for Middle East Policy at the Brookings Institution and the Council on Foreign Relations, urges Mr. Obama to put all issues on the table with Iran, including its nuclear program. The proposal calls for "swift early steps" to exploit a "honeymoon" period between his inauguration and the internal political jockeying preceding Iran's presidential elections in June.
The report breaks with experts on Iran who say Mr. Obama should wait until a clear winner emerges in Iran and calls instead for "treating the Iranian state as a unitary actor rather than endeavoring to play its contending factions against one another." The report also calls on him to back Israeli peace talks with Syria.
Karim Sadjadpour, a prominent Iran analyst at the Carnegie Endowment for International Peace, has been arguing that the United States should "refrain from any grand overtures to Tehran" until after the Iranian elections. Sadjadpour worries that Mahmoud Ahmadinejad, the current president, would otherwise be able to say that his hardline policies brought the Great Satan to its knees.
The trick, then, is to show enough leg that you help bring a more responsible government to power in Tehran, but not so much that the United States looks weak. A delicate task, no doubt.
UPDATE: The report is here.
He chose his words very carefully, but U.S. President-elect Barack Obama nonetheless made big news in India with this exchange from today's press conference:
[Question:] During the campaign, you said that you thought the U.S. had a right to attack high-value terrorist targets in Pakistan if given actionable intelligence with or without the Pakistani government's permission. Two questions on that.
One, do you think India has that same right?
And, two [...] some people up there on the stage took issue with your saying that. They have strong opinions about issues ranging from Pakistan to the surge. And while they're all committed to have a successful United States, what private assurances have they given you that they will be able to carry out your vision even when they strongly disagree with that vision as some of them have been able to do in the past? [...]
OBAMA: I think that sovereign nations, obviously, have a right to protect themselves. Beyond that, I don't want to comment on the specific situation that's taking place in South Asia right now. I think it is important for us to let the investigators do their jobs and make a determination in terms of who was responsible for carrying out these heinous acts.
I can tell you that my administration will remain steadfast in support of India's efforts to catch the perpetrators of this terrible act and bring them to justice. And I expect that the world community will feel the same way.
I don't think this is what Obama intended to communicate, but here's how the Times of India is reporting it -- as if the president-elect had issued a "tacit endorsement" of India "bombing terrorist camps in Pakistan" under certain circumstances:
Sovereign nations have the right to protect themselves, US President-elect Barack Obama said on Monday, when asked if India could follow the same policy he advocated during his election campaign — of bombing terrorist camps in Pakistan if there was actionable evidence and Islamabad refused to act on it.
Although Obama said he did not want to comment on the specific situation involving India and Pakistan, his tacit endorsement of New Delhi adopting the same policy was circumscribed by two caveats: first, let the investigators reach definite conclusions about the Mumbai carnage, and second, see if Pakistan will follow through with its commitment to eliminate terrorism.
That's a bit of a stretch. Now, for the good news: Despite the palpable anger in India and word that India's security status has reached a "war level," no troops are moving to the border with Pakistan as they did after the attacks on the Indian Parliament in late 2001.
So far, the media profiles of Barack Obama's future national security advisor, James L. Jones, have revealed an intelligent and stoic, John Wayne-looking guy with a talent for navigating complex bureaucracies, but tell us very little about his actual views on major world issues.
So, who is this former Marine general who just snagged the top foreign-policy position in the White House? Jones's reputation as a critic of the Bush administration's foreign policy is based largely on reports he has authored on coalition progress in Afghanistan and the state of the Iraqi armed forces (pdf). While scathing, these reports focused on strategy rather than offering an overall position on the wisdom of the mission.
But the Jones pick has already rubbed some Israeli hardliners the wrong way. Jones has criticized Israeli security policies, and expressed support for a NATO peacekeeping force in the West Bank. The New Republic's Eli Lake sees Jones and Secretary of State Hillary Clinton butting heads over Middle East policy. While there's certainly a difference in tone, I'm not sure there's enough evidence yet to suggest that "Jones-Clinton tensions may reprise the great Powell-Cheney fights of yore."
That seems to be the case with Jones's record in general. Over the last eight years, the general has demonstrated a willingness to express highly critical, sometimes politically incorrect assessments on U.S. policy, but has steered clear of big ideological debates. Jones's thin paper trail may worry partisans, but with Clinton, Joe Biden, Robert Gates, and Susan Rice on his team, Obama probably has enough big egos with well-defined worldviews to advise him on foreign policy. He may be looking for a towering presence who can call BS on wrongheaded recommendations when necessary, a task the 6'4" Jones seems more than qualified to carry out.
Photo: JIM WATSON/AFP/Getty Images
One of Andrew Sullivan's readers sends in the following photo from Paris:
The Bush administration once planned to announce the opening of an interests section in Tehran this month. That won't happen now, and the story illustrates the broken connection that is the U.S.-Iranian relationship.
An announcement set for September was delayed because of the Russian invasion of Georgia. But the proposal was back on track until a few weeks ago, when the administration became concerned about Iranian interference in negotiations with Iraq over a status-of-forces agreement. It seemed the wrong time for an opening to Tehran that Sunni Arab allies warned would be seen as a concession.
So now the issue of U.S.-Iranian relations will be handed over to the Obama administration. "We ran out of time," says one administration official. It's the most frustrating and dangerous bit of unfinished business the new administration will inherit.
In a Politico piece on the formulation of Barack Obama's Russia strategy, Ben Smith brings up an episode from Campaign '08 that could make things awkward his presumptive secretary of state:
But he's also surrounded himself with people who consider themselves realists on the dangers posed by Russia's leadership, and he chose as his Secretary of State Hillary Clinton, who attacked Putin personally on the campaign trail, saying at one point that then-President Vladimir Putin "doesn't have a soul." (He shot back with the suggestion that she lacks a brain.)
I'm sure Clinton and Putin are more than capable of being civil when they inevitably meet. But given how often Clinton is described as a "realist," she certainly has a record of making bombastic statements about the foreign countries that Obama most wants to engage. For instance, if Obama is successful in initiating negotiations with Iran, Clinton will likely be speaking with representatives of a country that she onced mused the U.S. could "totally obliterate" any time it wanted.
Obama and Clinton have shown they're willing to put the bitter Democratic primary behind them. Will the rest of the world?
Steve Clemons on the Gates reappointment:
My hunch is that Gates wants a chance to make the kind of leaps in the Middle East I have been writing about for some time. He wants to try and push Iran-US relations into a constructive direction. He wants to change the game in Afghanistan -- and the answer will not be a military-dominant strategy. He wants to try and stabilize Iraq in a negotiated, confidence building process that includes Saudi Arabia, Iran, Turkey and other regional forces. And he wants to support a big push on Israel-Palestine peace and reconfigure relations between much of the Arab League and Israel.
Most of these ideas, regardless of whether Gates really intends to implement them, are worth exploring. I really, wonder, though, about the viability of a "big push on Israel-Palestine peace" at this point.
It hasn't gotten a lot of coverage, but the Palestinian Authority is in huge trouble right now. Hamas insists that Mahmoud Abbas's term as president expires on Jan. 9. For his part, Abbas is threatening to call presidential and parliamentary elections, the latter of which Hamas would deem illegal.
It's a huge mess, making it hard to imagine Israel engaging in serious negotiations, much less allowing a failed state to set up shop next door. As peace process veteran Aaron David Miller bluntly puts it, "The dysfunction and confusion in Palestine make a conflict-ending agreement almost impossible."
None of this means there is no hope in the region. First, I would keep the parties negotiating, even if it doesn't seem likely to lead anywhere. That's likely to be Hillary Clinton's thinking as well. "When he had a process going that kept Israelis and Palestinians talking to each other, people didn't die," she told Jeffrey Goldberg in 2006, referring to her husband.
Second, if I were Barack Obama, I'd probe the Syrians to find out what their price is for making peace with the Israelis. If it seems doable, I'd start laying the groundwork so that once the new Israeli government is in place, direct talks could quickly follow with the United States, not Turkey, as a mediator.
Claims that getting the Syrians to stop supporting Hamas will cause the Palestians to be less radical are probably overblown -- if anything, the exiled political leadership in Damascus is more pragmatic than the guys in Gaza -- but a Syria-Israel peace deal has its own logic. Syria has foolishly spurned such opportunities before, but it's worth a shot.
UPDATE: Miller weighs in further today with an op-ed in the Washington Post. He stresses that "it would be folly to go for broke" on the Arab-Israeli question, though it's worth keeping negotiations and security and economic aid to the Palestinians going. But the Syria track, though certainly no cakewalk, is definitely the better bet in his view.
The New York Times, citing "Democrats close to the transition," is reporting that U.S. President-elect Barack Obama will ask Robert Gates to stay on as defense secretary. Meanwhile, John Brennan, thought to be in the running for CIA director, withdrew his name from consideration.
Here's the Times' Peter Baker:
The developments came as Mr. Obama prepared to begin unveiling his national security next week after the Thanksgiving holiday. He has already reached an informal agreement with Hillary Rodham Clinton to become secretary of state and advisers expect him to appoint retired Gen. James L. Jones, a former Marine commandant and NATO supreme commander, as his national security adviser.
Other frontrunners have emerged in recent days, including retired Adm. Dennis Blair for director of national intelligence, former assistant secretary of state Susan E. Rice for ambassador to the United Nations, former deputy national security adviser James B. Steinberg for deputy secretary of state and former State Department official Thomas Donilon for deputy national security adviser.
The usual caveats apply, but the reporting on this seems pretty solid and widely shared. ABC News, which first broke the Gates story, quoted a source as saying his return was "a done deal."
Assuming the Gates reappointment, at least, is for real, I think it's a great move. The military is extremely wary of Obama, and keeping Gates will assuage many that their new commander-in-chief is hardly some kind of closet radical -- to say nothing of the fact that Gates has done a great job managing Iraq and sending useful signals about U.S. intentions to Iran. Having him oversee the delicate process of winding down the U.S. presence in Iraq and cranking up the war effort in Afghanistan will be key. This is a lack of change I can believe in.
Photo: Haraz N. Ghanbari-Pool/Getty Images
Barack Obama, unfortunately, has a lousy record on ethanol subsidies. But now that he is no longer representing a corn state, perhaps he will listen to his new economic advisor, Larry Summers:
Appropriate steps include reform of misguided ethanol subsidies that distort grain markets to minimal environmental benefit, allowing farm land now being conserved to be planted[.]"
An interesting theory from Ross Douthat:
...there will be difficulties - maybe a lot of difficulties - along the way, and it's very easy to imagine a scenario in which the withdrawal from Iraq ends up dominating the foreign-affairs side of the ledger in Obama's first term, and not necessarily in a good way. And by putting the job in the hands of Robert Gates and Hillary Clinton - a Republican appointee and a primary-season rival who attacked him from the right on foreign policy - Obama has effectively given realists and liberal hawks partial ownership of whatever happens in Iraq between now and 2011. In a best-case scenario for progressives, Gates and Clinton will play the role Colin Powell played in the run-up to the Iraq War (except with a better final outcome, obviously): Their association with the policy will help keep non-progressives on board when things get dicey, and then once the job is done they'll be pushed aside and someone like Susan Rice will take over Obama's post-occupation foreign policy.
Again, interesting, but I find it hard to imagine that Barack Obama really thinks this way. Just try to picture the meeting where he and his closest advisors hash out this strategy: "Hey, David, let's set Hillary up for failure so that Susan Rice can implement her liberal agenda in 2012!" This man has just become the president of the United States, and by all indications -- like today's announcement of his economic team -- he is a serious person, not a political hack.
(Hat tip: Andrew Sullivan)
The Wall Street Journal has a banner reporting that Tim Geithner will be Barack Obama's Treasury Secretary. And CNN says, "Wall Street rallies on reports that Obama will tap NY Fed President Timothy Geithner as Treasury Secretary. Dow jumps 260 points."
I'll update as the news comes in.
New York Federal Reserve Bank President Timothy J. Geithner is to be nominated as President-elect Barack Obama's Treasury secretary, according to a person close to the transition process.
The Federal Bureau of Investigation began calling Geithner confidants this week, starting a vetting process of getting the economist and Fed veteran in place almost as soon as Mr. Obama is inaugurated the 44th president.
Mr. Obama plans to introduce his entire economic team early next week, hoping to sooth the roiling financial markets and answer rising pressure on the president-elect to become more involved.
Here's more from the WSJ:
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