Clinton Foreign Policy Advisors and Obama

Barack Obama made a minor gaffe last week when he overestimated the number of Clinton foreign policy advisers supporting him as opposed to Hillary. He believed more supported him because of reading an article in The New York Times Magazine which I had also noted previously. The article said:

In mainstream foreign-policy circles, Barack Obama is seen as the true bearer of this vision. “There are maybe 200 people on the Democratic side who think about foreign policy for a living,” as one such figure, himself unaffiliated with a campaign, estimates. “The vast majority have thrown in their lot with Obama.” Hillary Clinton’s inner circle consists of the senior-most figures from her husband’s second term in office — the former secretary of state Madeleine Albright, the former national security adviser Sandy Berger and the former United Nations ambassador Richard Holbrooke. But drill down into one of Washington’s foreign-policy hives, whether the Carnegie Endowment or the Brookings Institution or Georgetown University, and you’re bound to hit Obama supporters. Most of them served in the Clinton administration, too, and thus might be expected to support Hillary Clinton. But many of these younger and generally more liberal figures have decamped to Obama. And they are ardent. As Ivo Daalder, a former National Security Council official under President Clinton who now heads up a team advising Obama on nonproliferation issues, puts it, “There’s a feeling that this is a guy who’s going to help us transform the way America deals with the world.” Ex-Clintonites in Obama’s inner circle also include the president’s former lawyer, Greg Craig, and Richard Danzig, his Navy secretary.

In reality there are still more old Clintonites backing Hillary Clinton than Obama. What is more important is the views of the two groups. Frank Rich reviewed some of them in today’s column:

Mr. Obama, like Mrs. Clinton, has indeed turned to former Clintonites for foreign-policy advice. But the Clinton players were not homogeneous, and who ended up with which ’08 candidate is instructive.

The principal foreign-policy Clinton alumni in Mr. Obama’s campaign include Susan Rice, a former assistant secretary of state, and Tony Lake, the former national security adviser and a prewar skeptic who said publicly in February 2003 that the Bush administration had not made the case that Saddam was an “imminent threat.” Ms. Rice, in an eloquent speech in November 2002, said that the Bush administration was “trying to change the subject to Iraq” from the war against Al Qaeda and warned that if it tried to fight both wars at once, “one, if not both, will suffer.” Her text now reads as a bookend to Mr. Obama’s senatorial campaign speech challenging the wisdom of the war only weeks earlier that same fall.

Mrs. Clinton’s current team was less prescient. Though it includes one of the earlier military critics of Bush policy, Gen. Wesley Clark, he is balanced by Gen. Jack Keane, an author of the Bush “surge.” The Clinton campaign’s foreign policy and national security director is a former Madeleine Albright aide, Lee Feinstein, who in November 2002 was gullible enough to say on CNBC that “we should take the president at his word, which is that he sees war as a last resort” — an argument anticipating the one Mrs. Clinton still uses to defend her vote on the Iraq war authorization.

In late April 2003, a week before “Mission Accomplished,” Mr. Feinstein could be found on CNN saying that he was “fairly confident” that W.M.D. would turn up in Iraq. Asked if the war would be a failure if no weapons were found, he said, “I don’t think that that’s a situation we’ll confront.” Forced to confront exactly that situation over the next year, he dug in deeper, co-writing an essay for Foreign Affairs (available on its Web site) arguing that “the biggest problem with the Bush pre-emption strategy may be that it does not go far enough.”

I’d rather have a smaller number of Clinton advisers as opposed to a longer list of foreign policy experts, who were hardly the best and the brightest, who thought that going into Iraq was a good idea.

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