President-Elect Obama has unveiled his national security team, and it’s hardly what his supporters would have suspected. Hillary Clinton gets the thankless job of Secretary of State, ensuring that she’ll never be President and keeping her well away from Washington. Robert Gates remains as Secretary of Defense, meaning that the chances of Obama “ending” the war in Iraq any sooner than McCain would have seem slim. Former General Jim Jones, who probably would have served in a McCain Cabinet, will be National Security Advisor.
Putting Clinton in as Secretary of State is an excellent way that she’ll be sidelined for the next four years. Secretaries of State tend not to have political careers after their service, mainly because it is nearly impossible to build up political capital when you’re rarely in the US. Not only that, but Obama knows quite well that the position will not be a very happy one. Tasking her with something like the Israel-Palestine crisis is Obama’s way of ensuring that she’ll be set up to fail from the beginning.
Keeping Gates at Defense is a smart move. The military was quite pro-McCain, and is suspicious of what Obama’s brand of “change” will be. There is little doubt that Obama will not pull us out of Iraq any faster than McCain or Bush would have. The war is largely won, and the media will happily ignore what bad news there is. The anti-war faction was played for the fools they are—Obama’s policies towards Iraq will be the same as if Bush got a third term, and keeping Gates is just one sign of that. It’s bad news for the Kossacks and Code Pink, but a smart move on the part of the President-Elect.
Gen. Jones is a strong pick for NSA. Obama needs military advisors who aren’t Wesley Clark, and Jones’ records seems relatively strong. That pick is another sign that Obama will not pull out of Iraq on an arbitrary timetable. It would be even better if Obama put Gen. Petreaus on the Joint Chiefs and Col. H.R. McMaster in at CENTCOM—it would drive the left nuts, but it would also be a continuation of Obama’s independent-minded defense policy choices.
Janet Napolitano and Eric Holder are less strong picks. Napolitano has a mixed record on immigration, and it doesn’t look like Obama has much interest in defending this nation against illegal immigration—not when they can be used to buttress Democratic numbers through voter fraud. Eric Holder made some very questionable choices with the pardon of Marc Rich, and is anti-Second Amendment. Both, however, will be confirmed, and probably by a large margin.
The Obama national security team does not stand for “change”—which is a reassuring move on his part. In a time of turmoil, making dramatic moves like pulling out of Iraq is not smart policy. Instead, Obama seems to be making pragmatic moves when it comes to foreign policy. Rather than providing a clear break with the policies of the Bush Administration, Obama is likely to continue many of them, including the Bush Doctrine.
Unsurprisingly, Victor Davis Hanson puts it adroitly:
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.
At least in foreign policy, that may be the case. But the reality is that even if Obama really wanted radical change, it would be politically suicidal to do so. The world is dangerous, and getting more so by the moment. Obama the freshman Senator could play fast and loose, but President Obama will not have that luxury. Why the left may hate it, the “change we need” in terms of foreign policy may end up looking much more like “staying the course.”