I’ve been saying for some time that the day after Obama’s election, all sorts of policy and personality battles would unfold around him.
This is happening as predicted, and the tension, backbiting, and jostling for position is fraying the nerves of many who are highest on the list of candidates Obama is considering for senior positions throughout the government.
One quite senior national security personality close to Obama told me that “I hate this. I hate this focus on people and personalities. It’s the ideas that matter. I’m just sick of this back and forth about appointments and the people. It just doesn’t matter.”
I actually agree with the commenter that it should be policy that we focus on — but where I disagree is that different personalities in a job telegraph different policies.
The notion that everything will derive from America’s new great leader and inform every dimension of the work and objectives of those appointed is probably naive. People do matter because of the ideas that they bring to the table. Thus debating the “who” is also part of debating the “what”.
We have already seen that John Bolton differed from Zalmay Khalilzad. Bob Gates was a radical departure in views and performance from Don Rumsfeld. The battle over John Bolton’s confirmation at the United Nations in which this writer and blog were so involved was never about John Bolton personally, it was about stopping the further ascension of Jesse Helms-style pugnacious nationalism.
Dennis Ross, in the Democratic Party case, has different views of global affairs and a different sense of strategic priorities and how to approach them than James Steinberg. Susan Rice, who along with Gayle Smith, Anne-Marie Slaughter, Anthony Lake and Samantha Power, is a harbinger of an important new discussion the nation needs to have on 21st century national security threats and global justice does not have the same “structuralist” and “realist” tilts of a Charles Kupchan, Rand Beers, Robert Hutchings, Fareed Zakaria, or Gregory Craig.
Richard Holbrooke and Rahm Emanuel convey different approaches to national security and the conduct of power than a Tom Daschle and Chuck Hagel.
So the debate about “who” fills the positions of responsibility around the president does matter when debating the policy objectives of the incoming team.
But things are tense and still complicated in the process of selecting a national security team. There had been high-placed rumblings that we would hear soon who would occupy the top posts at the State, Defense, and Treasury Departments — as well as the National Security Council but the process has been complicated and intense for those in the game.
To give the Obama team credit, they are working hard to consider who would be the best in these roles and a lot of the assumptions analysts previously held about who would get what posts needs to be reconsidered. There may be some suprise choices.
— Steve Clemons