Obama’s Foreign Policy Team: Are They Advising Him or Is He Colonizing Them?


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Elisabeth Bumiller’s New York Times piece yesterday describing the national security and foreign policy advisory network in the Obama campaign has sent off strange shock waves in the blogosphere and in Washington.
This article, I think, is a misfire. Some data show that there are somewhere between 70 and 100 million blogs in the world. Perhaps 20 million of them are active, but only a miniscule portion of them are actually read in any significant numbers.
Similarly, Obama could have 10,000 advisers, 1000 advisers, or his 300, but he’d still be mostly advised by a core network of talent managed by Denis McDonough, Susan Rice, Gregory Craig, Mark Lippert, Anthony Lake, Richard Danzig and a few others.
What she didn’t get at is that there is little policy consistency among these 300 advisers — that there lies lurking among them some potential policy civil wars in an Obama administration. McDonough, of nearly all the advisers listed, and perhaps Mark Lippert — who served on Obama’s Senate staff — are considered to be the most pragmatic, solutions-oriented type foreign policy thinkers in Obamaland. Many of the rest bring to their policy work a strong ideological bent — and these bents scattered across “the 300” don’t necessarily mesh well. That is the only thing that makes the seemingly high number of sign-on advisers interesting.
During George W. Bush’s first campaign, Robert Zoellick — then head of the Center for Strategic and International Studies — played a key role in tying together the Washington policy intellectual scene. I was amazed to see how quickly Zoellick turned the Republican think tank crowd into an engine for Bush. John McCain didn’t make any substantial efforts on this front in 2000 — and from my vantage point, Al Gore didn’t give it much attention either. But Bush’s key spear-carriers at the time did.
Thus, what Bumiller might have said is that Obama himself is colonizing the public intellectuals scene — rather than focusing on the fact that all of these people are supposedly advising him.
The closer truth is that Obama is colonizing them. And that’s politically smart.
— Steve Clemons


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