Where Some of the Serious Realists are Heading


I just had an interesting meeting with a prominent and thoughtful national security expert in Washington. I can’t go into any of the details of the meeting, but I am intrigued with the calculation that at least one serious, non-ideological pragmatist in foreign policy is making.
This person’s sense is that John McCain and Hillary Clinton would both be the wrong choices for the country. McCain, he/she said, does not have the temperament for the presidency — and doesn’t listen to others and thinks he has most of the answers.
Hillary Clinton too, this person said, brings a group of retainers and pols who think they’ve done it all before — and don’t understand that tomorrow’s challenges are more serious and more complex than any of us have perhaps seen in our lifetimes. According to this policy intellectual, Hillary Clinton’s experience led her to affirm the Kyl/Lieberman IRGC amendment, which could have very well been a loophole for another war.
This commentator — who would not go on the record — believes that both McCain and Clinton are almost looking for a fight, a contest of wills internationally, to establish their bona fides as strong national security presidents.
But he/she said what was impressive about Obama and Romney is that they both seem to listen, to survey the landscape of perspectives, and judiciously work through the problems. This person has been as put off as I have been by the gut and mystique campaign that some of Obama’s followers have been offering in support of him — though I think it undermines Obama’s credibility.
In fairness, I think that both McCain and Clinton have advisers to whom they listen and that they are well qualified and experienced. But the very real challenge for both is that they seem not to have a national security plan or foreign policy vision that would be different than that of President Bush’s team.
Continuity of our current foreign policy direction will be highly destructive to America’s already faltering global position.
But while I feel it necessary to expose faults and weaknesses in all of the candidates — particularly in both the Obama and Clinton profiles — I think it is interesting that a hard-edged, unsentimental national security expert I highly respect sees the strength of open-mindedness in Obama and Mitt Romney.
More later.
— Steve Clemons


19 comments on “Where Some of the Serious Realists are Heading

  1. Mr.Murder says:

    Remember, it could be an “Independent” talking to Steve. Those mythical unicorn ponies that don’t take sides, yet somehow take sides in making statements.
    Sen.Lieberman has your ear?
    Wait, this could be a Republican.
    That means another nomenclature adjustment: s/he
    can be now be s/he/it.
    Since they won;t make a statement on the record, and make assertions in their statements instead of presentable facts, simply abbreviate the entire usage.
    S/he/it = sh!t.
    Now we have that statement in its proper perspective.
    Never use anonymous statements unless they offer hard data alongside. If nobody will go on record then simply say as much. “Nobody will go on record as to saying whether ‘being with America’ on a policy makes ‘you with terrorists’ if you are not.”


  2. Carroll says:

    Hillary -McCain
    Hillary -Romney
    Obama – McCain
    Obama – Romney
    I haven’t reviewed all Romney’s positions in depth yet..I am going to his site to do that now.
    But the two things I am going to vote on will be who is the least likley to get us into another war and who is best qualified to handle our financial and economic problems of the “country”.
    As far as I am concerned how these two fundmental issues are handled will determine whether there will even be any US resources left to fight over on other issues.


  3. Peterr says:

    You’ve given us some interesting speculation here, but without so much as a clue as to who is doing the speculating, it’s hard to know what to do with this.
    “Somebody I respect likes Obama and Romney” is not exactly breathtaking news or analysis. Tomorrow, when I’m likely to read someone else’s story about another anonymous “prominent and thoughtful national security expert in Washington” who offers a different perspective, how am I to compare two such opinions offered from the shadows?
    Less anonymous sourcing, please — especially when it’s anonymous opinions.


  4. Robert M says:

    Any chance we can read the writings of this advisor?
    I am more curious about how they think. I am not to worried about Obama’s thought process than I am Romney’s. His 360 in social policy tells me he does believe in much on anything outside of his management ability. Without some core beliefs he isn’t much good. Further given LDS’ positions on women he will not be much good promoting positive foreign policy moves like education in countries where either due to issues like corruption/ malfeasance/ control of the social order give people as their only educational choice the madrass'(sic/).


  5. Greg P says:

    For what it’s worth, after much waffling and a month or so where I thought I’d end up supporting Clinton, I recently ended up attending a fundraiser for Obama. I have my concerns about both of them, but Clinton’s vote on Kyl-Lieberman tipped it for me when I reflected on it, along with indications of Obama’s relative openmindedness (my concerns about inexperience remain).
    After the Iran NIE, the chances of a catastrophe on Bush’s watch have gone down, but with the enrichment program still in progress, it’s a serious issue, and one which the incoming (hopefully Democratic) administration will need to hit the ground running on day one. And in that regard, I have real concerns about Clinton’s pandering to the Iran uber-hawk crowd for the fundraising benefits that can entail. Those folks who raised money for her campaign would certainly be pressuring her not to “go soft” on Iran by opening serious negotiations with them on any sort of grand bargain.
    But the questions remains for Obama — how much Brzezinski does he have in him? I think it will depend on which advisors have his ear when he comes into office. Obviously, Brzezinski himself is a bit too old to serve as a senior official in an Obama administration — but hopefully Obama, if elected, will have a Brzezinski-ish voice or two within frequent earshot…


  6. Minnesotachuck says:

    There is a danger in focusing too much on specific people. A central fact that has become apparent to the observant over the past seven years is that there are there are very powerful elements behind the curtain in the Republican Party, perhaps dominant even, whose agendas are fundamentally subversive to many of the most basic principles of American democracy. I write this, sadly, as someone who grew up in a strongly Republican family and who himself has been a centrist independent for most of the subsequent nearly 50 years of his supposedly adult life. Most of the handful of people on the right who get the gravity of the threat have either left the party or are working for Ron Paul.
    Unfortunately, judging from external appearances, not many Democratic federal office holders and seekers get it either. Or if they do, they’re either already too intimidated to meet it head-on, believe it’s tactically advantageous not to, or more likely have so far been unable to accept the fact that what is now the GOP mainstream is deliberately attacking the implicit social contract that underlies any functioning democracy.
    Thus I have reluctantly come to the position that the future of our democracy and our freedoms may well depend on the degree to which these subversive elements can extirpated from the mainstream of the Republican Party. This can only be done at the ballot box, and since 2002 I’ve been doing my part by refusing to consider voting for any GOP candidate for any office at any level. One result of this line of thought is that electability becomes a major criterion for my preference of Democratic candidates for President.
    Needless to say, I find most Democrats’ reluctance to address this issue head-on infuriating, frustrating and spineless.
    PS: I’ve just learned that John Edwards is dropping out. This is a tragedy, since I believe he’s the strongest candidate the Dems can put up in the general election.


  7. Ian Kaplan says:

    When I read a hard hitting piece of analysis like this about Mitt Romney I can only think: bring on the dog pictures.
    What exactly does Romney believe in? Anything? He has literally changed virtually all of his political stands. He has gone from denying that he’s really a Republican while running for election in Massachusetts to now claiming that he’s the most conservative person on the Republican ticket. What could possible give you any idea that Romney has any convictions about anything when it comes to foreign policy. As far as I can tell, Romney want to be president because he is a massive egomaniac. Not because he has any agenda that he wants to enact. While I would never, under any circumstances, vote for a Republican (the Party of Bush), I’m not a big fan of HRC. Who knows, maybe Romney would be better on Foreign policy. But neither you or your unnamed wise person knows. I’m not sure that even Mitt knows what he believes.
    More dog pictures, Steve. It’s getting so this is the best feature of your site. You’ve been in Washington DC too long.


  8. Steve Clemons says:

    Hans — that is far better nomenclature which I’ll use in the future. Thanks,
    Steve Clemons


  9. bob h says:

    “McCain, he/she said, does not have the temperament for the presidency — and doesn’t listen to others and thinks he has most of the answers.”
    My concern about McCain is that his vaunted strength, his foreign policy expertise, consists of nothing more than the generalized hostility and belligerence that got Team Bush into such trouble.
    Look at the way he prevents any intelligent Republican discussion of Iraq by McCarthyite accusations of “surrender” and Munich-like “appeasement”. The man is a dangerous, truculent ass.


  10. Sandy says:

    Oh, God help us!
    There is no one to vote for.


  11. pauline says:

    Sunday afternoon on “Book-TV”, there was a June, 2007, re-run of Hugh Hewitt at the Nixon presidential library talking about his book, “A Mormon in the White House?”. Maybe I surprised myself by being drawn in to both the presentation and the questions asked — Hewitt thinks Romney is the smartest, hardest-working candidate with creative real business decision-making skills. And d*mn his religious choice, in wasn’t any factor in the conservative leadership skills he sharpened as governor nor in any of his business deals. Hewitt was gushing over various Romney win/win scenarios and how he is the best choice for this here United States.
    Steve, could a Mormon win?


  12. Hans Suter says:

    “he/she”, why not s/he ?


  13. Bartman says:

    With all the talk about the American empire ending, e.g., Chalmers Johnson and the fellow you mentioned the other day, the next president will have to avoid the trap of trying to save the empire, as opposed to easing it gracefully into decline.


  14. S Brennan says:

    These are personal attacks that require us to believe that your friend is up the job of judging character…it’s the kind of thinking that gave us Bush II.
    Worth remembering, Bush the 2nd was the guy the press told us we wanted to have a beer with…how you like ’em now?


  15. MarkL says:

    As I said before, Obama is the one whose reckless remarks on Pakistan and overconfidence in a military solution to the Al Qaeda problem are most likely to lead the US into another military quagmire.


  16. hit_escape says:

    This smacks of poisoning the well for two candidates. No wonder the person didn’t want to go on the record. Certainly McCain has espoused war-mongering, but Clinton has not. Attempting to say they are peas in a pod is ludicrous. Her record of voting for Bush’s policies says more about her attempts to not rock the boat then her wishing to establish her “bona fides”. Sorry, I don’t buy this line.


  17. JohnH says:

    It’s rare that I find a post here that I absolutely and totally agree with. IMHO your prominent and thoughtful national security expert is spot on.
    McCain seems intent on rediscovering the youthful mojo that allowed him to carpet bomb North Vietnam with no regrets. Hillary needs a war to prove that a woman can be commander and chief, just like Truman needed to nuke Japan to prove that he wasn’t a sap.
    “Continuity of our current foreign policy direction will be highly destructive to America’s already faltering global position.” Glad to hear that this position is finally starting to be expressed, even sotto voce. Maybe it’s time to finally look at those “vital national security interests” that none dare name. One thing Bush taught us is that things are hidden for a reason–they involve fraud or malfeasance and cannot stand exposure to the light of day. So it’s time for those mysterious “national security interests” receive a thorough public airing, one not dominated by corrupt neocons, or by realists, SAIS and Woodrow Wilson traditionalists.
    Your expert makes a valid point about Clinton’s team offering up the solutions of the 1990’s again, just as Bush brought back the “solutions” of the 1980’s. Cookie cutter solutions of the past century just won’t fly anymore.


  18. Dunno says:

    So ….. who are you aware of having the ear of Obama concerning foreign policy issues? Shouldn’t that begin sorting out the riddle of what would be the basis for his foreign policy?
    And likewise for Romney.
    Steve, we rely on your insight in these matters.


  19. Bill R. says:

    More worthy analysis here than handshakes. I share this concern with your anonymous pragmatist:
    “both McCain and Clinton are almost looking for a fight, a contest of wills internationally, to establish their bona fides as strong national security presidents.” But Romney.. he seems to be bending over backwards to prove his bonafides as a gunslinger to the right wing of his party. The only thing to suggest otherwise is that war is not good for international traders and multinationals in the current global scheme in my view, and I see Romney as a corporate candidate who has tried to remake himself for the right wing.


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