Less than two months before taking office, President-elect
Barack Obama is making clear that realists some more identified with
Republicans and the military than with Democrats are likely to rule the
incoming administration's foreign policy roost, at least at the outset.
While Obama is expected to formally unveil his Cabinet-level national-security
picks Monday, a plethora of leaks to the media over the past week has made it
virtually certain that Pentagon chief Robert Gates will remain at his current
post for at least a year; Sen. Hillary Clinton will be nominated as secretary
of state; and ret. Marine Gen. James L. Jones will become the new president's
national security adviser.
In addition, ret. Adm. Dennis Blair appears to be Obama's choice as the director
of national intelligence (DNI), while Susan Rice, a former top Africa policy
aide under President Bill Clinton, will be made ambassador to the United Nations,
a post that some modern presidents have accorded Cabinet rank.
What all five, in addition to Vice President-elect Joseph Biden and Obama himself,
have in common are a strong rejection of the unilateralism and reliance on "hard
power" of President George W. Bush's first term and a commitment to engage
diplomatically with Washington's key international foes or rivals, including
Iran, North Korea, Syria, and Russia.
They also likely agree on the importance of both restoring and strengthening
traditional U.S. alliances that were badly battered by the Bush administration's
record, particularly its conduct of the "global war on terror" and
the Iraq war, and enhancing cooperation with major emerging powers, notably
China, India, and Brazil.
They range along an ideological spectrum from Republican realists like Gates,
a career intelligence officer who served in top national security spots under
Presidents Reagan and the two Bushes, to Rice, a liberal interventionist who
served as President Bill Clinton's chief Africa adviser and as one of Obama's
closest foreign policy aides during the presidential campaign.
Both Clinton and Biden, whom Obama chose as his running-mate in major part
for his longtime service on the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, lean somewhat
to the liberal side of the spectrum. However, the policy-making center of gravity,
particularly if, as expected, Jones's office becomes the key locus for policy
coordination, is likely to be with the realists, who have been ascendant during
the younger Bush's second term, particularly since Gates joined the administration
in November 2006, and Adm. Michael Mullen became chairman of the Joint Chiefs
"With Gates staying on at the Pentagon and Jones in the White House, the
realists will have more leverage," according to Steven Clemons, the director
of the American Strategy project at the New America Foundation, who added that,
if not handled carefully, "there's a chance we could end up with warfare
between the liberal interventionists and the structural realists" comparable
in some ways to the battle between the hawks led by Vice President Dick Cheney
and the realists led initially by former Secretary of State Colin Powell and
later by Gates that bedeviled the Bush administration.
Jones, who spent most of his youth in France and retired from military service
in 2006 after a three-year term as NATO's Supreme Allied Commander in Europe
(SACEUR), is seen as a realist thinker very much in the mold of ret. Gen. Brent
Scowcroft, who served as national security adviser to both Gerald Ford and George
H.W. Bush and mentored both Gates and Powell during the latter's administration.
Jones currently serves on the advisory board of the Scowcroft Institute at Texas
Although active duty at the time, Jones echoed Scowcroft in voicing serious
reservations about the hawks' plans to oust Iraqi President Saddam Hussein before
the 2003 invasion. He reportedly rejected the administration's efforts in 2006
to recruit him for deputy secretary of state and commander of the U.S. Central
Command (Centcom), which covers the Greater Middle East and Central Asia, after
he completed his term as SACEUR.
"He's a very forward-looking military officer with a strong strategic
sense, much like a Marine [version of] Powell," ret. Col. Lawrence Wilkerson,
Powell's former chief of staff, told IPS. "And, like Powell, he's also
a consummate politician and a very smart one who understands that there are
global challenges beyond conventional security threats out there that will require
Washington to work closely with other countries."
Since his retirement, Jones has served on commissions to investigate progress
in training Iraqi security forces and on the situation in Afghanistan, about
which his warnings that NATO and allied forces were losing the war had a major
impact here earlier this year. In 2007 was appointed by Secretary of State Condoleezza
Rice as a special envoy to promote greater security cooperation between Israel
and the Palestinian Authority (PA).
While Jones's career has been largely centered in Europe and the Middle East
indeed, he is the current chairman of the influential Atlantic Council
here Blair's has been more Asia-oriented; indeed, his last posting was
Commander of the U.S. Pacific Command (Pacom) where he became best known for
cultivating closer military-to-military relations with China, earning him the
disfavor of former Pentagon chief Donald Rumsfeld.
Since his retirement from the Navy in 2002, he has also served as president
of the government's Institute of Defense Analyses and reportedly is close to
While both Gates and Mullen have argued against Obama's pledge to withdraw
all U.S. combat forces from Iraq within 16 months of his inaugural Jan. 20,
most analysts believe that they as well as Jones, Blair, and other members
of the team share the president-elect's larger strategic goals to stabilize
the Greater Middle East and reducing the strain on overstretched U.S. ground
This to be achieved by accelerating training of Iraqi and Afghan government
security forces; encouraging political reconciliation between the countries'
governments and insurgent forces willing to break all ties with al Qaeda and
other "irreconcilable" groups; and aggressively pursue regional diplomacy
backed by Europe, China and Russia that will create a more stable security structure
from the eastern Mediterranean to India.
That agenda also includes engagement with Iran and Syria, as well as intensified
efforts to gain a peace agreement between Israel and the Palestinians, if not
the entire Arab League, a goal which Scowcroft, in an important column co-written
with President Jimmy Carter's national security adviser, Zbigniew Brzezinski,
and published in the 'Washington Post' last week, has argued should be a top
priority of the new administration.
"I think Gates wants a chance to make those kinds of leaps, and Jones
is on the same page," said Clemons. "My hunch is that Hillary Clinton
and [James] Steinberg [her likely deputy] will work collaboratively to achieve
As to the strong presence of senior military officials on the team, according
to Clemons, it not only gets the most powerful foreign-policy bureaucracy on
board, but it also "protects Obama from critics who are prepared to call
him the 'appeaser-in-chief'."
(Inter Press Service)