Sunday, December 07, 2008

Who has the President-elect's foreign policy ear?

By Carol Gee

Liberal Washington think tanks assume they will have finally have influence with the advent of a new Democratic administration. And others with a more rightist bent will certainly not give up their 8 years of being influential easily. Today's post explores a few news items that cover a bit of the jockeying to get the new president's ear on foreign affairs, and will give clues as to possible directions the next administration might be taking.

Center for American Progress? -- Recommendations from a group of national security experts regarding how to quickly get a handle on national security issues, are published in this transition manual [30-pg. pdf]. The Center for American Progress’s president, John Podesta, is heading Obama’s transition effort. Michael Signer, who headed of the homeland security transition initiative, said he "expects the Obama administration’s homeland security apparatus to be less ideological and more transparent in its dealings with the public." The story is here: "Note to Self? Check Out Terror Prep Advice Given to Transition Chief" from CQ Politics - In Transition blog 0f 11/17. To quote:

The Obama transition team is said to be considering at least three of the proposals. One would be to have top officials conduct a simulated terror attack - known as a “tabletop exercise” - soon after taking office in January that would help them identify overlapping agency responsibilities and get acquainted with the minute-by-minute decisions necessary to respond to a single catastrophic event or coordinated series of attacks. A second proposal would be to make the Secretary of Homeland Security one of the president’s first Cabinet appointments. This action would reinforce that domestic security remains a top priority, even though the economy and war in Iraq received have received far more attention.

The more controversial action would involve dissolving the Bush administration’s Homeland Security Council - an internal brain trust within the White House - and fold its responsibilities into the National Security Council. Critics of the current arrangement say the two councils have overlapping functions, making it difficult to envision where homeland security ends and national security begins. However, dissolving the homeland security panel might signal a less vigilant stance on the part of the new administration and overload the NSC with extra responsibilities, such as overseeing state and local counter terroism efforts. The Bush administration set up the Homeland Security Council in the aftermath of the Sept. 11 terror attacks, initially to blunt calls for the creation of a stand-alone, Cabinet-level Homeland Security Department.

Brookings Institution? -- The story, from CQ Politics: "Obama Readies Shifts From Bush’s National Security Policies" (12/2/08) is a great analysis of what changes might be implemented. To quote:

During his presidential campaign, Barack Obama spoke about using diplomacy, nation-building and other non-military approaches to promote U.S. interests abroad. According to this world view, advancing living standards abroad could enhance security at home.

Yet Obama also displayed a willingness to use force to deal with militants along the Pakistan-Afghanistan border and other hot spots. This apparent embrace of counterinsurgency efforts and “small wars” raised questions about how different Obama’s views really were from those of President Bush.

If the unveiling of Obama’s national security team on Monday didn’t exactly answer those questions, it at least signalled that the president-elect is willing to engage in internal debates over hard power and soft power.

. . . Some clues about how the Obama administration might proceed can be found in a recently published Brookings Institution paper on diplomacy in the 21st century that incorporated the views of Jones, the incoming national security adviser, and former Clinton administration State Department counselor Wendy R. Sherman, an adviser to Obama’s transition team.

Washington Institute for Near East Policy (WINEP), and other hardline think tanks such as AIPAC, AEI, BPC, and UANI are still very much wanting to remain in the influence mix. Explore that whole scene via this obscure news source. The story, "Neocons still preparing for an Iran attack"# came from the Asia Times (12/4/08). Author Robert Dreyfuss' conclusion, about what is going on behind the scenes, raises some interesting questions:

Obama has, of course, repeatedly declared his intention to embark on a different path by opening talks with Iran. He's insisted that diplomacy, not military action, will be at the core of his approach to Tehran. During the election campaign, however, he also stated no less repeatedly that he will not take the threat of military action "off the table".

Organizations like WINEP, AIPAC, AEI, BPC, and UANI see it as their mission to push the United States toward a showdown with Iran. Don't sell them short. Those who believe that such a confrontation would be inconceivable under president Obama ought to ask Tony Lake, Susan Rice, Dennis Ross, Tom Daschle and Richard Holbrooke whether they agree - and, if so, why they're still palling around with neo-conservative hardliners.

Commission on the Prevention of Weapons of Mass Destruction Proliferation and Terrorism -- This commission was established by Congress. I am not sure if its leaders have the clout to take it very far as a mechanism of influence. President-elect Obama, however, already has an abiding interest in the field of nuclear nonproliferation. So he might pick up on the report: "Commission Warns Threat of Biological, Nuclear Attack Growing," from CQ Politics (12/2/08). To quote:

The report, set for official release Wednesday, contains a sharp critique of domestic and foreign policy, coupled with wide-ranging recommendations on controlling biological agents and containing nuclear proliferation. It also has many recommendations for Congress, including consolidating homeland security oversight and creating a new appropriations subcommittee.

“U.S. policy and strategy have made progress, but have not kept pace with the growing risks,” wrote the panel, formally known as the Commission on the Prevention of Weapons of Mass Destruction Proliferation and Terrorism. “The terrorists have been active too, and in our judgment America’s margin of safety is shrinking, not growing.”

Several of the commissioners have advised the Obama campaign or transition, and several recommendations square with Obama’s policy views. Among the panel members, Wendy Sherman is a national security “team leader” in Obama’s transition, and Richard Verma serves on his defense transition team.

It is clear that Washington's think tanks, study groups, commissions of grey-beards, academics, pundits and experts all have ideas to which they want our next president to listen. And that leaves out all the ideas and requests of his million+ grass roots supporters. A coalition of grass roots organizers met in Washington this week and Valerie Jarrett, head of domestic policy, was in attendance. She has had the ear of the president-elect for 20 years.

HHS Secretary-designate Gov. Janet Napolitano, or members of her team, could surely benefit from watching the C-SPAN videos of Wednesday's day-long series of expert panels, "A Path Forward: Constitutional Protections in Homeland Security." The meetings came out of the House Homeland Security Committee, chaired by Rep. Bennie Thompson (D-MS). It was one of the most interesting recent efforts to educate the public (to me as a civil libertarian).

National Security News References from CQ's David C. Morrison:

  1. Department of Homeland Security Secretary-designate? -- CQ Homeland Security - "Behind the Lines," (12/3/08). To quote:

    Napolitano Bonaparte: . . . DHS chief-designate Janet Napolitano’s gubernatorial experience seemingly makes her a natural. . . As DHS chief, Napolitano would direct the Real ID program, which she opposed as Arizona’s governor, The New York Times’ Matthew L. Wald points out. “Napolitano must be ready to discuss what's working and what isn't,” The Washington Post editorializes this morning.

  2. "In Transition" regarding Intel -- CQ Homeland Security(12/4/08). To quote:

    Obama’s foreign policy brain trust needs “a coherent intellectual framework - and a winning battle plan - for the globe-spanning asymmetrical conflict that George W. Bush calls the ‘war on terror,’” the Post’s Eugene Robinson rumbles. Having lambasted its terror-war tactics on the hustings, taking control of the CIA is one of “the more treacherous patches” of Obama’s transition to governance, the Times’ Mark Mazetti and Scott Shane survey. A dozen retired generals met with Obama’s top legal advisers Wednesday to urge overturning certain Bush administration terror-fighting policies, The Associated Press’ Pamela Hess reports.

Hat Tip Key: Regular contributors of links to leads are betmo* and Jon#.

(Cross-posted 12/4/08 at South by Southwest.)

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