When President-elect Barack Obama announces his national security team next week, the most obvious break ushered in will be from his promise for dramatic foreign policy change. For while Senator Obama ran his campaign around a mantra of change, his team will consist without exception of experienced, and hawkish, elder statesmen who seem set to drive America’s foreign policy around the same old, familiar roads that Obama ran so firmly against.
Comparing his Secretary of Defense to the current one is easy, because its the same person. Robert Gates was brought in by the Bush Administration to serve as a less boorish replacement for the unpopular Donald Rumsfeld, but his reputation as a pragmatist seems somewhat tarnished by his unflappable optimism as the Afghan war, which the Obama Administration will make a cornerstone of its assorted military endeavors, seems worse than ever.
His Secretary of State, Senator and former First Lady Hillary Clinton, with whom Obama engaged in a particularly ugly Democratic Presidential primary. Clinton condemned Obama as too naive and inexperienced to lead, while Obama ran ads condemning the head of his new State Department as reckless and lacking in judgment. Not too reckless to be at the center of his foreign policy team, it would appear.
Then there’s retired General James Jones, former Marine commandant and Supreme Allied Commander for NATO who will be taken over as National Security Adviser. Early indications are that Gen. Jones will be given almost unprecedented power for his position, and he has previously advocated NATO forces in the West Bank.
All three have a history of bipartisanship on foreign policy, but only to the extent that both parties have leaned toward hawkish stances on the major decisions of the last few decades. The composition of his cabinet suggests President-elect Obama’s policy will differ materially from the President Bush of 2004, but only to the extent that the 2008 model of Bush is.