Monday, September 10, 2007

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The 2008 foreign affairs advisor sweepstakes

As I wrote during the last election cycle, foreign policy advisors tend to gravitate towards the candidate they think is the frontrunner -- which makes them a possible leading indicator for which way the race will go.

Via Ross Douthat, I see that Michael Hirsch has done some legwork on this subject for Newsweek's web site.

Two facts stand out. The first is that Obama has held his own vis-à-vis Clinton:

A group of prominent former senior officials in Bill Clinton's administration are informally working for Obama by taking charge of his advisory groups on different regions and issues. Among them: Richard Clarke, the counterterrorism czar from both the Clinton and Bush administrations; Jeffrey Bader, the Mandarin-speaking former director for Asian affairs on Clinton's National Security Council and assistant U.S. trade representative; former Mideast envoys Rob Malley and Dennis Ross; and the recently retired career CIA official and former Clinton-era National Security Council expert on South Asia, Bruce Riedel. Obama has also managed to recruit a large number of former junior and midlevel Clinton officials, especially many who served on Clinton's National Security Council. Among them: Mona Sutphen, Sandy Berger's former special assistant; ex-Clarke deputy Roger Cressey; former NSC Russia director Mark Brzezinski; Sarah Sewell, a former deputy assistant secretary of defense; and Philip Gordon, a former Clinton NSC director for Europe. (Some of these officials, like Riedel, Ross and Malley insist they are giving advice to anyone who asks, including Hillary.)

The more experienced Hillary Clinton, meanwhile, has relied largely on her husband and a triumvirate of senior officials from his presidency—former secretary of state Madeleine Albright, former U.N. ambassador Richard Holbrooke and former national-security adviser Sandy Berger (who tries to keep a low profile after pleading guilty in 2005 to misdemeanor charges of taking classified material without authorization). Hillary also consults with an informal group of 30 less prominent advisers. But she has shown increasing anxiety over Obama's active recruiting effort—so much so that she recently hired Lee Feinstein, a prominent and well-connected scholar at the Council on Foreign Relations, to launch an "outreach" program similar to Obama's. Perhaps the hardest loss for the Clintonites is Greg Craig, the former lawyer for President Clinton who, along with former Albright protégée Susan Rice, a Clinton-era assistant secretary of state for Africa, and former national-security adviser Tony Lake, is considered one of Obama's closest confidants.

Craig told me he hadn't felt any hostility from his former colleagues in the Clinton inner circle. But other former Bill Clinton aides who have lined up with Obama say they have been warned that if Hillary wins the nomination their disloyalty will be remembered. Indeed, many junior or midlevel officials from the Clinton national security team continue to gravitate to Obama because they are wary of what one describes as Hillary's "closed circle." "A lot of us associated with the Clinton presidency had great feelings of loyalty to Bill Clinton, but those didn't extend to Hillary," says Obama Asia expert Jeffrey Bader. "I'm not a great believer in dynasties." Another official says, "There is a sense consciously or subconsciously that we don't want to just go back to same team: Holbrooke, Sandy, Madeleine...the same people having the same arguments about who's going to be in the room."

The second interesting fact is that this metric demonstrates how bad Republicans have it right now:
The Republican candidates have the opposite problem: with the president's popularity at Nixonian lows and his foreign policy in broad disfavor with the electorate, nobody is rushing to hire the president's team. Normally, candidates would rush to seek the counsel of high-powered alumni of the president's foreign policy team. But so many of its members—like neocon hawks Paul Wolfowitz and Douglas Feith—are now thought to be tainted, their views are not widely welcomed. (An exception: the highly respected Robert Zoellick, former U.S. trade rep and deputy secretary of state. But Zoellick took himself out of the game when he replaced Wolfowitz as World Bank president in May.) At the same time, the Republicans' conservative base doesn't have much taste for the realists who dominated foreign-policy thinking in past GOP administrations (except for über-adviser Henry Kissinger, who has managed to transcend these divides with the same aplomb he has shown in past campaigns). For Republicans "there's no upside in declaring, 'These are my advisers.' The base hates realists, and neocons are too controversial," says sometime Romney adviser Dan Senor, former spokesman for the Coalition Provisional Authority in Iraq. "So the thinking is, don't define yourself by foreign-policy advisers."

posted by Dan on 09.10.07 at 11:34 PM


The irony, of course, is that Obama keeps talking about how he represents change.. blah blah blah... but as this article shows, practically his entire team is an incestuous mix of former Clinton officials. For god's sake, with almost 300,000,000 people in the USA, is it really that hard to find qualified people to advise you? It's just pathetic.

posted by: Joe M. on 09.10.07 at 11:34 PM [permalink]

I don't know that Henry Kissinger's aplomb has much to do with anything by this time. The man is 85 years old, after all.

This is really an important factor where Republican and foreign policy are concerned: the guys who know the subject and are not closely associated with the Bush administration are mostly old men. Kissinger, Scowcroft, Schultz, Lugar, Warner, Baker -- there isn't one among this group who is any younger than 75. A Presidential candidate might ask any one of them for advice, but couldn't use them as advisers -- that is, as possible senior officials in the next Republican administration. If you're a GOP Presidential candidate who doesn't have much of a background in foreign policy yourself, that's a problem.

Or maybe not, if you are running on a platform of extending the Bush administration foreign policy for another four years.

posted by: Zathras on 09.10.07 at 11:34 PM [permalink]

Re: 2008 election and 4~8 year aftermath -- 'yawn' wake me when it's over.

posted by: Useless Sam Grant on 09.10.07 at 11:34 PM [permalink]


It's not really an age issue on the Republican side. There are plenty of Bush I apparatchiks in their 50s and 60s, and plenty of sensible jv players from Bush II, who are capable moderate realist internationalists. Some of them are, in fact, already advising various players (e.g., Mitch Reiss is Romney's foreign policy guy). They're just not big names the public would know, and their positions aren't particularly sexy either to a Republican primary audience or, frankly, a general electorate, so there's no reason to highlight the issue.


posted by: lamont cranston on 09.10.07 at 11:34 PM [permalink]

Hillary Clinton has more experience than Obama how? He was a state senator for a few years. I hope people aren't counting her years as First Lady.

posted by: Joe Klein's conscience on 09.10.07 at 11:34 PM [permalink]

Sadly, the fact that Sandy Berger's right back in the action after badly mishandling classified documents is not surprising nor stands out that much.

posted by: John Thacker on 09.10.07 at 11:34 PM [permalink]

Dan, It is not that Obama is keeping up with Clinton, it is that he has vastly out done her in signing up foreign policy advisors. She has the old senior types. He has almost all of the younger types.

posted by: dave on 09.10.07 at 11:34 PM [permalink]

The only prize in this whole collection is Holbrooke. I'm sure he's a big jerk and all, but he also is the only member of the old Clinton crowd who seemed to have strategic acumen and a clue about how to advance a policy in the face of opposition. To paraphrase Wellington, "I don't know if he scares the enemy, but he scares me." That's a quality distinctly lacking in the oh-so-moderate "realists" and international legalists who represent the bulk of the Democratic foreign policy intelligentsia.

posted by: srp on 09.10.07 at 11:34 PM [permalink]

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