Friday, November 28, 2008

The Obaminet: National Security

Three new names on the Obama rolls:

John Brennan. Actually, John Brennan isn't in the incoming cabinet, but I would like to point out his conspicious absence, and the letter that announced it. Now, I wasn't at the CIA, and I can't judge how disingenuous or not disingenuous his claim of being passed over because of his opposition to waterboarding is, but what is clear is that A) he did not fight waterboarding outside of the White House, and that B) he was in favor of other methods of torture.

There comes a time to resign. There is a point in a Presidential Administration where if you stay, you are responsible for the Administration's actions. Say what you will about Colin Powell dissenting in private: he stayed in the Administration, and therefore he bears the responsibility of the War in Iraq.

I'm glad that the Obama Administration understands that (I can't believe that the letter was published without Obama's staff knowing). The point is, at least someone had to pay something for their involvement in this terrible event in our history.

Robert Gates. This name has been on the list since the days of the campaign, and the only thing that may have surprised some people (who expected Obama to be a big turn to the left) is that the name is still on the list. I like the rumor I've heard that he may only stay for one year (read: he may only stay until we're out of Iraq). Although Gates has overseen a period of significant progress in Iraq (still not nearly enough), it's difficult to say how much he personally is responsible for that (although this is the reverse flip-side of the aforementioned institutionalized responsibility), and Afghanistan has most certainly not improved (see below).

Also, I do want to see a good solid Democrat replace this position once Gates leaves. I am a little frustrated that the appearance is of there being no qualified commanders on the left. I am very, very much in favor of the next Secretary of Defense being ret. Gen Wesley Clark; Clark is an extremely competent man, a very humble man, a great public figure (if not a very inspiring leader, in the political sense). He's also a Democrat, to prove that we Dems can run our own military.

But that's a consideration that should come second after "who is most competent." I only put forward Clark's name because I think he's very competent (to the limited degree that I, outside the military, can judge competence).

Adm Jim Jones. Another of the "very competent crowd," and someone who John McCain was looking to put in the same position--a nice touch on both scores. But what I find even more important than his position in the marine corps is his position as a former commander of NATO. Right now, our involvement in Afghanistan is going from poor to piss-poor, and part of the problem (or result) is an increasing strain among the relations of NATO nations. France and Germany want to avoid being heavily involved in the fighting, to the dismay of Canada, the UK, and the US. A former NATO Commander in the White House signals a greater degree of military cooperation; the President of the United States will be getting his advice from someone who has worked closely with the military of each of these countries, and as the new President looks to formulate a new plan in Afghanistan (the one thing I haven't heard from him), he's going to be hearing a lot about Europe's role in this.

This inclusion of Europe will apply to other national security issues. How does Europe play into the Israel-Palestine situation? How does it play into the Iran situation? India-Pakistan relations may be the new front to test Obama. No matter what, Europe will be involved in the future of our security. Walking away from that deeply historic bond was one of the greatest failures of the Bush Administration, and walking back will be Obama's first big improvement over our national security environment.

So far, my enthusiasm about Obama's picks have ranged from caution to applause. But Obama's picks are not going to be important based on his reasoning going in. They're going to be judged by what they result in. These three are fairly safe bets, politically; some of his other picks (Clinton most of all) are true political gambles. If they pay off, they pay off big.

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