David Rothkopf

Didn’t Madeleine Albright once say something about cojones?

This blog is an experiment. Don’t worry, though. You, the reader, are not the guinea pigs. I am the crash test dummy here. I must be nuts for attempting to offer a running commentary on what’s going on in Washington just as the Obama administration takes over. I am a Democrat. Many of the people set ...

This blog is an experiment. Don’t worry, though. You, the reader, are not the guinea pigs. I am the crash test dummy here. I must be nuts for attempting to offer a running commentary on what’s going on in Washington just as the Obama administration takes over. I am a Democrat. Many of the people set to serve in the administration are friends of mine. Who knows, once my daughters are out of college, I may even want to go back into the government. I enjoyed my couple of years in the Clinton administration. Don’t let anyone tell you otherwise: while having a high-level job in the government comes with a variety of built-in irritants, it is fun and rewarding. It’s exciting flying around the world in planes that say "United States of America" on the side or going to meetings in the White House Situation Room. Certainly, it’s a far cry from what I expected growing up in New Jersey, where excitement consisted of a pre-prom night dinner at Rod’s Steak House and with some luck a post-prom night moment parked somewhere on the edges of the Great Swamp.

But if I have a shred of integrity, doing this blog will almost certainly assure I will never serve in this or any other administration. Especially since my focus is the people at the top, the President and his key advisors, and will reflect my broad interests in national security, international economic and political issues. In other words, I’ll be offering advice to powerful people who already feel they know it all and who think Dems like me ought to devote ourselves to being cheerleaders. Trust me, I don’t have the legs for it but that’ll hardly be explanation enough for them.

It was so much easier when the targets in office were from the other party. It took no courage to travel in the predominantly Democratic circles I do (and yes, that means the media, academic and think tank worlds which are, true to stereotype, much more Democratic than Republican) and take shots at the Bush administration. And by the last couple of years of the Bush term, you could be sitting in the Roadkill Bar and Grill in Crawford, Texas, and no one would push back if you took issue with pretty much everything Bush did. But now the people in power…in the White House and on Capitol Hill…are Democrats. What’s more, the country –wracked by economic crisis and international challenges — is desperate for things to work out, so much so that we have recently experienced a period of massive suspension of our critical judgment. This, we seem to be saying, is no time for doubting, it’s a time for rabbits’ feet and lighting candles to the deity of your choice. 

Of course, such moments are when we get ourselves into trouble. If you doubt it, you need only go back to the national wave of groupthink that followed 9/11. Seeking retribution, we accepted ideas that in retrospect were preposterous — like the notion that terrorism was the primary challenge to U.S. national security for the 21st century. And so, even as we emptied our coffers and grew dependent on foreign lenders, fell behind in educating our children, ignored peril to the global environment, failed to deal with proliferation of weapons of mass destruction and understand seismic shifts in the global balance of power, we allowed ourselves to be persuaded that we really needed to focus on a few thousand bad guys living in caves and a government with which they had virtually no ties in Baghdad. We suspended our national critical faculties and ushered in the most calamitous period in U.S. foreign policy history.

So if we take the lessons of the past few years to heart, even those who deeply want Barack Obama to succeed (and it is hard to conceive of a sane American who does not) have got to summon up what it takes to challenge him. We’ve got to be able to rigorously evaluate the choices the new government makes — in terms of our national interests, stripped of party and political considerations. And if this blog is to be worth a moment of your time, it needs to man up and do the same. Which is to say that I do. 

So the question before us is whether I have the cojones to do it. Back in New Jersey, known primarily as we are for the way our state smells, we are famous for precious little else — besides perhaps Springsteen, saltwater taffy, and some real contributions to the technology of landfill development. Oh, those things and cojones. So we’ll see. I have lived inside the Beltway a long time, and as anyone who follows what’s going on in Washington knows, that’s a beltway that tends to cut off the flow of blood to most of the vital parts good leaders really need to succeed.

So, we’ll see. Do I have that shred of integrity? We’ll all have to find out together.

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