- By Daniel W. Drezner
Daniel W. Drezner is professor of international politics at the Fletcher School of Law and Diplomacy at Tufts University and a senior editor at The National Interest. Prior to Fletcher, he taught at the University of Chicago and the University of Colorado at Boulder. Drezner has received fellowships from the German Marshall Fund of the United States, the Council on Foreign Relations, and Harvard University. He has previously held positions with Civic Education Project, the RAND Corporation, and the Treasury Department.
Commentary‘s Jennifer Rubin is reacting way out of proportion to David Axelrod’s tour of the Sunday morning talk shows. That said, she’s got a germ of a good point:
David Axelrod — a political operative who now seems at the center of foreign-policy formulation (more on this later) — went on the Fox, ABC, and NBC Sunday talk shows to repeat how insulted the Obami were over Israeli building in Jerusalem and what an affront this was to them….
[I]t might have something to do with the fact that Axelrod and the Chicago pols are running foreign policy. It’s attack, attack, attack — just as they do any domestic critic.
Quibble away with Rubin’s characterization of "Chicago pols," but she does raise a decent question: why on God’s green earth is the Obama equivalent of Karl Rove talking about foreign policy in public?
Since the VP trip from Hell, it’s clear that the Obama administration has ratcheted up the rhetoric in private, in public, in press leaks and through multilateral channels to their Israeli counterparts. Given what transpired, it’s entirely appropriate that the Obama administration make its displeasure felt publicly.
Why Axelrod, however? Sure, the Sunday morning talk shows wanted to talk health care as well. And it’s true that Axelrod, thought of as pro-Israel, could send a tough signal. Still, couldn’t the administration have sent Hillary Clinton to one of the Sunday morning talk shows instead? Wouldn’t she have been the more appropriate spokesman.
I’ve spent enought time inside the Beltway to be leery of the gossipy tidbits I collect when I’m down there. That said, there was one persistent drumbeat I heard during my last sojourn — that Axelrod and the political advisors were acting as Obama’s foreign policy gatekeepers.
Now, I am shocked, shocked, that politicians are thinking about foreign policy in a political manner. That said, there is a balance to be struck between political and policy advisors. Even David Frum admitted that this balance got out of whack during the Bush administration. I’d like to see things return to to the pre-21st century equilibrium. It would be disturbing if the new equilibrium is that someone like David Axelrod becomes the foreign policy czar.
UPDATE: You know what’s particularly galling about this? When the political operatives fail to do their job and point out politically useful things to do in order to augment American foreign policy:
As an unusual public showdown between the Israeli and American administrations plays out, Hill sources say leading Congressional Democrats would be with the administration on this but would really like to get a phone call from Middle East peace envoy George Mitchell, currently en route back to the Middle East to try to salvage Israeli-Palestinian proximity talks.
As former Senate Majority Leader, Mitchell has credibility with the Senators, one staffer said. It would be really helpful if he makes some phone calls from the plane, to say we really need you to stay with the administration, we are trying to push the peace process forward, and if he would articulate some sort of vision, of where this next sort of piece of tactical fight is going.
This is not the first time one has heard this from Hill Democrats that they are feeling a bit in the dark, but at such a tense moment, it is hard not to be astonished that the administration was not working the phones to the Hill all weekend.
"Same exact mistake of the first two Clinton years with majorities in both Houses," one Washington Democratic foreign policy hand said. "You’d think they would have learned the lesson of ‘never take your allies for granted’ at least after this year."