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Ill-defined fears about Obama’s team

I don’t have strong feelings yet about Barack Obama’s new national security team. For one thing, it’s far too early to tell how they will work together and what policy approaches they will take to the major challenges of the day — be it battling terrorism and militancy in South Asia, withdrawing from Iraq, or ...

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I don’t have strong feelings yet about Barack Obama’s new national security team. For one thing, it’s far too early to tell how they will work together and what policy approaches they will take to the major challenges of the day — be it battling terrorism and militancy in South Asia, withdrawing from Iraq, or combating climate change. President-elect Obama is a smart guy who has thus far demonstrated excellent judgment, and chances are his vaunted “Team of Rivals” will be very successful under his leadership.

That said, I do have what you might call “inchoate fears” about the Obama administration. Here are my biggest worries, and I stress here that these are worst-case scenarios, not predictions:

James L. Jones, for all his gravitas, will prove to be unimaginative as national security advisor. He seems to have risen to his present level of bipartisan esteem with very little scrutiny, even though his record — getting NATO more involved in Afghanistan, improving security in the Palestinian territories, stabilizing Darfur, opposing the surge in Iraq, promoting an industry-friendly energy policy completely at odds with Obama’s approach — is certainly open to question.

Hillary Clinton won’t be able to develop the close relationship with Barack Obama that a secretary of state needs to be effective. Her past positions on Israel suggest that she might hew too closely to a diplomatic line that failed in the 1990s and be too reticent to put pressure on Israel to stop the settlements. She will be cautious to a fault toward Iran. Her managerial skills, as demonstrated by her dysfunctional primary campaign, will prove disastrous within the State Department’s sprawling, leak-prone bureaucracy. The national security council staff, full of Obama loyalists from the campaign, will work to undermine her.

Bob Gates will be seen as a lame duck within the Pentagon and he won’t be able to effect the sweeping administrative changes and massive shifts in budget priorities the Department of Defense needs. The forces of the status quo will simply wait him out. He and his generals will not feel comfortable with Obama’s timetable for withdrawal from Iraq. And if the situation in Afghanistan continues to deteriorate, he will become the fall guy as the lone Republican in the cabinet.

Joe Biden will chafe at being kept in a box and develop a pet issue, such as his widely panned plan for Iraq, on which his ideas are bad but Obama doesn’t have the wherewithal to rein him in.

Barack Obama will be so distracted by the all-consuming global economic meltdown that he will be surprised or unprepared for a national-security crisis that, in retrospect, will appear to have been obvious and inevitable.

Readers, what are your biggest fears about the Obama team?

Photo: JIM WATSON/AFP/Getty Images

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