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Daniel W. Drezner

In other news, gravity still exists

As Peter Feaver observed over at Shadow Government, there’s an ever-increasing number of leaks coming from the Obama administration on foreign policy.  Beyond the drip-drip-drip on the Afghan strategic review, the foreign policy community is now agog at Massimo Calabresi and Michael Weisskopf’s story in Time on the rise and fall of Greg Craig, Obama’s ...

As Peter Feaver observed over at Shadow Government, there’s an ever-increasing number of leaks coming from the Obama administration on foreign policy. 

Beyond the drip-drip-drip on the Afghan strategic review, the foreign policy community is now agog at Massimo Calabresi and Michael Weisskopf’s story in Time on the rise and fall of Greg Craig, Obama’s first White House Counsel.  Former colleague Laura Rozen labels it as, "one of the most devastating accounts to have emerged of the Obama White House."

Calabresi and Weisskopf’s story contains astonishing revelations, like the following: 

  • Obama’s foreign policy preferences changed as he confronted political realities;
  • As time has passed, Obama has paid more attention to the political ramifications of his national security decisions;
  • There were fierce bureaucratic battles over the release of national security memoranda;
  • Greg Craig’s influence waned when his policy recommendations produced political blowback;
  • Over time, Obama has tried to balance national security concerns with his desire to unwind some of the Bush administraton’s excessive actions.
  • People who oppose Greg Craig did so mostly for short-sighted political reasons.

Well, blow me down.  

I don’t mean to belittle those who either ardently support or ardently oppose the initial efforts to eliminate the legacies of Guantanamo and the like.  But stories that reveal politicians to be acting, er, politically don’t really cause my jaw to drop. 

The only interesting thing I found in this piece was the part Rozen excerpted:

Obama arrived at Emanuel’s office a few minutes later, took off his windbreaker and sat down at a table lined with about a dozen national-security and political advisers. He asked each to state a position and then convened an impromptu debate, selecting Craig and McDonough to argue opposing sides. Craig deployed one of Obama’s own moral arguments: that releasing the memos "was consistent with taking a high road" and was "sensitive to our values and our traditions as well as the rule of law." Obama paused, then decided in favor of Craig, dictating a detailed statement explaining his position that would be released the next day.

But for Craig, it turned out to be a Pyrrhic victory. Four days later, former Vice President Dick Cheney attacked Obama on Fox News Channel for dismantling the policies he and Bush had put in place to keep the country safe. More significant was the reaction within Obama’s camp. Democratic pollsters charted a disturbing trend: a drop in Obama’s support among independents, driven in part by national-security issues. Emanuel quietly delegated his aides to get more deeply involved in the process. Damaged by the episode, Craig was about to suffer his first big setback.

In other words, the  median American voters are comfortable with using illiberal means to protect the national interest (hmmm… that sounds familiar).  And, shock upon shock, politicians respond to public attitudes.   

Daniel W. Drezner is a professor of international politics at the Fletcher School of Law and Diplomacy at Tufts University and the author of Theories of International Politics and Zombies. His latest book is The Toddler in Chief. Twitter: @dandrezner

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