Obama’s National Security Team

Posted by Katherine | December 4, 2008 – 8:08 am
James Jones
[scriptingnews / Flickr]

On Monday, Obama introduced his national security nominees. These include a Republican (Robert Gates) and a retired Marine general (James Jones) whose politics are opaque — as well as Democrats like Susan Rice and Eric Holder. The early reactions from the blogosphere were largely positive, even from some self-described liberal Dems.

Axuve Espinosa is a film and TV editor in NYC, and he blogs to mark his political evolution. He’s rather happy with Obama’s picks, though his feelings about Clinton are mixed: he admires her intelligence but not the way she ran her campaign. Overall, he thinks she might work out because she and Obama see largely eye to eye on the big stuff:

[W]hile I initially wondered why he chose her, I’m starting to see that it fits with Obama’s foreign policy beliefs and general character. […]

He and she may have differences on some things, but as he said today, on the overall course U.S. foreign policy should take, they are in, “almost complete agreement.” The point here is that what he really cares about is the overall shape of his foreign policy. The other, individual issues are simply not that important to him. He’s focusing on grand strategy, as is his tendency[…]

It’s entirely possible that this team works precisely because the U.S. is in such a bad place that what we have to do to get out of it is obvious to everybody. What happens later is a different story.

Forty-something Bryan McGrath served in the Navy for 21 years. When he was on active duty, he kept his politics mostly to himself. Now he’s letting loose with a center-right perspective. He’s largely bullish on Obama’s national security team but wonders whether James Jones is the right man for the job:

I think that the choice of General Jones as National Security Adviser is probably the weak link in this chain–not that I think the General is not capable of doing the job, but that I think the job (if done correctly) demands more of a consigliare or conciliator than a command figure. The NSA needs to make trains run on time, needs to make sure the National Security decision making apparatus functions smoothly. […] Given Mr. Gates’ (and Mrs. Clinton for that matter) thorough lack of political loyalty to PEBO, I think the NSA is going to have to be deft in handling disagreements between State and Defense. Putting that aside, these are substantial people who have all the requisite skills and power bases to get things done. Like his economic team, the national security team shows PEBO tacking to the center and distancing himself more and more from the fringes of his party.

Joseph Romm was acting assistant secretary of energy for energy efficiency during the Clinton years. Now at the Center for American Progress in DC, he blogs (probutcool-y) about global warming from a progressive perspective. Joseph argues that James Jones, though not known for his climate-friendly views, is not a reason for environmentalists to tear their hair out:

Let’s be clear here: Of the national security team, the NSA is all but irrelevant on the key issues of climate and domestic energy policy. Only the Secretary of State (SOS) really matters — and here PEBO chose a grand slam home run for climate science advocates (CSAs). […]

Seriously, the Commerce Secretary provides far more input than the NSA into domestic energy and climate policy, since he is supposed to represent U.S. business interests — and here again Obama hit a grand slam home run by picking Bill Richardson, who will represent the interests of the new green industries he has championed for so long, and not just traditional Chamber of Commerce types who oppose serious domestic action and who hire people like Jones to write lame old-school energy policies. […]

The NSC would play a role in international energy security crises, say a terrorist incident in Saudi Arabia. And here it is probably better than not to have somebody like Gen. Jones, who, besides his many obvious qualifications for the job of NSA, is quite knowledgeable on energy matters. But again, in my five years at DOE, I can’t remember the NSC once weighing in the formulation of domestic energy policy.

Lindsay Beyerstein, a probutcool freelance journalist from NYC, describes her views as “left liberal.” She disagrees with Joseph Romm:

I’m not buying Romm’s argument. First off, according to Politico, Obama is picking Jim Jones in large part because he’s interested in eliminating America’s dependence on foreign oil.

Energy is certainly a national security issue. […]

If seems inevitable that the next national security adviser will have more to say about domestic energy production. I don’t expect to hear much from Jones about energy conservation as a national security issue, even though it’s the logical flipside of increasing production.

Jones hails from the right wing Chamber of Commerce. He and his allies in the oil industry want to expand domestic drilling because oil prices are rising and they hope to make quick profits with taxpayer subsidies.

Sue J is a web developer and former public-school teacher. She puts her political science degree to work on her blog. Sue was leery of Obama when the campaign started — she “worried that his pie-in-the-sky oration would have no follow through” — but he’s been impressing her since the election:

First of all, there’s the fact that Obama understands the importance of having a team well in place before January 20, 2009. These folks will be up to speed and ready to roll when the job becomes theirs.

Secondly, of course is the fact that they are already up to speed. Naming Robert Gates surprised me, but on reflection I think it was a wise move. […] Naming Gates means utilizing the institutional knowledge that is crucial to getting a handle on this War. […]

The idealist in me is struggling to come out and play again. Could it really be true that we will have people in positions of power who know what they are doing and who actually have the public interest at heart, rather than their own oil profits?

[…] [Obama’s] actions and statements since being elected have shown a maturity and understanding of the gravity of the situation that we haven’t seen in, well, 8 years. I do believe I may have hope.

For more opinions on Clinton, check out our post about her here.


  1. 2 Responses to “Obama’s National Security Team”

  2. Thanks for the shout out and the link!

    By Sue J on Dec 4, 2008

  3. Being dependent of foreign oil for our main source of energy is a serious security risk. We are at their mercy. This past year the the damage that has been done to our economy and society by our dependence is immeasurable. The trickle down effect of the high prices we paid at the pump last year may never stop trickling in my lifetime. Record numbers of jobs and homes have been lost as direct result. The high cost of fuel used to manufacture and ship every consumer good imaginable was passed on to the consumer. Groceries are through the roof and in smaller packages. Electric bills have seen record rate hikes. Mine went up 16% and since the price of fuel came back down they had mercy on us and are going to cut it by 4%. Who is absorbing the rest, we are. We have to look at “the big picture.” Our days of tunnel vision need to cease. Our nation better wake up and smell the coffee. With all our bail outs along with the 168 billion economic stimulus package, that btw did nothing for our economy it is hard to understand why our government can’t see the need to bail us out of our dependence on foreign oil. Meanwhile, while we are busy doing the Happy Dance around the lower prices at the pumps, OPEC is planning to cut production to drive prices back up to between 75-100. per barrel. Why don’t we invest in America’s Energy Independence. It would cost the equivalent of 60 cents per gallon to charge and drive. The electricity used to charge the car could conceivably be generated by solar or wind. Why not invest some of these millions in getting some of these projects set up? Create clean cheap energy, badly needed new green collar jobs and reduce our dependence on foreign oil. What more of a win-win situation could there be? Now there is talk of another stimulus pkg. Don’t get me wrong, if you hand me a check I will take it. I am broke from this past year myself. I just think we are going about this all wrong. I just read a fascinating book by Jeff Wilson called The Manhattan Project of 2009 Energy Independence NOW. We need to look at the “big picture” This book Is the big picture. http://www.themanhattanprojectof2009.com

    By Sherry on Dec 4, 2008

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