Time to get down to business (UPDATED)

Congratulations to Barrack Obama for his victory.  But now that the campaign is over, let’s get down to business and start talking about his foreign policy in practice.    I’m expecting to see evidence of this promised change right off the bat.  Simply being elected does not constitute “change,” which entails doing things differently then they were done before.   What would “change” look like in this initial period of his Presidency?

Obama has no experience or expertise in foreign affairs which in itself is not necessarily a bad thing or unusual.  He’s a politician and no President in recent history (except THE_FATHER)  has come to office with either.  What’s important, therefore, is who he chooses as his top advisors. 

Lets start with National Security Advisor.  If we made a list of the top 10  American global security challenges,  probably 9 would be directly or indirectly related to the Middle East.  Therefore, wouldn’t it be logical to pick someone who is a specialist on the region?  Someone who could go to a conference of Middle Eastern scholars and hold their own discussing regional, history, politics, and culture and not purely strategy from a narrow perspective of American interests?   None of the last four NSA’s ( Rice, Hadley,  Berger,  or Lake)   were experts on the Middle East.  Has policy been especially stellar during this period (1993-2008)?   

Change to me here would mean picking someone without an agenda and who gives the President advise on the top security dilemmas based on their genuine experience and expertise in the region.   There is one person who would be a very good choice.   Some of the candidates being considered have zero claim to have regional expertise.   While there’s no requirement that NSA be an expert in anything,  it seems to me intimate knowledge of the Middle East, considering America’s current problems, is critical.  Who will Obama choose?

Some might be saying well lets celebrate first and let it all soak in.  No- there’s no time for that.  The team needs to be put it place very quickly as critical decisions about Afgan-Pakistan policy need to be taken well before Obama formally takes office on January 20th.   From the NY Times:

WASHINGTON — Two weeks ago, senior Bush administration officials gathered in secret with Afghanistan experts from NATO and the United Nations at an exclusive Washington club a few blocks from the White House. The group was there to deliver a grim message: the situation in Afghanistan is getting worse.

 Their audience: advisers from the presidential campaigns of John McCain and Barack Obama.

Over two days, according to participants in the discussions, the experts laid bare Afghanistan’s most pressing issues. They sought to make clear that the next president needed to have a plan for Afghanistan before he took office on Jan. 20. Otherwise, they said, it could be too late.

With American casualties on the rise and Taliban militias gaining new strength, experts on Afghanistan say the next president will need to decide swiftly if he intends to send more troops there, because even after deployment orders are issued, it could take weeks or months for American forces to arrive.

Time is of the essence.  UPDATE: Read Judah’s post  at WPR which adds some additional insights to this post.


What would I do if I was NSA?  Sometime in the next couple weeks I will be posting my comprehensive region wide, country by country and issue by issue recomendations to the new President.

10 Responses

  1. Here is a list of possible Obama cabinet members:


    That is just speculation but still no regional experts. Which I think is a good thing. Obama will have a lot of regional experts talking to him but for the primary adviser I think the most important thing to do is to be able to prioritize and balance competing objectives. A middle east expert or any other regional expert would probably give disproportionate weight to the middle east or whatever other region he’s an expert in.

  2. im not looking for any magic formula. whatever works works. i used the position of NSA in the post but im more broadly refering to his team of advisors.

    my point is that he needs to have people advising him who know how Afghanistan, Pakistan, Iraq, and Iran operate. Someone who is a lawyer in International law or someone with a PhD in IR theory is unlikely to be able to give him that kind of advice.

    and I would say that unusually, at this point in US history, almost all of the most important security issues are related to the middle east. He needs disproportionate weight in this region.

    And in theory the NSA maybe is supposed to be someone who manages the priorities as you say. But it seems to me that, in practice, they give opinions of “what should be done” in a given region, based largely on their opinions. If their opinions are not based on expertise, than is the president getting the best advice?

  3. “my point is that he needs to have people advising him who know how Afghanistan, Pakistan, Iraq, and Iran operate.”

    Right, but that advice should come from people like the Assistant Sec State for the Near East.

    “and I would say that unusually, at this point in US history, almost all of the most important security issues are related to the middle east”

    Yeah but assuming the NSA will be there for four years, you never know what might happen in 2011. You will want someone who is able to evaluate Iran, Georgia/Russia, Darfur and Congo all equally. It is definitely important for Obama to keep experts on the middle east around him though. I think I am just disagreeing on semantics – whether the person has to be the official adviser or not.

  4. […] at Arabic Media Shack starts by examining potential National Security Advisors, and suggests Bruce Reidel for the […]

  5. true- but in theory what you say is true, but at the end of the day the NSA is giving the final word. they might be being advised by experts but if they are not experts themselves hwo can we be sure that the best advice is reaching the president?

    check out the updated link i put into the post. judah from wpr has a good post on the same exact topic

  6. Good point on the bureaucratic warfare between Petraeus and the White House. Spencer Ackerman has a bunch of posts on how he think Obama and Petraeus will work well together


  7. […] Way to go Obama! Let’s start with Iran Published November 6, 2008 Iran , The Gulf Tags: foreign policy, GCC, Iran, Middle East, obama, sanctions, smart sanctions, The Gulf, UAE, US-Iran relations I watched the election results come in last morning from Dubai where I’m hunkered down for the week.   We went to an election night party, but It was pretty tame because the results wouldn’t be coming in until 9 or 10 the next morning.  But as fantastic as it was to sit with my coffee and hear the great news, my bubble was soon popped by Rob’s lets get town to business post. […]

  8. Dennis Ross as National Security Adviser? Give me a break! Obama has already started by naming Rahm Emmanuel chief of staff. I thought things were supposed to change. With over 300 million Americans, I would hope that there are plenty of qualified people to choose from without needing to select from the pool of pro-Israeli experts who worked for the Clinton or Bush Administration for that matter.

    As far as Afghanistan is concerned, I hate to be the bearer of bad news but it is lost. The Taliban sooner or later are going to get back into power and we are going to have to, first, leave and second (if we want any kind of presence there) talk to them.

  9. John,
    I agree. I’m expecting change and will be disapointed if it doesnt come.

    As for Emmanuel, I dont consider this the end all be all statement of Obama’s foreign policy direction. After all, its not formally related to foreign policy and the role of chief of staff is not to give advice on foreogn policy. S o There are other positions that will be more telling about the prospects for “change.” NSA would be one of them. I’ve posted about a couple people I think would be good candidates and would show me some change. Will they be picked? probably not. But I hope certain candidates are not picked because that to me would be a clear unequivocal statement that more o f the same is on the way.

    I agree the effort in Afghanistan is in a bad state. The question is what to do about it. Even within the two options you lay out, there are lots of different ways such a policy could be pursued. Doing it the right way is critical.

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