What should we do in Iraq? What should are policy towards Iran be? Ask any of the top experts these questions in DC over the past two years and in many cases you were likely to get vague and useless answers.
Helene Cooper of the NY TIMES looks at the unwillingness of those angling for positions in the Obama administration (and it would have been the same thing for McCain) to make any public statements on the critical issues. Each candidate had a team of advisors, but these people weren’t doing this for charity. They expect their advice and support to be rewarded with positions of influence. The flip side is that they are unwilling to say anything useful for fear of damaging their chances:
Few people took note, what with the focus on the election campaign, but many of those aspiring to join an Obama foreign policy team showed their hands by turning silent over the summer on just about anything that might get them in trouble in a confirmation hearing.
Take the Russian invasion of Georgia, for example, an action that raised all sorts of complicated questions. But in Congress, at universities and at research institutes, would-be Democratic secretaries of state and national security advisers sought to navigate that potential minefield by following the same cautious script.
They condemned Russia (without proposing specific punishment). They proclaimed heartfelt support for President Mikheil Saakashvili of Georgia, the congressional darling (without any questioning whether he was culpable in inviting the attacks). And they publicly voiced strong backing for Georgia’s entry into NATO, a possibility that most of these same foreign policy experts acknowledge privately is as likely as a warm winter in Moscow.
“At a time when we really needed penetrating, thoughtful foreign policy analysis about what we should be doing towards Russia, all the people who work on this and wanted to be in the next administration were saying nothing but domestic political posturing,” said George Perkovich, vice president for studies at the Carnegie Endowment for International Peace, who makes clear that he is not seeking a job in the next White House. “They were all protecting themselves and positioning themselves for confirmation hearings.”
The article is correct on everything but the timing. It started with the beginning of the campaign, not the summer. In its early stages, I signed up for a course on US National Security at a certain well-known university, thinking that with the Professor’s background, I would get some serious “insider-analysis.” Wrong. The professor spoke only in the broadest of strokes, refusing to say anything useful about contemporary US security issues, which led me to wonder if he was running for office. Earlier this year I realized he sort of was when I read a NY TIMES article which said he is one of Obama’s top advisors, though he never revealed this during the course, which was a waste of time and money.
Here’s my question: Do those who are professing to provide expertise on a region or field have an obligation to reveal if they are affiliated with a certain campaign? It seems to me that they should.
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