Is Obama’s National-Security Team Liberal Change in Moderate Hawk’s Clothing?

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That's a rather <em>conservative</em> tie on Obama, wouldn't you say?
Photo: Getty Images

Barack Obama has officially announced his national-security team: Along with Susan Rice as UN ambassador, there were the previously leaked and much-discussed picks of Robert Gates as Defense secretary, Janet Napolitano as head of Homeland Security, and Eric Holder as attorney general. Also chosen: a former Marine general named James Jones, whom Obama is tapping for national security adviser, and … let's see, who was it again? Oh yes: Hillary Clinton as secretary of State. As Chuck Todd points out, McCain himself might have appointed Gates and Jones. And while some will undoubtedly gripe that these appointees can't really create "change" because all of them have held jobs before this one, Obama's national-security team may in fact be prepared to make big changes in how we deal with problems across the world.

• David E. Sanger writes that though Clinton, Gates, and Jones are all "more hawkish" than Obama, the three "have embraced a sweeping shift of priorities and resources in the national security arena." While promising to increase the size of the U.S. military, Obama and his national-security team will also "create a greatly expanded corps of diplomats and aid workers that … would be engaged in projects around the world aimed at preventing conflicts and rebuilding failed states." [NYT]

• Steve Benen says the Clinton/Jones/Gates team may fuel criticisms that Obama's administration doesn't have enough "fresh faces," but the "NYT report points to a fairly dramatic shift, not only in foreign policy tactics, but also in priorities." Obama will benefit from the political cover of "a decidedly non-liberal team of officials," including President Bush's Defense secretary. [Political Animal/Washington Monthly]

• Jennifer Rubin concedes that paying more attention to aid and diplomacy may be worthwhile in some cases, but "the notion that all of this is going to replace the need for a robust military or become the mechanism for combating violent aggression of the type we witnessed in Mumbai is misguided in the extreme." It remains to be seen whether this "shift" can really happen, but for now it seems like "the Left is frankly desperate to put a happy face on the Obama roll out of distinctly non-Left national security advisors [sic]." [Contentions/Commentary]

• Kevin Drum would welcome a change in policy, and thinks "it would be a triumph of common sense in an era that's seen precious little of it in the national security arena." [Mother Jones]

• Matthew Yglesias enthusiastically endorses a shift in priorities, calling it "a really good idea!" If Obama wants Clinton/Jones/Gates because they're "on board" with spreading resources to non-military aspects of foreign policy, then that's a "very good reason" to pick them. [Think Progress]

• Chuck Todd and friends, meanwhile, implore the media to focus on Jones instead of Clinton. He's "personally more close with John McCain than Obama," and, "with an office in the West Wing, it will be Jones who has the day-to-day ear of Obama, not Clinton." Is it also significant that nobody really cares that we haven't had a white male secretary of State in quite a while? [First Read/MSNBC]

• Massimo Calabresi calls Jones's appointment "a testament to both Obama's needs as a young and untested Commander-in-Chief and the political abilities of Gen. James Jones." Jones's political skills are, "by all accounts, exceptional," and he'll need them. His "hardest job" will be managing the relationship between Clinton and Gates, whose relations "are less warm." [Time]

• Fred Barnes notes that Obama hasn't simply been pragmatic — he's been "pragmatic (so far) in one direction — rightward," a point that his national-security choices underscore. Clinton "doesn't hail from the surrender-at-all-costs wing," Jones "is a strong supporter of offshore drilling and other steps to increase domestic production of oil and gas," and Gates "is no dove and no ally of the antiwar left." Saying the left wing of the Democratic party is "let down would be an understatement." [Weekly Standard]

• Barron YoungSmith examines the enthusiasm conservatives are feeling for Clinton's appointment as secretary of State. They include Richard Perle, "an architect of the Iraq war" who thinks "Clinton will likely perpetuate the foreign policy approaches that have typified Bush's second term." Or George Shultz, Ronald Reagan's secretary of State, who says Clinton "is well-informed" and that "she's got lots of energy — intellectual energy and physical energy — to do the job." But President Bush's former UN ambassador, Josh Bolton, is perplexed by the vast policy differences between Clinton and Obama. [New Republic]