At the Des Moines Register presidential debate in December, Barack Obama was asked how voters could expect him to provide a “break from the past” when many of his top foreign policy advisers were holdovers from the Clinton Administration. Obama gracefully parried the challenge by saying he was willing to take good advice from several previous administrations, not just Bill Clinton’s. But the question did reflect a common suspicion that despite all his talk about providing “change,” the Obama campaign’s differences with Hillary Clinton on foreign policy may be more stylistic than substantive.
It’s true that a number of Obama’s key advisers–like former National Security Adviser Tony Lake, former Assistant Secretary of State Susan Rice and former Navy Secretary Richard Danzig–held prominent positions under Bill Clinton. At the same time, Obama’s team includes some of the most forward-thinking members of the Democratic foreign policy establishment–like Joseph Cirincione and Lawrence Korb of the Center for American Progress, the party’s leading experts on nonproliferation and defense issues, respectively, along with former counterterrorism czar Richard Clarke and Carter Administration National Security Adviser Zbigniew Brzezinski. Added to the mix are fresh faces who were at times critical of the Clinton Administration, like Harvard professor Samantha Power, author of “A Problem From Hell”, a widely acclaimed history of US responses to genocide. These names suggest that Obama may be more open to challenging old Washington assumptions and crafting new approaches. [complete article]
When taking the oath of office on January 20 2009, the next president of the United States will be assuming responsibility for the most difficult, dangerous and complex set of foreign-policy challenges ever to face a newcomer to the White House. Whatever is then happening in Iraq, Iran, Afghanistan, Pakistan, and the Arab-Israel peace process, it is safe to predict that George W. Bush will, in each case, be passing on to his successor either a daunting piece of unfinished business or a full-blown crisis.
Moreover, in dealing with that morass, the US will need help from a world where its reputation is scraping bottom, from an enfeebled United Nations and from allies whose confidence in America’s stewardship of its own power and their interests has been profoundly shaken. Although Bush has been making an effort to mend fences, and hopes to score some diplomatic points in his final year as president, his bungled occupation of Iraq and his swaggering disregard for international institutions and opinion during his first term still rankle around the world. Many of his fellow leaders are counting the days until he steps down (381 from today). [complete article]