Protecting the Right Flank
Posted on December 2, 2008
Peter Beinart, the liberal/progressive/whatever they are calling themselves these days made an interesting point on CNN the other day, a point I gleefully stole later in the program and now will steal again this moment.
He said that the national security picks that Barack Obama has made thus far – Bob Gates at Defense, Hillary Clinton at State, Jim Jones at NSC – shouldn’t be misinterpreted by the left as Obama moving rightward. Instead he said that Obama is making these picks so when he moves aggressively to the left, he will have some protection on his right flank.
It is an interesting theory, one that we should all keep close tabs on. For Obama to move foreign policy to left, he will need some help from foreign policy advisors who are respected not only by the Pentagon, but also by Israel, and some of our other allies.
Where will he possibly move to the left? Let me count the ways:
1) Open a direct high-level dialogue with Iran. Nothing drives the Israelis more crazy than the US cozying up to Iran.
2) Pull our troops out of Iraq before the situation is stabilized. That actually might drive the Israelis more crazy than point number one.
3) Change our policy on our missile defense shield deployment in Poland.
4) Pull out all of our troops in South Korea and Japan.
5) Close down Gitmo, and let most of the prisoners go.
6) End support for counter-terrorism operations in Africa, especially in Somalia.
7) Pulling our support for our allies in Georgia.
Some of these are more likely than other. Gitmo is a done deal. Iraq is close to being a done deal. Iran? We will see.
It will be interesting to see how Gates and Obama interact on some of these major policy decisions. Gates is a good soldier and he knows how to salute. But he also has important principles and nobody will play him for a fool. Should Obama push him too far, it is conceivable that Gates could resign in protest. I could also see Jones resign if Obama moves too quickly to the left.
Clinton will not resign in a policy dispute with Obama. There are simply too many political risks for her to do so. She cannot be seen as being insufficiently progressive to the Democratic base. That is what killed her the primary. She will do Obama’s bidding, not matter how much it may pain her.
Of course, this is all speculation. Perhaps Obama is not erecting flank. Perhaps he is the right flank. In that case, the Peter Beinart’s of the world will have a real problem with Mr. Obama. And that would be okay with me.