Managing an all-star team isn’t easy, and I had worried that with Hillary Clinton as secretary of state, Bill Clinton in her suitcase, and “what-about-me?” Vice President Joe Biden wandering backstage, Obama was setting himself up for a fall. He was ceding to others the conduct of foreign policy, which is his biggest potential opportunity as president. I still think that’s a problem, but I was reassured by the body language of today’s cabinet rollout. This is Obama’s team; he’s clearly in charge. You could see that he wasn’t diminished by the proximity of strong personalities; quite the opposite.I do wish, however, now that the Bush Era's end is upon us, that "body language" would forever be retired as an indicator of anything involving the executive branch.
I’ve watched other “dream team” cabinets fall into disarray because of the conflict between strong personalities, and this problem has been most acute when there’s a weak national security adviser. That happened during the Reagan administration, when George Shultz was at State, Casper Weinberger was at Defense and a dazed Robert McFarlane was trying to keep order through the NSC. It was a mess.
I remember, too, the enthusiasm that initially greeted President George W. Bush’s all-star team -- the veterans Colin Powell at State, Don Rumsfeld at the Pentagon and, as a special bonus, Dick Cheney as vice president. They were certified foreign-policy superstars and, what’s more, they had all worked together before. To say that they made a mess does not do justice to its toxicity. The problems were compounded by Condoleezza Rice’s weakness as national security adviser, and by her inability to help the president maintain order in this, forgive the term, “team of rivals.”
Can Jim Jones be the strong national security adviser who makes sure that his all-star team plays well together and shares the ball? Can this group avoid fighting out their policy battles through newspaper leaks (as unpleasant as that dearth of poisoned leaks might be for people like me)? That will be the test of Obama’s foreign-policy team.
Wednesday, December 3, 2008
Ignatius on Obama's Team
I thought this was pretty savvy: