Obama’s national security team: I hope you didn’t really believe in change?

I was going to write about this travesty, but Tom Engelhardt has said it — and better than I could.

Who Rules the Pentagon?“, Tom Engelhardt, posted at TomDispatch, 25 November 2008 — Excerpt:

The Obama national security “team” — part of that much-hailed “team of rivals” — does not yet exist, but it does seem to be heaving into view. And so far, its views seem anything but rivalrous. Mainstream reporters and pundits lovingly refer to them as “centrist,” but, in a Democratic context, they are distinctly right of center. The next secretary of state looks to be Hillary Clinton, a hawk on the Middle East. During the campaign, she spoke of our ability to totally obliterate Iran, should that country carry out a nuclear strike against Israel. She will evidently be allowed to bring her own (hawkish) subordinates into the State Department with her. Her prospective appointment is now being praised by the likes of Newt Gingrich and Henry Kissinger.

The leading candidate for National Security Advisor is General James L. Jones, former Marine Corps commandant and NATO commander, who remained “publicly neutral” during the presidential campaign and is known to be personally close to John McCain and, evidently, Secretary of Defense Robert Gates as well. Not surprisingly, he favors yet more spending for the Pentagon. The reputed leading candidate for Director of the CIA, John Brennan, now head of the National Counterterrorism Center, was George Tenet’s chief of staff and deputy executive director during the worst years of the CIA’s intelligence, imprisonment, and torturing excesses.

The new Secretary of Defense is odds on to be— the old secretary of defense, Robert Gates, a confidant of the first President Bush. Still surrounded at the Pentagon by former Secretary of Defense Donald Rumsfeld’s holdovers, he has had a long career in Washington as a clever apparatchik. He was the adult brought in — the story of how and by whom has yet to be told — to clean up the Bush foreign policy mess (and probably prevent an attack on Iran). He did this. He now favors no fixed timelines for an Iraq withdrawal, but a significant American troop “surge” in Afghanistan, well north of 20,000, in the next 12-18 months.

He has overseen the further growth of the bloated Pentagon budget and has recently come out for the building of a new generation of nuclear weapons. (Other candidates for Defense include former Clinton Navy Secretary and key Obama advisor Richard Danzig, who may end up — for the time being — as an undersecretary of defense, Clinton former Deputy Secretary of Defense John Hamre, and Republican Senator Chuck Hagel, who might instead land the job as the Director of National Intelligence.)

Drop down a tier, as Yochi Dreazen of the Wall Street Journal wrote last week, and you find the Obama transition people using a little known think-tank, the Center for a New American Security (CNSA), as a “top farm team” to stock its national security shelves. The founders of the center are — don’t be shocked now — former Clinton administration officials providing yet more “centrists” to an administration that seems to believe the essence of “experience” is having been in Washington between 1992 and 2000. CNAS, by the way, is officially against a fixed timeline for withdrawal from Iraq. In that, it seems typical of the coalescing national security team, almost none of whom, so far, opposed the invasion of Iraq (other than the president-elect). Having been anti-war is evidently a sign of inexperience and so a negative.

Add in the military line-up — Chairman of the Joint Chiefs Mike Mullen, Centcom Commander David Petraeus, Generals Raymond Odierno and David McKiernan, the U.S. commanders in Iraq and Afghanistan — all second term Bush picks, all reportedly ready to push for a major “surge” in Afghanistan, all evidently against Obama’s timeline for withdrawing U.S. combat forces from Iraq.

Now, mind you, so far we’ve only been considering the foreign policy issues of empire that face the next team. Domestically, if Gates remains, the Air Force might get kneecapped (perhaps losing the F-22 Raptor, the weapons system it wants for a war that will never be fought), but the Army and Marines will expand, as (so he promises) will the Navy. The essence of the matter is simple enough, as Frida Berrigan, arms expert for the New America Foundation and TomDispatch regular, indicates below: The Pentagon, even in the toughest of economic times, is likely to prove relatively untouchable.

The Obama transition team’s explanation for the remarkably familiar look to its emerging national security line-up, suggested David E. Sanger in a recent front-page think piece in the New York Times, is “that the new administration will have no time for a learning curve. With the country facing a deep recession or worse, global market turmoil, chaos in Pakistan and a worsening war in Afghanistan, ‘there’s going to be no time for experimentation,’ a member of the Obama foreign policy team said.” In other words, we need the sort of minds, already imprisoned in Washington’s version of “experience,” who helped lead us into this mess (long term), to get us out of it.

“Experimentation” is obviously for times when it isn’t needed. For these custodians of empire, better a steady hand and the same-old thoughts. No?

The second part of this TomDispatch is Weapons Come Second” by Frida Berrigan.  She asks “Can Obama Take on the Pentagon?”  It’s well worth reading.

Many Obama supporters hope’s surrive despite the crash with reality

Like Matthew Yglesias (“The New Team“, 25 November 2008):

Perhaps, then, this is the right way to understand Obama’s team – as a kind of grand coalition of non-neo perspectives aimed at steering us out of the shoals into which Bush/Cheney policies have marooned the ship of state.

Reply by HaywoodR:

In other words you’ve got nothing. Obama’s appointments have been lame and no amount of denial will change that.


Despite the hopes of the Left, early in the campaign it was apparent that Obama would would be — like most American Presidents — a fervent War President.  The evidence was clear, as described in these posts:

Just in case you retain some hope:  the Treasury and economics team is just as bad.  The people who laid the foundation for the current troubles during the Clinton years return to — do something or other.  Probably dig us in deeper.  But they might surprise us, pleasantly this time!


If you are new to this site, please glance at the archives below.  You may find answers to your questions in these.

Please share your comments by posting below.  Per the FM site’s Comment Policy, please make them brief (250 words max), civil, and relevant to this post.  Or email me at fabmaximus at hotmail dot com (note the spam-protected spelling).

For more information from the FM site

To read other articles about these things, see the FM reference page on the right side menu bar.  Of esp relevance to this topic:

  1. About the Military, political, and strategic theory
  2. About President Obama – useful articles
  3. about America – how can we reform it?

 Posts on the FM site about the Obama Administration:

  1. How the Iraq and Vietnam wars are mirror images of each other, 7 February 2008 — Now we have McCain, the leading Republican Presidential candidate, talking of an open-ended commitment to victory in Iraq.
  2. A look at the next phase of the Iraq War: 2009-2012, 1 March 2008 — What is next in Iraq?  None of the leading candidates have expressed any intention of leaving Iraq – except in the distant and vague future.  Obama has been quite explicit about his plans.
  3. America gets ready for new leadership (or is it back to the future?), 14 November 2008
  4. “Don’t Let Barack Obama Break Your Heart” by Tom Engelhardt, 21 November 2008

8 thoughts on “Obama’s national security team: I hope you didn’t really believe in change?”

  1. Hey, I was HOPE-ing Obama would CHANGE after he was elected, and he has! I still prefer the honest not much change to the less than honest promise change first before not giving it.

    My weak probabilistic guesstimate of Iran getting a bomb in the next 4 years has gone down from 20% to something less, maybe as low as 10% (to 5% for McCain). If Obama really does surge in Afghanistan, than that will make it less likely for Iran to get a nuke.
    (Plus the lower oil price helps reduce the fear of a faster nuke)

  2. Without an economy to back it up, how is the military going to have the logistics to do anything?
    Fabius Maximus replies: This conflates different issues. Even during a Great Depression, the industrial apparatus remains intact. The prices for goods tends to decrease, a good thing for anyone (like the government) that can buy things. So the military will not have logistical problems.

    We might be less interested in foreign adventures, with money so tight.

    The other major input for the military is people. Recruiting becomes much easier in a recession. They are already stopping incentives to enlist and re-enlist.

  3. At this current rate of change things will be the same in four years which should provide a huge political opportunity for whomever can take advantage of it.

    Meet the new Boss, same as the old Boss.”- , The “Who Song Won’t get fooled” again.

    We’ll be fighting in the streets
    With our children at our feet
    And the morals that they worship will be gone
    And the men who spurred us on
    Sit in judgement of all wrong
    They decide and the shotgun sings the song

    Refrain: I’ll tip my hat to the new constitution
    Take a bow for the new revolution
    Smile and grin at the change all around me
    Pick up my guitar and play
    Just like yesterday
    Then I’ll get on my knees and pray
    We don’t get fooled again

    The change, it had to come
    We knew it all along
    We were liberated from the foe, that’s all
    And the world looks just the same
    And history ain’t changed
    ‘Cause the banners, they all flown in the last war


    I’ll move myself and my family aside
    If we happen to be left half alive
    I’ll get all my papers and smile at the sky
    For I know that the hypnotized never lie
    Do ya?

    There’s nothing in the street
    Looks any different to me
    And the slogans are replaced, by-the-bye
    And the parting on the left
    Is now the parting on the right
    And the beards have all grown longer overnight


    Meet the new boss
    Same as the old boss

  4. Duncan: the military has always operated outside the “economy”, if by that you mean the grand arena in which benefits and risks are balanced, and society moves forward in its clunky way. The military has its own separate economy, much like finance does, in which the taxpayers shoulder the costs while the “benefits” go to a small sector of manufactures and providers. The military is a privileged sector, like finance, real estate and insurance, from which wealth can expect almost guaranteed profits.

    Of all those, although it’s not the largest, the military sector is perhaps the easiest to make profits in, since it’s products perpetually have to be replaced.

  5. Senaca: You’re talking about how the DOD will get F-22’s, if I understand you correctly.

    I’m talking about how troops get toothpaste and toilet paper and things like that.

  6. “The leading candidate for National Security Advisor is General James L. Jones, former Marine Corps commandant and NATO commander”

    Well, I can certainly see how such a distinguished C.V. should be a disqualifier for National Security Adviser in a Democratic administration.

    Newt Gingrich = Henry Kissinger = Hillary Clinton. What ? I’m sure that would be news to all three individuals.

    “Add in the military line-up — Chairman of the Joint Chiefs Mike Mullen, Centcom Commander David Petraeus, Generals Raymond Odierno and David McKiernan, the U.S. commanders in Iraq and Afghanistan — all second term Bush picks…”

    Military commands are now to be strictly regarded as partisan appointees ? That’s a good precedent to set.

    ” Robert Gates, a confidant of the first President Bush. Still surrounded at the Pentagon by former Secretary of Defense Donald Rumsfeld’s holdovers, he has had a long career in Washington as a clever apparatchik. He was the adult brought in — the story of how and by whom has yet to be told…”

    Robert Gates is at the center of a shadowy conspiracy to do…what exactly ? Fire incompetents and veto dysfunctional weapons systems ? Stop unneeded wars ? Quick – let’s get him the hell out of there!

    If this is typical Tom Englehardt’s reasoning then the man is an ignoramus who measures everything by the yardstick of Democratic Underground wingnut partisanship and paranoia. Litmus test guys like him are the reason the Democratic Party can’t effectively formulate their own defense and foreign policies.
    Fabius Maximus replies: I do not understand what you are saying. People are policies. That’s why the US has so many political appointees, compared (for example) to european governments.

    Also, there is a long history of senior commands being shuffled, discreetly, to reflect the new policies and objectives of the Administration in office.

  7. Duncan: those “cigarettes and toothpaste” are just micro examples of F-22s. Wouldn’t you like to have an exclusive contract to provide all the beer and cigarettes to Camp Bondsteel?

    My point was that the military is a sheltered part of the budget, not limited by normal cost/benefit thinking. And it’s one that’s especially profitable for investment (e.g. the Carlyle Group.) Food stamps, medicaid, pension funds, highway projects will all be cut before planes, ships and combat boots.

    The reason we allow this is that the military is sort of a metaphysical entity, like religion. We don’t examine its basic premiss — that the world is a scary place — we just accept it and bow down to its priests.

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