To follow up on Hilzoy (and Yglesias), I too was encouraged by the NYT report that Obama’s national security team wants to shift resources away from the bloated military budget to fund other diplomatic initiatives. It’s encouraging not merely for its own sake, but because it reassures skeptics like me that Clinton and Gates will prove good choices.
Frankly, I wasn’t crazy about Clinton. She and Obama had major foreign policy disagreements on key questions. For that reason, I wanted non-hawkish Obama people running things, and – more importantly perhaps – obtaining lower-level jobs that lead to future powerful ones. I was also skeptical of Gates. I mean, he seems like a solid guy with the right instincts on several fronts. But the best way to show America that Democrats can do national security is to, you know, let Democrats do national security.
But all that said, Obama’s gotten inside my head by proving me wrong too many times. Frankly, it’s the most infuriating thing about him – his long-term strategy always seems to be right. Enough, I say. Obama has made a fool of this blogger for the last time. Accordingly, I’ve come around to the idea that this decidedly less-progressive national security team is the right call.
The reason, I’ve decided, is that this particular national security team – with Obama at the helm – makes true progressive reform more likely.
There are at least two ways of viewing the Clinton/Gates/Jones selections (and this has parallels with the Rubinite econ team as well). The first – and more cynical view – is that nothing much will change. Let’s call it the “meet the new boss” interpretation. Under this view, Obama’s call for drastic progressive change will prove to be nothing more than empty campaign rhetoric. And to be honest, that’s certainly a possibility.
But a second, more optimistic, interpretation is that Obama is planning big change, and has decided these individuals will be the most politically effective advocates of reform. Let’s call this the “Nixon to China” interpretation.
Let’s assume, for instance, that Obama is in fact “throwing long.” That is, he wants big change – e.g., new multilateral diplomacy; negotiations with Syria and Iran; and even cuts to the grotesquely-large and corrupting military budget. If these are truly his goals, then voices like Clinton and Gates and Jones will be powerful advocates indeed. It’s not merely that they’ll provide political cover across the national political spectrum. They’ll also provide political cover to nervous Democrats who remain afraid of their own shadow on these issues. Winning over the latter is a precondition of winning over the former. (For instance, you can’t have talks with Iran if half the Senate Dems are on TV saying it’s a bad idea).
Same deal with the economic team. Who better to provide political cover (both nationally and within the party) for a massive public works program than a bunch of old Rubinites?
Of course, there is a risk to the Nixon to China strategy – namely, you might get a Nixon without a China. There’s a very real possibility that these individuals (given their prior history and ideological leanings) will thwart this type of reform – or at least hesitate to really push for it. But if – just if – Obama can keep them on board, then these selections will prove to be an enormously savvy and effective strategy.
So the million dollar question isn’t so much about Obama’s appointees, but about whether you believe that Obama really means what he says, and has the ability to push them to make it happen. As for me, I do. For now.