Thursday, November 13, 2008

Forging a new foreign policy consensus

There is mounting evidence that the incoming Obama administration has been allying itself with Republican foreign policy realists led behind the scenes by former George H.W. Bush National Security Adviser Brent Scowcroft.

Defense Secretary Robert Gates is allied with the realist camp and all indications are that he will remain on at that post in the Obama administration. This isn't bi-partisanship for the sake of bi-partisanship, Obama is taking concrete steps to move the foreign policy "center" away from the neo-con belicosity of the Bush administration. As Matt Yglesias noted yesterday,

What you don’t want to do is “move to the center” on national security issues with Gates on board as a bipartisan token of said centrism. What you want to do is redefine the center away from the neocon / liberal hawk center that dominated public debate in 2002-2005 in favor of a new progressive / realist center that’s prepared to undertake bold regional diplomacy aimed not only at extricating ourselves from Iraq, but also achieving diplomatic breakthroughs with Iran and Syria and making progress on Israel/Palestine issues. There’s some reason — Gates’ 2004 CFR Task Force Report on Iran, the Jim Baker’s call for a “diplomatic surge” in the Baker/Hamilton report, Colin Powell’s endorsement of Obama, pointed non-endorsements of McCain by Brent Scowcroft and Chuck Hagel, Nick Burns’ Time article on the need to talk with dictators — to believing that forging such a synthesis in a bipartisan way is possible.

This is a pretty sophisticated maneuver and it's too soon to say if it will work but it's an important step if we are ever going to return to a sane foreign policy. It's another example of Obama's ability to not just play these high level chess matches but to win them. Consolidating power, shifting the terms of debate and isolating those who are a true danger to the nation and the world - these types of manueverings are critical to the success of any incoming administration. It's impressive to say the least.

Yglesias actually wrote a post-election article on this very topic last week. It's well worth a read, "How to Break the Neocon Lock on Washington"

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