As the president-elect begins to unveil his cabinet and staff appointments, I’m filled with admiration for the boldness of some of his choices, but a growing sense of mistrust at the apparent cynicism of some of the selections.Â It seems that for the sake of political expediency, he is dispensing with some of the pledges he made as a candidate.
With James L. Jones as National Security Adviser, Hillary Clinton as Secretary of State, and with Robert Gates rumored to remain as Secretary of Defense, the new president will have a national security team, committed to securing the victory in Iraq, wary of an overhasty withdrawal and not blinded by ideology to the threats abroad.
But, recall how Obama made rapid withdrawal from Iraq his signature issue in the campaign’s early stages?Â He used his longstanding opposition to the war to rally the party’s left-wing base and distinguish himself from Mrs. Clinton.
He has long since left that rhetoric behind. Instead of hope and change, Victor Davis Hanson sees the president-elect parceling out posts to:
Clintonite retreads, plenty of the old requisite Ivy-League law degrees, ample influence from establishment ex-lobbyists, de rigueur Sidwell Friends for the kids, and apparent sudden existential angst and uncertainty over FISA, getting out pronto from Iraq, closing down the Constitution-shredding Gitmo, and overturning the McCarthyite Patriot Act â€” and all to acclaim and relief from aristocratic Beltway pundits of both parties? So that was all the election was about? Just new faces on the same old, same old? And relief that Treasury, the National Security Advisorship, and Defense will be in the hands of well-known centrists? And at least on national and homeland security it is perhaps not the shadow of Bill Clinton, but of George W. Bush, that now begins to loom large?
Had Obama not campaigned as “new kind of politician,” I might trust him more. But, had he not so campaigned, he would not be where he is today.
To be sure, some of his appointments demonstrate his intelligence and political savvy. He knows the country is not where his primary campaign was. And he certainly recognizes that the fall campaign was decided not on foreign policy, but the economy. Indeed, in the first debate (ostensibly) dedicated to foreign policy, the Democrat reassured Americans by readily agreeing with his Republican rival on a number of national security issues.
His appointments do signal a shift away from his campaign rhetoric and toward the more sensible defense policies John McCain espoused. Jonah Goldberg thinks this shift suggests the president-elect might just be “just a cynical, conventional, politician who brilliantly played his supporters’ idealism against them to get power.”
A cynical politician he may be, but he could end up being a successful president.Â While there is increasing evidence of his cynicism, there are signs which suggest success. For that success or lack thereof, we’ll just have to wait and see.
As heartening as it may be to see evidence of common sense, the concern going forward is that Obama has shown himself to be lacking principles as well as a spine. Not good traits in a wartime president, particularly in times of economic turmoil.