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What Obama’s foreign policy team may look like

Well before he had won the presidency, Barack Obama had assembled a shadow government of over 300 advisors organised by topics and issues, reports Pramit Pal Chaudhuri.

world Updated: Nov 06, 2008 00:27 IST
Pramit Pal Chaudhuri

Well before he had won the presidency, Barack Obama had assembled a shadow government of over 300 advisors organised by topics and issues. On South Asia alone, he had put together a team of 20 people.

Obama has demanded a remarkable degree of discipline within his camp — during the election campaign there was a noticeable lack of leaks — he has also demanded a certain diversity of opinion.

Obama likes experts, he likes research and he likes to get different thinking. Given his academic background this is not a great surprise. It also reflects his personality. “Obama is sometimes unnervingly confident of his own abilities,” admitted one of his advisors.

His administration will include some moderate Republicans in its ranks. Senator Bob Lugar, for example, is seen as a frontrunner for the Secretary of State. His fellow Republican senator, Chuck Hagel, is one of the names making the round for the new Pentagon chief. This fulfills Obama’s promise of a “post-partisan” politics.

But the greatest challenges he may face will be in the realm of security and foreign policy – and it will be useful to have a Republican to share the blame. This is not unusual in the US: Richard Nixon and Bill Clinton both had cabinet members from the other side of the fence.

There is some evidence Obama may also give his vice-president, Joe Biden, an unusually strong role in foreign policy guidance. This would seem to point to perpetual conflict between the State Department and the Vice-President’s Office.

Biden is one of Washington’s most experienced foreign policy hands. This would seem to point to perpetual conflict between the State Department and the vice-president’s Office. “It wouldn’t be a problem if Lugar is the Secretary of State. He and Biden are as close as one can be,” said a former Lugar aide.

Some of the other names being talked about for Foggy Bottom are Senator John Kerry, ex-deputy secretary of state Richard Armitage and Governor Bill Richardson.

The Pentagon position also has a constellation of names attached to it. The frontrunner is seen to be Hagel, but former Clinton Navy secretary Richard Danzig is also a strong contender. However, the biggest buzz has been to let the present incumbent, Robert Gates, to stay in office for another year because of his striking success in Iraq.

The national security advisor will also be a crucial position as he or she will have to have the personal confidence of Obama. Susan Rice, a close friend of Obama and ex-Clintonite Jim Steinberg are among the names being mentioned.

Ambassador Karl Inderfurth, Richard Holbrooke and Strobe Talbott are among the names being bounded about for Roosevelt House in New Delhi. “India is now a big posting in the US system,” said one Obama advisor. Biden’s foreign policy advisor, Jonah Blank, is tipped to handle South Asia in the National Security Council.

Obama is expected to also appoint a number of special envoys for diplomatic problems he wants to highlight. In a recent Time magazine article he said he might appoint a special envoy for Kashmir and Bill Clinton was a person he talked to about this. Al Gore is likely to be given a similar status for climate change.