x Abu Dhabi, UAEFriday 28 July 2017

Obama's team of rivals

The US president's cabinet picks and in particular his choice of Hillary Clinton wins praise from the right but some observers suggest that the new national security team is less hawkish than it appears. Mrs Clinton, Mr Gates and Mr Jones have each embraced a sweeping shift of priorities and resources in the national security arena that Mr Obama has made one of his objectives. In the aftermath of the Mumbai attacks, tension rises between India and Pakistan.

As Barack Obama on Monday introduced the latest members of his cabinet, who have frequently been dubbed a 'team of rivals' in reference to Abraham Lincoln's cabinet, the rivalry that may figure most prominently in the new administration may not be between Mr Obama and his former Democratic opponent Hillary Clinton, but between the state department which she will head and the defense department which will remain under the leadership of defense secretary Robert Gates. While Mrs Clinton, Mr Gates and the new national security adviser, Gen James L Jones, have each been described as being more hawkish than the president under whom they are about to serve, each has embraced a sweeping shift of priorities and resources in the national security arena that Mr Obama has made one of his objectives. The New York Times said: "The shift would create a greatly expanded corps of diplomats and aid workers that, in the vision of the incoming Obama administration, would be engaged in projects around the world aimed at preventing conflicts and rebuilding failed states. However, it is unclear whether the financing would be shifted from the Pentagon; Mr Obama has also committed to increasing the number of American combat troops. Whether they can make the change - one that Mr Obama started talking about in the summer of 2007, when his candidacy was a long shot at best - 'will be the great foreign policy experiment of the Obama presidency,' one of his senior advisers said recently." In Time magazine, Peter Beinart pointed out that the new national security team is less hawkish than it appears. "On key policy issues, Jones, Gates and Clinton aren't significantly more hawkish than Obama. What they are is more hawkish symbolically. Gates is a Republican; Jones is a Marine general who once worked for John McCain; Clinton, as Senator from New York, has gained credibility with hawkish pro-Israel groups. In other words, what distinguishes Gates, Jones and Clinton isn't their desire to shift Obama's policies to the right; it's their ability to persuade the right to give Obama's policies a chance." As Barron YoungSmith reported for The New Republic, so far there is no shortage of positive reviews from the right on Mr Obama's choice of Mrs Clinton: "Many of them were surprisingly optimistic about Obama's new top diplomat. 'On the whole I'm quite pleased,' explains Richard Perle, former chairman of the Defense Policy Board and an architect of the Iraq war. 'She seems to me quite tough-minded. That's not a worldview, but it is a predisposition. That's a good thing. It's not an easy world out there.' "Perle says he would rather have a hawkish Democrat than a Chuck Hagel-style Republican as a token bi-partisan appointment. 'I heard about others on the list [for secretary of state] that I wouldn't be happy about,' he says. 'Those were mostly Republicans.' "Indeed, Perle muses, Obama's new cabinet may be an improvement on Bush's. 'Bush suffered from a State department and CIA who never liked his policies. State ignored him and the CIA actively undermined him,' he says. 'I think Hillary can potentially deal with that. I think she can get the State department to do what she and the president want it to do. That has not been true of Condi.' " When it comes to the much anticipated rivalry between Mr Obama and Mrs Clinton, The Guardian's Michael Tomasky saw nothing but accord in their joint appearance on Monday. He said: "both Obama and Clinton managed to convey - for now at least - that when Secretary Clinton speaks, she would be speaking for President Obama. This is a question I and many others had raised, and there's a long history of secretaries of state who didn't really have their president's confidence, and who were understood around the world not to have any real juice with the White House they served (Colin Powell is the most recent example). But at today's press conference, Obama - who has already mastered the presidential art of seeming to be saying something important while saying nothing at all - successfully communicated the idea that he and Clinton would be working closely together." Noting that "Bill and Hillary are a package deal," The Washington Post's Chris Cillizza said: "The Clintons - more so than the average political family - are abundantly aware of their own legacies and faced with the choice of playing a subordinate but influential and high profile role in the Obama Administration or toiling in (relative) obscurity in the Senate, it's clear that Hillary Clinton believed she could have more impact in the former role. "That Obama and Clinton could stand together on a stage - one as president, the other as his secretary of State - speaks to the unpredictability and soap-operatic nature of politics. "Make no mistake: this is the beginning not the end of a fascinating storyline in American politics." The Los Angeles Times looked at the ways in which expectations among Arabs and Israelis are shifting now that Mrs Clinton as America's foremost diplomat. "During the campaign, Obama carried the hopes of many Arabs for a new brand of diplomacy more open to their views, one that would revive America's power and prestige in the region and end the Israeli-Palestinian conflict. "Israelis viewed Obama as a less reliable friend than John McCain, his Republican rival, or Clinton, who touted a deep affinity for the Jewish state in her bid for the Democratic nomination. "Cautiously, Israelis are now applauding Clinton's nomination as a sign that Obama can be trusted to act firmly against Iran's nuclear ambitions and to refrain from pressing Israel to accept a weak, violence-prone Palestinian state on its borders. "Arabs and especially Palestinians, on the other hand, say the news has damped their optimism that Obama will veer from the Bush administration's hawkish policies and from what they call America's long-standing pro-Israel tilt."

"In a new sign of rising tensions between two nuclear-armed neighbours, Indian officials summoned Pakistan's ambassador Monday evening and told him that Pakistani nationals were responsible for the terrorist attacks here last week and that they must be punished," The New York Times reported. "With public anger building against both the Indian government and Pakistan, officials of India's Foreign Ministry also suggested that the planners of the attacks are still at large in Pakistan, and that they expected 'strong action would be taken' by Pakistan against those responsible for the violence, according to a statement released by the Ministry of External Affairs. Nine of the 10 men who appear to have carried out the attacks are now dead, with the remaining one in custody." The Times said: "Officials and analysts in the region believe that last week's atrocities were designed to provoke a crisis, or even a war, between the nuclear-armed neighbours, diverting Islamabad's attention from extremism in tribal areas bordering Afghanistan and thus relieving pressure on al Qa'eda, Taliban and other militants based there. "One analyst even described the attacks as a 'pre-emptive strike' against Barack Obama's strategy to put Pakistan and Afghanistan at the centre of US foreign policy. "The United States and its allies now face a balancing act in supporting India's efforts to investigate the Mumbai attacks, without jeopardising Pakistan's crucial support for the Nato campaign in Afghanistan. "India's government, facing an election by May, is under enormous pressure to respond to the attacks, which it believes was carried out by the Pakistani militant group Lashkar-e-Taiba, possibly with the help of al Qa'eda." The Washington Post said: "In January 2002, the government of Pakistan reluctantly announced that it would ban Lashkar-e-Taiba, a Kashmiri guerrilla group suspected of crossing the border into India and storming the Parliament in New Delhi, an incident that nearly triggered a war between the two nuclear-armed countries. "Almost seven years later, Lashkar-e-Taiba, or Army of the Pious, once again stands accused of helping to carry out a stunning terrorist attack in India, this time in Mumbai. The group, although technically still outlawed in Pakistan, has managed to expand its membership, its operational reach and its influence among the constellation of radical Islamist networks seeking to spark a revolution in South Asia. "Inside Pakistan, Lashkar still operates training camps for militants, runs a large charitable and social-services organisation that has been embraced by Pakistani officials, and even has designated spokesmen to handle inquiries from the news media. "It has also branched out globally from its roots in the disputed Himalayan territory of Kashmir, opening fundraising arms in Saudi Arabia, the United Arab Emirates and Kuwait. Some of its fighters have traveled to Iraq and East Africa. It has nurtured a mutually advantageous alliance with al Qa'eda, a longtime benefactor of its activities. One of the British suicide bombers in the July 7, 2005, London transit attacks spent time at a Lashkar-affiliated religious school in Pakistan."

pwoodward@thenational.ae