x Abu Dhabi, UAESaturday 20 January 2018

Obama lines up Clinton veterans

Barack Obama's personnel picks for his White House and cabinet prompt political foes to claim he has dumped his promise of change.

WASHINGTON // Barack Obama's personnel picks for his White House and cabinet are prompting political foes to claim he has dumped his promise of change for tired Washington insiders and Clinton-era retreads. After spending months feuding with Hillary Clinton and casting veiled criticisms of her husband's administration, Mr Obama is poised to hand her the plum job of secretary of state, aides said. And a former senator, Tom Daschle, a veteran of the partisan political wars Mr Obama has vowed to end, is set to become secretary of health and human services.

Eric Holder, a former Clinton-era justice department official, is being lined up as attorney general in the Obama administration. Mr Obama's chief of staff is Rahm Emanuel, a sharp-elbowed former Clinton White House aide, who has warred with Republicans for years. Mr Clinton's energy secretary, Bill Richardson, the New Mexico governor, is being touted as commerce secretary. Republicans, demoralised from their drubbing in the presidential and congressional elections on Nov 4, claim this line-up shows Mr Obama's promise for "Change We Can Believe In" is hollow.

"Apparently, Washington outsiders need not apply in the Obama administration," said Alex Conant, a spokesman for the Republican National Committee. "Barack Obama's cabinet is starting to resemble a Clinton reunion. His appointments so far have been a disappointment for Americans hoping to see some fresh faces in Washington." The New York Post sarcastically dubbed names being floated as Obama appointees as Clinton-era has-beens.

"Congratulations to Hillary [and Bill] Clinton - who seem to have won the presidential election, despite the official results on Nov 4," the paper's conservative editorial page wrote. But are these anything more than predictable political attacks, and is it fair to brand Mr Obama's picks as retreads? No, say many analysts, who argue that there is a limited pool of Democratic operatives with government experience qualified to fill top cabinet appointments.

Mr Obama's personal brand is so strong after two years campaigning on change that his cabinet picks may be less important than his own actions and rhetoric. Such are the myriad crises facing the nascent Obama team, the president-elect may have concluded that while some officials may hark back to a previous era, he cannot afford to snub the best Democratic brains. And had he sent a group of neophytes to Washington, he would surely have been pilloried for picking people short on experience.

Mr Clinton, who came to power in 1993, decided not to stack his administration with veterans of the Jimmy Carter administration, which was seen as a failure. But he soon hit trouble and had to call in Washington hands such as David Gergen, a veteran White House operative. "With the economy in such critical shape, to not choose people with experience would be foolhardy," said Martha Kumar, a political scientist with Towson University, near Baltimore.

In Washington, the president is easily the most powerful driver of policy, and it is usually the White House that dictates strategy. "The change agent in the United States government first and foremost is the president of the United States," said David Rothkopf, author of a pioneering book on the US national security council. "Barack Obama is the change agent. "The entire US policymaking apparatus is orientated towards the US president.

"He is the one that ultimately decides who has power, he is the one who decides which agency has the lead on which issues." While Mr Obama is tapping veterans, he is bringing Chicago confidants such as David Axelrod and Valerie Jarrett to Washington - and his reported pick for the treasury, Timothy Geithner, is well known to the markets in New York. Change seems assured, as Mr Obama is already striking a sharp course away from the Bush administration, when he takes office in January.

The president-elect has vowed to end the "denial" of US policy on global warming and to close the Guantanamo Bay "war on terror" camp in Cuba. Mr Obama's gestures to his vanquished opponent, John McCain, and the renegade Democrat, Joe Lieberman, also suggest at least a hope for a change of tone in the US capital. * Agence France-Presse