Monday, December 1, 2008

December 1, 2008

     President-elect Obama's national security team is diverse, but its members have one thing in common--a lot of experience here in Washington.
     Hillary Rodham Clinton, who'll be Secretary of State, is an old Washington hand.  She's been a senator here and, of course, First Lady before that.  Robert Gates, the Secretary of Defense, has experience as well, Secretary of Defense.  And retired General James Jones, who'll be national security advisor, spent plenty of time here during his military career.
     The last president who attracted this much interest, John Kennedy, followed a different pattern.  His Secretary of State, Dean Rusk, was a Georgian, though he had done work for the State Department.  His Defense Secretary, Robert McNamara, came from the automobile industry in Detroit--imagine asking one of those CEOs for help nowadays--and his national security advisor, McGeorge Bundy, came from Harvard.
     Did it matter?  The Kennedy team, perhaps because they were still getting used to DC, had one early disaster--the unsuccessful Bay of Pigs attempt to invade Cuba and overthrow Fidel Castro.  It left Kennedy angry, vowing never to blindly trust the CIA's advice again.  But if his team was inexperienced, it - and he - learned quickly.  The biggest success of his short administration was the Cuban missile crisis, when the Soviets put missiles in Cuba which could hit the U.S. but, after some tense negotiation and a U.S. naval blockade of Cuba, took them out again.
     Background probably matters less than compatibility--who works well with whom.  Robert Kennedy wasn't officially part of his brother's national security team but was an advisor consulted on everything simply because the President trusted his brother to tell him the truth as he saw it.
     It will be a while before we know how successful the Obama team will be.  But they all, as far as I know, are smart and capable.  It's hard to see how that could hurt.

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