February 9, 2009
The Bureaucratic Coup Targeting Hillary and Israel
Barack Obama is centralizing power in the White House, marginalizing Hillary Clinton and the State Department, while offering ever-clearer signs that Israel’s status as a close American ally is imperiled. Beneath what appears to be obscure bureaucratic maneuvers lies an apparent significant shift in America’s Middle East policy.
Karen de Young reported in Sunday’s Washington Post:
President Obama plans to order a sweeping overhaul of the National Security Council, expanding its membership and increasing its authority to set strategy across a wide spectrum of international and domestic issues.
The result will be a "dramatically different" NSC from that of the Bush administration or any of its predecessors since the forum was established after World War II to advise the president on diplomatic and military matters, according to national security adviser James L. Jones, who described the changes in an interview. "The world that we live in has changed so dramatically in this decade that organizations that were created to meet a certain set of criteria no longer are terribly useful," he said.
Jones, a retired Marine general, made it clear that he will run the process and be the primary conduit of national security advice to Obama, eliminating the "back channels" that at times in the Bush administration allowed Cabinet secretaries and the vice president's office to unilaterally influence and make policy out of view of the others.
"We're not always going to agree on everything," Jones said, and "so it's my job to make sure that minority opinion is represented" to the president. "But if at the end of the day he turns to me and says, 'Well, what do you think, Jones?,' I'm going to tell him what I think."
The new structure, to be outlined in a presidential directive and a detailed implementation document by Jones, will expand the NSC's reach far beyond the range of traditional foreign policy issues and turn it into a much more elastic body, with Cabinet and departmental seats at the table -- historically occupied only by the secretaries of defense and state -- determined on an issue-by-issue basis. Jones said the directive will probably be completed this week.
National Security head Jim Jones made it clear that he will be “in charge” and will have “open and final access to the president on all national security matters”. He went on to say “When we chair a principals meeting, I'm the chairman.”
This centralizing of power at the White House was telegraphed in an earlier column at Politico. There are two models that have been used to orchestrate the division of power between the State Department and the National Security Council. The first is the traditional one: the locus of foreign policy decision-making and implementation is in the State Department. The second model was that followed by Richard Nixon who ran foreign policy with National Security Adviser Henry Kissinger, leaving the hapless Secretary of State William Rogers flapping in the wind. Of course, there is a spectrum of power gradients in any administration. The guessing game is always: who has the power?
During the campaign against John McCain, Barack Obama tipped his hand when he stated that Jim Jones would be among the three people (Joe Biden and Senator Dick Lugar being the other two) who “have shaped my ideas and who will be surrounding me in the White House”.
The cursor seems to have moved towards the NSC and away from the State Department. Now Jim Jones seems to have achieved the height of his influence. He will not just shape Barack Obama’s ideas but flex his own power.
This should not startle anyone, and was predicted in this American Thinker article . We were not alone, of course. Other experts predicted he would play a key role and would “be as strong as Henry Kissinger, the all powerful national security adviser to President Richard Nixon.”
The National Security Council is located in the White House and its head -- and people serving on the NSC -- have direct access to the White House. The State Department is located in a different part of town, all the way down at Foggy Bottom. But there is more than just geographical distance separating the State Department from the White House. After all, despite some diplomatic makeup, Hillary Clinton and Barack Obama were political rivals and some nasty barbs were exchanged during the campaign.
Pundits speculated about how Obama would deal with a very powerful Hillary Clinton; would she eclipse him, or try to aggrandize her own power and prestige? Her wings seemed to have been clipped somewhat with this evolution. Her prospects of regaining power have diminished.
One other reason this should surprise no one: during the campaign, Barack Obama relied on advice from Zbigniew Brzezinski and Brent Scowcroft, two of the more powerful National Security Advisers in history, and has been placing his protégés in positions of power in the Obama administration.
Clearly, they counseled him to centralize power at the White House.
A couple of other tells indicate that power may be slipping away from the State Department. George Mitchell, the special envoy to the Middle East, has direct contact with President Obama. He does not have as an intermediary the Secretary of State. Dennis Ross, who campaigned for Barack Obama, seems sidelined at the moment. There has been much conjecture about his future role in an Obama administration and much speculation regarding why his role has not been formally announced. He is close to the Clintons, having served in the Bill Clinton administration for years as their Middle East envoy.
Also, Samantha Power has been appointed to an important post at the NSC; she will be in charge of working with multilateral organizations. Power is an advocate of working through multilateral organizations, and seems almost never to have come across one that she finds unworthy of praise and support. Power also has a very close relationship Obama, going back years. They are Blackberry and Basketball Friends Forever.
We can expect more “cooperation” with a wide range of multilateral organizations and non-governmental organizations, such as Human Rights Watch, Amnesty International, the United Nations and any number of groups sponsored if not controlled by George Soros (who has connections to both President Obama and Samantha Power).
The increased role of the National Security Council will only serve to enhance Power’s influence. Her recent marriage to Cass Sunstein, Barack Obama’s close friend from his University of Chicago days and now our nation’s regulatory czar, will yield ancillary benefits when it comes to the power-mapping in Washington.
One group of Americans who should keep a wary eye on these shifting dynamics: supporters of the American-Israel relationship.
(Zinni, as pointed out by my colleague Richard Baehr, is a fierce critic of Israel. He was also offered by the Obama Administration, according to varying accounts, the Ambassadorship of Iraq or Saudi Arabia).Israeli sources say that Jones is not a favorable choice because of his blatantly cool attitude to Israel.
They point to the fact that in his current position, he has sought to expand trade with Gulf States and has expressed opposition to American laws barring U.S. firms from joining the Arab boycott of Israel.
During this last role, which includes Israel in the group of 91 countries in the geographical area, Jones' cool attitude toward Israel was noteworthy compared to some of his predecessors, such as Alexander Haig and Wesley Clark.
Jones is of the same school of thought when it comes to Israel as another Marine general, Anthony Zinni, who served as envoy of the Bush Administration in 2002.
Eli Lake, in The New Republic, commented back in November that a collision between Jim Jones and Hillary Clinton over Middle East policy was likely and had this to say of Jones:
That report, perhaps because of its inflammatory nature, was deep-sixed. One suspects that it will be pulled-if it has not already been pulled-from a filing cabinet and is already on people’s desks in the White House.He drafted a report on security in the Palestinian territories said to have been highly critical of Israel’s policies in the territories and its attitude towards the Palestinian’s security forces.In August, Israel's leading newspaper, Ha'aretz, reported that the draft report challenged Israel's conception of its security interests in the West Bank as being overly broad, and that the IDF in particular was too dismissive of the Palestinian security services. The newspaper quoted one IDF officer as saying he expected the report would be "very harsh, and make Israel look very bad.
Jones will have a lot of sway over formulating policy in the Middle East. He seems to have won the battle with Hillary Clinton over the future course of Middle East policy. He brings to the power grab on the ground experience in that volatile region. As Aluf Benn wrote in Haaretz:
His Middle East experience will presumably accord him a senior position in formulating American policy in the region.
Incidentally, Brent Scowcroft would have no problems with an administration that took a lenient attitude towards enforcing the anti-boycott provisions in American law that prevent American companies from complying with the Arab boycott of Israel. His consulting firm the Scowcroft Group has business and international clients that would prosper should these provisions be ignored or the law changed. Increased trade with all Arab nations, as well as with Iran, would be financial windfall for the Scowcroft group. This may be even more likely with Jim Jones in charge of the National Security Council given this nugget buried in the Post article:
He [Jones] has advocated military collaboration with the oil and gas industry and with nongovernmental organizations abroad.
The National Security Council will work with the oil and gas industry? Clearly, the oil and gas industry seeks greater business with Middle Eastern nations, even at the expense of our allies in the area. The maxim: follow the money.
The selection of Hillary Clinton reassured many supporters of the American-Israel relationship that our ally would be supported in the challenging days ahead. The centralization of power in the National Security Council and the White House makes this prospect increasingly dim.
Of course, Samantha Power’s problematic attitudes toward Israel (and seemingly toward American supporters of Israel) are well-known. We at American Thinker have covered that topic, Noah Pollak at Commentary and Paul Mirengoff at Powerline have also done superb work on Power over the past year. Scott Johnson has also offered excellent commentary of Power for Powerline. While some dismiss concerns that Power will influence policy toward the American-Israel relationship given her current portfolio at the NSC, Paul Mirengoff finds reasons to be wary:
Power's obsession with Israel, a nation that, in her twisted world view, is the source of so much mischief, raises the possibility of "portfolio creep." Perhaps "The Monster," Hillary Clinton, will provide a safeguard against this prospect.
Will Power work with multilateral organizations, almost uniformly anti-American and anti-Israel, to amplify their impact? This may be the drift that is happening before our eyes in Washington.
America’s Ambassador to the United Nations, Susan Rice, has already started promoting the role of the International Criminal Court. This is a prospect that should concern all Americans, because of that body’s criticism of America over the years. The development should also prompt greater qualms for supporters of Israel, since that Court has been a tool to hammer Israel over the years. Will the Court echo Ambassador’s Rice’s view that Israel should investigate itself over charges that it committed war crimes in Israel -- a startling statement to make about a close ally and one that received scant coverage in American media.
A reflection that the climate for such actions is more welcoming in Washington?
Will the internationalization of American foreign policy be the final result?
Ed Lasky is news editor of American Thinker.