Dr. Susan Rice Tapped for US Ambassadorship to the UN

25 11 2008

News is circulating fast of Dr. Susan Rice becoming emerging as the leading candidate for the next U.S. Ambassador to the United Nations. Like others, I think this is a good thing. Dr. Rice – not to be confused with current the Secretary of State Dr. Condi Rice – is a rising star in the foreign policy world with expert knowledge on such issues as the challenges posed by weak and failed states, transnational threats from criminal and terrorist networks, the destabilizing effects of climate change and the importance of multilateral institutions.

Dr. Rice deep knowledge on African affairs will also be an indispensable asset to any ambassador to the UN in light of the fact that, according to UN Dispatch, “about 2/3rds of all discussions at the Security Council are about situations in Africa.”

For some, it might seem a  bit odd for the candidate of change to install another veteran of the Clinton administration – she served at the State Department and as a deputy at the National Security Council – at such a high level post. But such criticism is short-sighted. Like many other Clintonites on team Obama such as former National Security Advisor Tony Lake, Dr. Rice joined  the Obama campaign early on and quickly emerged as one of its most effective advocates while also playing a key role in crafting the campaign’s foreign policy.

As some have already noted, if Obama goes ahead with this appointment, its a sign that he is taking U.S.-U.N. relations very seriously, given how Dr. Rice has been within his inner circle of advisors since day one.

By the same token, however, observers such as Steven Benen pointed out that Dr. Rice could be even more effective in the White House as deputy national security adviser creating policy under retired Marine General James L. Jones who reportedly already has the national security adviser gig all locked up.

But Obama could still opt convert the UN ambassadorship to a cabinet level post while empowering her to take the diplomatic lead on the U.S. response to genocide in the Sudan, the failed state in Somalia, and other regional problems in Africa, along with leading U.S. efforts for reforming the UN system. In time, the former Rhodes Scholar could then assume another high profile role with even more responsibility and greater access to the president, such as becoming Secretary of State.

Check out Dr. Susan Rice get her wonk on while on MSNBC.


Sorting Out Preconditions

24 11 2008

With President-elect Barack Obama’s plan to announce Senator Hillary Clinton as his Secretary of State this week, like many people I am wondering how their approaches will mesh. As former Secretary of State James Backer said on Meet the Press today there has to be a seamless relationship between Obama and Clinton on message, approach, and execution if its going to work.

Or as Thomas Friedman of the NYT recently noted, “Foreign leaders can spot daylight between a president and a secretary of state from 1,000 miles away. They know when they’re talking to the secretary of state alone and when they are talking through the secretary of state to the president. And when they think they are talking to the president, they sit up straight; and when they think they are talking only to the secretary of state, they slouch in their chairs.”

That said, few issues stand out more than whether or not the President of the United States should be willing to meet with dictators or authoritarian leaders without preconditions – a point of genuine disagreement between Obama and Clinton during the campaign. In the November 17th issue of the New Yorker, Ryan Lizza describes Obama’s reaction to the barrage of criticism from the Clinton camp and political pundits to his response to a provocative question in a July 2007 Democratic Presidential YouTube and CNN debate.

Several Obama aides believe that a crucial moment came after a debate sponsored by YouTube and CNN in July of 2007. During the debate, Obama was asked, “Would you be willing to meet separately, without preconditions, during the first year of your Administration, in Washington or anywhere else, with the leaders of Iran, Syria, Venezuela, Cuba, and North Korea, in order to bridge the gap that divides our countries?” Obama answered simply, “I would.” Hillary Clinton pounced on the remark as hopelessly naïve, and her aides prepared to emphasize what appeared to be a winning argument. Obama’s aides had much the same reaction. “We know this is going to be the issue of the day,” Dan Pfeiffer, recalling a conference call the following morning, said. “We have the sense they’re going to come after us on it. And we’re all on the bus trying to figure out how to get out of it, how not to talk about it.” Obama, who was listening to part of the conversation, took the telephone from an aide and instructed his staff not to back down. According to an aide, Obama said something to the effect of “This is ridiculous. We met with Stalin. We met with Mao. The idea that we can’t meet with Ahmadinejad is ridiculous. This is a bunch of Washington-insider conventional wisdom that makes no sense. We should not run from this debate. We should have it.”

Now of course saying that you are willing to meet with certain heads of state does not mean you in fact will choose to do so. But Obama’s response to it does reveal a real difference in opinion. I wonder how this will be massaged. That is to say, if Clinton is instructed to meet with Hugo Chavez or Raul Castro or Mahmoud Ahmadinejad by Obama will her private disagreements, assuming she has any, become public? Or if they are never leaked to press will those leaders suspect that they can exploit whatever daylight may exist between the President-elect Obama and in-coming Secretary of State Clinton?

Perhaps, those questions will remain moot because it may be an option that Obama never truly chooses to exercise, whether Clinton objects to it or not.  For the most part, Obama and Clinton will most likely seek to exert pressure on certain leaders to at least give the appearance that they are negotiating from a position of strength rather than one of weakness or desperation, which is how some will try to portray it.

At any rate, I bet before taking the gig for top diplomat, Clinton had all sorts of preconditions for Obama and vice versa.

House What?

21 11 2008

From CNN:

“If you still want to be stubborn about America’s failure in Afghanistan, then remember the fate of Bush and Pervez Musharraf, and the fate of the Soviets and British before them,” the message [by Ayman al-Zawahri]  said. “And be aware that the dogs of Afghanistan have found the flesh of your soldiers to be delicious, so send thousands after thousands to them.”

The message said Obama appears “to be captive to the same criminal American mentality towards the world and towards the Muslims.” The speaker cited Muslims’ ire toward Obama’s support of Israel.

The speaker also said Obama, former and current Secretaries of State Colin Powell and Condoleezza Rice, and “your likes” fit Malcolm X’s description of “house slaves.”

An English translation of the message used the term “house Negroes,” Malcolm X’s term for blacks who were subservient to whites.

Laura Mansfield, a terrorism analyst, said this wouldn’t be the first time al-Zawahiri used the Arabic term “abayd al bayt,” which literally translates as slaves or servants of the house.

From Dr. Melissa Harris-Lacewell:

I wonder what Malcolm himself would think of Barack Obama. I have no doubt that he would be a critic, but somehow I doubt he would have labeled Obama a House Negro. I have written about the transformational narrative that underlies Malcolm’s personal journey and I think his criticisms would have been more nuanced. I suspect he also would have felt deep love and admiration for Barack and for his family of girl children. What do you think Yolanda,what would Malcolm say to all this?

And by the way, the House Negro comment is based in a deeply flawed understanding of American slavery. Brother Malcolm was a brilliant leader, but he was actually a pretty poor historian. Enslaved black people who worked in the homes of their enslavers did not necessarily live a better or easier life. Often in the course of one man or woman’s life they would work multiple kinds of tasks including field and domestic labor. Often those who worked in closest proximity to enslavers had less autonomy, were more constantly under racist surveillance, had less opportunity to form social relationships with other enslaved people, were separated from their own families, and were vulnerable to unique and horrible forms of sexual, verbal, and physical abuse. There is certainly no evidence that these domestic slaves felt more attachment to their white enslavers.

Now of course, vile yuck mouth propagandist like Ayman al-Zawahri are not very concerned about providing accurate account of history as much as they want to simply want to inject themselves in the news cycles and play mind games. With Bush fading into the sunset soon and the withdrawl from Iraq on the horizon, al-Zawahri realizes that he will begin to lose one of his principle recuritment tools and now he is trying to portray Obama as another Bush. But before he could or would lament this fact he had to declare victory somehow to rally his own troops to huncker down as they prepare for the pending conflict in Afghanistan.

…on the American people’s admission of defeat in Iraq. Although the evidence of America’s defeat in Iraq appeared years ago, Bush and his administration continued to be stubborn and deny the brilliant midday sun. If Bush has achieved anything, it is in his transfer of America’s disaster and predicament to his successor. But the American people, by electing Obama, declared its anxiety and apprehension about the future towards which the policy of the likes of Bush is leading it, and so it decided to support someone calling for withdrawal from Iraq.

Al-Zawahri continued his blather by noting, “A failure in Iraq to which you have admitted, and a failure in Afghanistan to which the commanders of your army have admitted. The other thing to which I want to bring your attention is that what you’ve announced about how you’re going to reach an understanding with Iran and pull your troops out of Iraq to send them to Afghanistan is a policy which was destined for failure before it was born.”

This cat sounds like a man running scared itching to talk shit just the cat on the block who like popping shit right before he walked away with broken limbs and a disfigured face. Those B-2 bombers are coming for you al – Zawahri.

Here is the tape.

Obviously Not

21 11 2008

Couric: Do you feel as if you owe President-Elect Obama one?

Lieberman: Well, look, no more than what I’ve said from the day after the election two weeks ago, which is: I congratulate Barack Obama on becoming our president. I offer him my full-hearted commitment to help in any way I can to make him the president we need at this urgently critical time in mesh history.

Couric: I know you want to look forward, Sen. Lieberman, but I feel I would remiss if I didn’t mention a couple things that enraged Democrats.

Lieberman: Why did I know you were gonna do that?

Couric: You said on whether Sen. Obama is a Marxist, you said “it’s a good question to ask.” Are you sorry you said that?

Lieberman: That’s one of those things I wish I said more clearly. Obviously Barack Obama is not a Marxist.

Obviously. Well, if it was so obvious why on earth would be a good question?

Perhaps, I a just another bitter blogger clinging to my keyboard, but Senator Liberman simply does not sound appreciative enough of the fact that Obama essentially saved his chairmanship. For a man who waged one of the most slanderous attacks on Barack Obama and merely got a slap on the wrist, he soes not seem anywhere near apologetic enough for what he did.

Of course, no one knows what kind of deal the Dems struck with Lieberman, but I really hope it was worth it.

60 is the New 51: Senate Dems Ponder Lieberman’s Fate

16 11 2008

On Tuesday morning, Senate Democrats will gather to vote on Senator Joe Lieberman’s (D-CT) political fate. At issue, is whether Lieberman will be allowed to caucus with the Democrats and if so, should he hold on to his chairmanship of the Senate Committee on Homeland Security and Government Affairs and retain all of his senior status, after he aggressively campaigned against President-elect Barack Obama and endorse the Republican nominee John McCain. Democrats seemed poised to keep Lieberman in the caucus, but are divided as to whether he should keep his much coveted chairmanship.

On the campaign trail, Joe Lieberman suggested it was a good idea to ask then-Senator Barack Obama if he was a Marxist and questioned his patriotism, but demurred to weigh in on the question himself. This despite raising taxes on only the top five percent of the highest income earners and had the temerity to advocate for better regulation and oversight of the financial sector.

Lieberman also accused Obama of taking an unprincipled stance on Iraq in an effort to cater to interest groups, saying Obama “would be open to changing his plan for Iraq after going there and talking to General Petraeus — only to change that position a few hours later after being heatedly criticized by organizations like Moveon.org?” Obama, however, has opposed the war in Iraq since 2002 and repeatedly emphasize the need for withdrawl.

In a speech before the American Israel Political Action Committee, the priemier pro-lsraeli organization in the U.S., Lieberman, an orthodox Jew, said Obama misjudged and “minimized” the threat Iran posed to the U.S. and Israel. But Obama, in his own speech to AIPAC, said, “Because of the War in Iraq, Iran which always posed a greater threat to Israel than Iraq is emboldened and poses the greatest strategic challenge to the United States and Israel in the Middle East in a generation.”

All of this has proved to be too much for certain Democrats to tolerate. Both Vermont Senators Patrick Leahy and Bernie Sanders have already publicly stated their opposition to having Lieberman maintain his chairmanship. Leahy said Lieberman’s attacks on Obama “perpetuated some of these horrible myths that were being run about Senator Obama and if he had done something similar “I would not be chairman of the Senate Judiciary Committee in the next Congress.”

Sanders was far more brutally honest. “To reward Senator Lieberman with a major committee chairmanship would be a slap in the face of millions of Americans who worked tirelessly for Barack Obama and who want to see real change in our country.”

To be sure Leahy and Sanders are not alone. Websites such as www.joeliebermanmustgo.com are calling for Lieberman’s ouster as Senate Homeland Security committee chairman. The group has already collected more than 40,000 signatures and posted a script for visitors to recite when phoning the offices of their respective home state Senators. They even put together this video here:

But Lieberman is not without defenders. Senators Evan Bayh (D-IN) and Amy Klobouchar (D-MN), an early and fervent Obama supporter, have proposed that Lieberman be allowed keep his chairmanship if he apologize and behaves, i.e., not use his subpeona power to investigate an Obama administration to lead a GOP partisan attack, and agrees to side with Democrats on close votes. If Lieberman does not cooperate, then Democrats can opt to remove him later. Moving to ouster Lieberman now will risk pushing the Connecticut Senator into the arms of Senate Republicans, argue Bayh and Klobouchar.

But even that does not really seem like a viable alternative since removing a Senator from his or her chairmanship post will require Democrats put together a 60 vote coalition in the Senate that would have to include GOP senators. Provided that Alaska’s Mark Begich comes out ahead in the recount against the recently convicted felon Senator Ted Stevens – a likley prospect, and Al Franken does the same against Norm Coleman in the Minnesota recount – an increasily likely prospect, along with a win by Jim Martin in Georgia’s run off election against Saxby Chambliss on December 2nd – a distinct possibility, Democrats can get to a filibuster proof 60 votes majority in the U.S Senate only if Joe Lieberman continues to caucus with them.

Coupled with an overwhelming advantage in the House of Representatives, such a majority in the U.S. Senate would allow to an Obama administration and Congressional Democrats push any legislation they want. Through a spokesperson Barack Obama has expressed a wish for Lieberman to stay in the Democratic caucus, but stayed mum on the chairmanship issue.

For his part, Senator Lieberman’s aides have said caucusing with the Dems without his chairmanship is “unacceptable.” A bold yet not altogether unsurprising position given the other pending U.S. Senate races, and the kind of leverage he potentially could have. Its also a familiar one considering after his 2006 Senate race against Ned Lamont he was courted by the Republicans to switch sides, which would have allowed the GOP lawmakers to control the Senate with Vice President Dick Cheney casting the deciding vote in a 50-50 U.S. Senate.

That said, Democrats should vote to strip Lieberman of his chairmanship. For one, no one really knows if Lieberman will go rogue and behave the same way against an Obama administration as he did against Obama on the campaign trail. Most of the attacks he waged against Obama on behalf of the McCain campaign were, as noted above, on security grounds. To reward Lieberman with a Homeland Security chairmanship would risk repeating the same thing turn of events. On principle, that just does not make sense.

Plus, much of the immigration reform and government reform legislation, if not all of it, not to mention certain appropriations bills, will have to go through that committee, which would present Lieberman with ample opportunity to cause mischief whether its including stalling bills the or attaching poisonous amendments to them.  He could hold them hostage for bargaining power and work with Republicans to frustrate Obama’s agenda that might fall under the committee’s jurisdiction.

His performance as chairman has also not inspired a great deal of confidence either. Lieberman has also not urged the committee to conduct any real investigations into the Katrina aftermath or the ongoing ICE raids.

Of course, there is always the split the baby option, which is to introduce a bill that would create a Senate Select Committee on Government affairs and one on Homeland Security.  Lieberman could be chairman or better yet a subcommittee chairman of the Government Affairs one, but not Homeland Security. At least, that option would provide Lieberman with some semblance of seniority, until he fades into the sunset.

That is, provided he does not get reelected in 2012.

Update: The title of this post has been changed from “60 is the New 50” to “60 is the New 51” to draw a parallel between Lieberaman’s pivotal role in caucusing with the Senate Dems, which allowed them to sieze control of the Senate in 2006 and his critical position today in possibly helping them achieve a filibuster majority today. Obviously, 51 counts as majority not 50.

Advising Obama on that 3 am Phone Call

14 11 2008

Journalists must be feeling giddy about the idea of reporting on the mere prospect of Senator Hillary Clinton serving as Secretary of State instead of writing stories on obscure beltway figures uttering cryptic remarks at ho hum press conferences on the minutiae of executing a brilliantly well run transition to power.

The junior Senator from New York has reportedly been sited in Chicago pulling up in her own two car motorcade preparing to meet with folks on what one Clinton aid described as “private” business. All inquires as to the nature of the trip have been directed not to her own communications staff, but the Obama transition team. Staffers on the transition team have instructed the media to take the rumor “seriously,” though have remained mum on the subject themselves, according to March Armbinder of the Atlantic.

So far three reasons have been posited for why the Obama team is seriously considering Clinton. One is the lack of enthusiasm for the shortlist of Secretary of State, Clinton’s experience on the Senate’s Armed Services Committee, and, of course, because it fits in so well with the “Team of Rivals” narrative that the Abraham Lincoln obsessed Obama and his aides have tried to craft.

Interestingly enough, this is a notion that Obama has clinged to for a long while. In fact, even as early as December of 2007 Obama floated the possibility of having Senator Hillary Clinton as an adviser albeit in a tongue and cheek kind of way.

And in May of this year Obama would tease supporters and the media alike about the possibility of having Hillary Clinton serve in his administration.

I can tell you this. My goal is to have the best possible government. And that means me winning. So, I’m very practical in my thinking. I’m a practical guy. One of my heroes is Abraham Lincoln. Awhile back, there was a wonderful book written by Doris Kearns Goodwin called ‘Team of Rivals,’ in which she talked about how Lincoln basically pulled all the people he’d been running against into his Cabinet. Because whatever personal feelings there were, the issue was, ‘How can we get the country through this time of crisis?’ I think that has to be the approach one takes to the vice president and the Cabinet.

So I guess the signs were always there. But that is not to say some in the Obama camp do not have their reservations. Marc Ambinder reports:

That said, there is no reason, other than speculation, to believe that Obama has suddenly warmed to the idea of putting a harsh rival into his cabinet; it’s not known whether Obama trusts Clinton; whether he trusts her managerial ability; whether they’ve reconciled personally; it is certainly true that many former Clinton aides are now working for Obama, including several of Hillary Clinton’s top policy advisers.

Well, I guess we are going to have to say tuned.

Financing Obama’s Transition

14 11 2008

With each incoming presidential administration an awkward and tense dance begins to form in the early days of each incoming administration and the galaxy of DC based advocacy and watchdog groups.  Sometimes the groups are just pressuring the candidate turned president-elect to live up to his or her campaign promises other times its more about trying to ensure they have a certain level of access to key decision makers.

Early signs indicate the incoming Obama administration will not be spared from this ritual. President-elect Obama has not even finish phoning all the world leaders on his calling list and Common Cause is out there raising concerns about the prevalence of the volunteer fundraisers staffing the tranisiton team.

According to an article in today’s Washinton Post, “The involvement of so many bundlers has irritated public interest advocates who worry that Obama is building his transition team based on fundraising skills, not qualifications.” Bundler is Washington speak for a person who raises money from other prominent donors usually very wealthy donors who may have power or influence or both.

“It’s especially troubling during a transition, because lots of people are scrambling and trying to position themselves for all different reasons — they want jobs, they want their legislative priorities on the front burner,” a spokesperson for Common Cause, a good government watchdog group, told the WaPo.

Perhaps, this may strike some as unseemly considering Obama’s promise to curb the influence of special interest groups, but this is no different than what a lot of senior people think tanks and advocay groups around the country have to do. Its not unusual for many Senior Fellows or department heads at many influencial of the most influencial organizations to raise a certain amount of money each year to justify your salary and help diversify the institutions donor base to make sure its keep afloat.

Sure Obama is eligible to receive and will take advantage of the $7 million in federal funds for the transition effort, but the whole affair is expected to cost $12 million dollars. That extra five million dollars has to come from somewhere if you are going to pay scores of people to keep the blackberries running and jets in the air in addition to pay a staff of highly trained individuals to work around the clock for the next four months or longer to propose effective ways to undo the damage of the Bush administration starting from day one.

Plus, just think about how angry people would be if taxpayers had to pay another dime that what’s already appropriated. In fact, an argument could be made that Obama has already save the country millions by opting out of public finance months ago.

The underlying concern that there might be a conflict of interest is a valid one, but that argument might be undercut by the lobbying rules the transition team has already implemented. David Corn at Mother Jones has summarized them as follows:

Federal Lobbyists cannot contribute financially to the transition.

Federal lobbyists are prohibited from any lobbying during their work with the transition.

If someone has lobbied in the last 12 months, they are prohibited from working in the fields of policy on which they lobbied.

If someone becomes a lobbyist after working on the transition, they are prohibited from lobbying the Administration for 12 months on matters on which they worked.

A gift ban that is aggressive in reducing the influence of special interests.

This effectively cuts off influence from even a lot of people who may be much more knowledgeable about the inner workings of some of the institutions that the transition team hopes to fix, but for better or for worse, they are indeed far reaching. And in this sense, that one would have to wonder if Obama was actually indifferent to or wanted to encourage the practice of backdoor lobbying, then the rules governing the process would be a lot more lax.

In this situation no one can completely kill any possibility of conflict of interest, but one can sure minimize it considerably.