A few months ago at an event for a group of youngish Democrats in DC, I ran into one of General Jim Jones's staffers at the US Chamber of Commerce. It's odd to find a Democrat at the US Chamber of Commerce, since that is one of the most partisan and ideologically conservative groups in the country. We had a nice chat, and he essentially led me on to believe that Jones was heading up the Chamber of Commerce's Institute for 21st Century Energy to make some money after his time in the military. I don't know how much stock to put in this conversation, but it's quite common for generals to make money after leaving the military, and I wouldn't be surprised if Jones just didn't know or care that he was working for a hardcore conservative group. Military leaders respect industry leaders, and vice versa.
Anyway, this conversation became relevant recently because Jones is going to be Obama's National Security Advisor, and he'll place special emphasis on energy security. I have some background in the politics of climate change, so I spent time on the plane today reading through the recommendations of his energy center to get a sense of this man's priorities and thought processes. While I don't know him or how he works, after reading Jones's transition plan I have come to share the Center for American Progress's Brad Johnson's hope that Obama is setting energy policy and Jones is on the periphery of any policy formulation role.
I've been holding off on even a tentative verdict regarding the transition from the lame-duck Bush to the incoming hope-duck Obama administration. Partly because I just don't know. Partly because I'm remaining cautiously optimistic. Partly because I feel like I'm cursed and that my cynicism and skepticism, coupled with my hope and pride, if made public, might just jinx everything and ruin Obama's presidency. Okay, I've obviously just been watching way too much Twin Peaks lately.
(And by "watching" I mean obsessively and consecutively beaming the entire series into my skull. And by "lately" I mean in the past three days. And by "too much" I mean not nearly enough because, honestly, Twin Peaks was a watershed moment/phenom in television and American history and in a just world ABC would still be airing new episodes once a week and showcasing the best and most unique in television writing, production, directing and acting. Oh well.)
And, partly because the Sky has been Falling for so many on the left that I just really couldn't get with the chorus of naysayers. Not because those sounding the alarms on the left are Chicken Littles and wrong about Obama being Clinton Redux - I've had the same fear - but just because homogeneity is just not my thing and always induces illustrious yawns. (At least I think they look illustrious.)
But this recent front page diary about Obama's pick for National Security Advisor by Chris just screams for my attention.
CNN is reporting that retired General Jim Jones is the leading candidate to become Obama's national security advisor. There is good reason to believe this reporting, given that Jones was one of sixteen names on the "semi-short list" for Obama's Vice-President. While Jones was taken out of contention when it was revealed he supported John McCain, in the third debate Obama still mentioned him as an advisor he would "surround" himself with when elected President. So yeah, this report is probably accurate.
Although not as bad as keeping Gates as Secretary of Defense (I'm not sure any cabinet appointment could be that bad), it would still be a very disappointing selection. Jones, as already noted, supported McCain, and was also offered the deputy Secretary of State job in the Bush administration. He turned the offer down, but turning down an offer like that from the Bush administration in mid-2007 isn't exactly a progressive master stroke. Not many people are keen to jump on board an administration with a sub-30% approval rating and only twenty months left in office.
Let's say that all of the leading contenders for Obama's national security team end up in his administration. This would give him a core foreign policy team of Joe Biden, Hillary Clinton, Janet Napolitano, Jim Jones, and Robert Gates. That is, overall, a center-right foreign policy team lacking any clear progressives (at least, foreign policy and national security progressives). All of them, with the possible exception of Jones, supported the Iraq war from the outset. At least two of them, Gates and Napolitano, opposed withdrawing troops as recently as 2007 (although the new agreement with Iraq has rendered that debate moot). Also, two members of this group, Gates and Jones, supported McCain. This team would oversee roughly 60% of discretionary federal budget spending, military operations, and all diplomatic relations.
I know everyone is obsessed with the "team of rivals" idea right now, but I feel incredibly frustrated. Even after two landslide elections in a row, are our only governing options as a nation either all right-wing Republicans, or a centrist mixture of Democrats and Republicans? Isn't there ever a point when we can get an actual Democratic administration? Also, why isn't there a single member of Obama's cabinet who will be advising him from the left? It seems to me as though there is a team of rivals, except for the left, which is left off the team entirely.
It is just so very frustrating. It seems like the only place progressives are making any gains is in the House. We are being entirely left out of Obama's major appointments so far. I guess everyone gets to play in Obama's administration, except progressives. Adam B and I talked about this subject for an hour today on Radio Times, and you can listen to it here.