Sunday, November 23, 2008

Son of Bush Sr.? Obama prepares for state-croft

Some weeks ago, Obama let it be known that he admired the way foreign policy was conducted during the administration of George Bush, Sr. Today, the Wall Street Journal notes that "many of the Republicans emerging as potential members of the Obama administration have professional and ideological ties to Brent Scowcroft" -- Bush Sr.'s national security adviser. And it's widely reported that Obama will keep on Robert Gates as defense secretary. Gates was deputy national security adviser under Scowcroft.

The Journal article stresses policy affinities between Scowcroft and Obama -- most notably that both opposed going to war in Iraq. But "no drama Obama" is probably equally drawn to Scowcroft's management style. Here's how his eternally loyal deputy, Gates, described Scowcroft's modus operandi in his memoir, From the Shadows:
A dogged defender of the Presidency, Scowcroft's lack of egotism and his gentle manner made possible the closest working relationships with other senior members of the national security team. Further, the strong individuals who ran State, Defense, CIA, and the other key institutions of national security trusted Scowcroft as no other National Security Adviser has been trusted--to represent them and their views to the President fairly, to report to him on meetings accurately, to facilitate rather than block their access to the President. Scowcroft ran the NSC and its process as it should be run (457-58).
Gates himself ran the deputies committee, which oversaw the interagency NSC process. Of that group he claims:
The friendships--and-trust--that developed among the core members of the Deputies Committee in 1989-1991 not only made the NSC process work, but cut down dramatically on the personal backstabbing and departmental jockying that had been so familiar (459).
It's often been reported that Obama welcomes -- and in fact demands -- open debate from his advisers. Gates describes Bush Sr. in similar terms:
He was an eager learner and interested in reaching out beyond government experts for insights and information...his decision process was encompassed in small, frequent meetings of trusted advisers and an open dialogue with former senior officials and others, from whom Bush encouraged different views and debate (454).
Gates is not a disinterested observer: he is immensely proud of the role he played in Bush Sr.'s Administration. But he's not indiscriminate in praise, either: he describes Bush's foreign policy team as the most cohesive and effective among those of five presidents for whom he worked (Nixon, Ford, Carter, Reagan, Bush). It's plain that Obama's bent is to forge teams with the cohesion (as well as the intellectual firepower) that Gates claims for George H. W. Bush's foreign policy shop.

Related posts:
Obama and Gates in Sync on Pakistan
On the Same Page: Gates, Mullen, Powell, Obama
Back from the Shadows: Can Gates Steer the Surge?

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