President-elect Barack Obama may already be in the process of alienating the dovish elements of his coalition for change. According to a story in Thursday’s Los Angeles Times, some of the names being discussed as potential Cabinent members in the Obama administration — current Defense Secretary Robert Gates and Sen. Hillary Clinton, for example — have antiwar groups worried about the new president’s foreign policy.
“There’s so much Obama hero worship, we’re having to walk this line where we can’t directly criticize him,” Kevin Martin, the executive director of Peace Action, told the Times. “But we are expressing concern.”
Kelly Dougherty, of Iraq Veterans Against the War, agreed, saying, “Obama ran his campaign around the idea the war was not legitimate, but it sends a very different message when you bring in people who supported the war from the beginning.”
It seems that the antiwar groups might have gotten ahead of themselves, and started expecting too much from Obama. During the campaign, he’d made it clear that his plan to withdraw from Iraq over the course of his first 16 months in office would be subject to change if the situation on the ground changed. “I’ve always said that the pace of withdrawal would be dictated by the safety and security of our troops and the need to maintain stability. That assessment has not changed,” he said in July. And a former Obama foreign policy advisor told the BBC in March that her boss’ plan is a “best-case scenario.”
Besides, while Cabinet appointments clearly affect policy, there’s not necessarily a perfect correlation between the two. In some ways, Obama’s decisions on these appointments could help him successfully implement a more liberal foreign policy. Writing for CNN.com on Wednesday, Steve Clemons argued this point, saying:
If Obama wants to change the strategic game on Iran, Israel-Palestine, Syria, Cuba, Russia and other challenges, he will need partners who are perceived as tough, smart, shrewd and even skeptical of the deals he wants to do. Clinton is all of these.
Clinton may be the bad cop to Obama’s good cop. Because she is trusted by Pentagon-hugging national security conservatives, she may legitimize his desire to respond to this pivot point in American history with bold strokes rather than incremental ones.