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POTUS Watch:

Weekly Survey of the Advisors to the President Of The United States


Paris, 18 December 2008

Since the election on November 4, 2008, the Obama transition team has been piecing together
the President-elect’s eventual administration, pulling from a wide variety of experts, including,
among others, many of the people that have served as Obama’s closest, most reliable advisors.

I present you with a weekly briefing that aims to provide an analytical overview of the members
of, and networks of influence present in, President-elect Obama’s entourage. Each week until
the inauguration on January 20, 2009, I will identify those close advisors to the President-elect, –
the would-be appointees –, those who have already been offered a position in the White House,
and the few institutions that have played a particularly important role.

By focusing on those people and institutions that are closest to the next President of the United
States, these analyses will provide a look into the political orientations, expertises, and
worldviews surrounding the President-elect as means to better understand the foreign policy
decision-making mechanisms of the next administration as quickly, accurately, and clearly as

Depuis l’élection du 4 novembre 2008, l’équipe de transition de Barack Obama constitue son
administration avec des experts des communautés politique et académique. Naturellement, le
Président élu cherche également à nommer dans son administration certains de ses plus proches

Je vous présente un briefing hebdomadaire qui offre une vue d’ensemble des membres et des
réseaux d’influence autour du 44e Président américain. Chaque semaine jusqu’à l’investiture du
20 janvier 2009, j’identifierai les proches conseillers de B. Obama, les nommés éventuels, et les
quelques organisations qui jouent un rôle particulier.

Portant sur les individus et les institutions situés au premier rang de la future administration
Obama, ces analyses examineront les orientations politiques, les expertises, et les visions du
monde de l’équipe présidentielle afin de mieux faire comprendre et le plus vite possible, de
manière fiable et claire, la politique étrangère de la prochaine administration.

Amy Greene

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President-elect Barack Obama took a risk by naming strong “personalities” to his national
security team, but did so with the confidence that he will maintain authority in the decision-
making process and will be able to arbitrate effectively among their competing interests.
Nonetheless, many questions remain to be answered about how Obama will successfully
manage the individual relations among these tough and opinionated players: Which of the
three will most have Obama’s ear in policy decision-making? What amount of relative influence
will Obama give to Jones? What will Jones’ relationship be to Clinton? Jones and Clinton are
presumed to have discordant views on the conflict in the Middle East, which could create
tension in determining future U.S. strategic orientations. In case of disagreement, how, and how
often, will Obama say no to Clinton? Will Obama and Gates be able to cooperate seamlessly as
Obama seeks to change course in Iraq? How committed will Gates be to reducing the role of
Defense in seeking to bolster State and the overall power of Clinton? How will Jones react to a
Hillary Clinton with greater influence in a balance of power scenario between NSA, Defense,
and State?

Secretary of State

Hillary Clinton will be the face of American foreign policy throughout the world and
immediately brings a heavyweight personality and authority. She is popular at home, respected
abroad, and is viewed as tough enough to sit across the table from the U.S.’s adversaries should
Obama pursue negotiations. Clinton is known her bluntness of rhetoric, but also for her sincere
desire to move back to traditional methods of diplomacy and multilateralism. Some right-
leaning statements have caused liberals to worry - for example, that the U.S. must reengage Iran
but also that the U.S. could “totally obliterate” that country should it attack Israel. Clinton is
perceived to be a fervent supporter of Israel and counts overwhelming support from the
American Jewish community. While this could lead to increased U.S. myopia toward Israel,
could her credibility among Israeli stalwarts succeed in easing tough requests asked of Israel in
the pursuit of a lasting, two-state peace?

Based on her five years in the Senate Armed Services Committee, Clinton has an intimate
understanding of military issues. Her genuine and persistent effort to understand the military
has won the admiration of many military leaders, including Generals James Jones and David
Petraeus. While some initially viewed her service on the Armed Services Committee as political
plotting to later make her presidential bid, most describe her commitment as devoted and real.

Member, Obama Transition Project National Security Working Group

A bioterrorism consultant to the Department of Defense and close advisor to Obama, Danzig
is a fellow at the Center for Strategic and International Studies and at the Center for a New
American Security. He was previously Secretary of the Navy under President Clinton. Overall,
Danzig believes the U.S. must act to protect its citizens and interests but with the aim of
reducing armed conflict and moving foreign policy back into the hands of diplomats.

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According to Danzig, the “war on terror” is flawed and cannot be won. While it may be
possible to foil plots and defeat certain cells, eradicating terrorists is impossible in a nuclear
world. Instead, Danzig advocates negotiating with adversaries on the basis of common
interests. In the Middle East, for example, he suggests rallying regional support around halting
the threats of Hezbollah, Hamas, and Iran. He approves of talks with Iran and forging
agreements with Russia and China based on common political and economic interests.
Regarding Israeli-Palestinian peace, the U.S. must immediately offer economic and security
resources and incentives in conjunction with European and Middle East allies, rather than
negotiating the peace itself.

It has been suggested that Danzig may be named deputy Secretary of Defense, ready to
replace Gates after his initial months of service in the Obama administration.

Secretary of Defense

Robert Gates is the first ever Secretary of Defense to serve for two sequential presidents. He
will be kept on to cover President-elect Obama as he changes course in Iraq. Gates wants
to refocus U.S. foreign policy from troops to diplomats and calls to redirect funding and
personnel from the Pentagon to the State Department. As Obama seeks to modify the U.S.
Defense structure, he will need Gates’ unquestioned authority. By showing his approval for
Obama’s internal reshufflings and exterior action, Gates will help quell bureaucratic grumbling
from within the trenches of the Pentagon. Also, Obama needs Gates’ credibility to build trust
within a suspicious military community.

Gates is expected to serve one year in the Obama administration to facilitate policy changes in
Iraq, to redirect energy and resources to Afghanistan, and to fortify the role of the State
Department – before quietly stepping aside.

Attorney General

Eric Holder is known to be a tough, anti-corruption advocate who will restore high standing
to the office following former Attorneys General Ashcroft and Gonzales. Holder, from his
earliest days as a federal prosecutor, cultivated his reputation by prosecuting corruption
committed by high-level figures, namely a judge, diplomat, assistant U.S. attorney, and mob boss.
He became a centrist Washington insider, respected by both parties for his record of holding
public officials accountable for abuses of power. Former President Ronald Reagan first named
him a federal justice for Washington D.C. before Clinton made him Deputy Attorney General.

Holder sharply criticized the Bush administration’s expansion of executive power and its
lack of transparency. He opposes Guantanamo, the U.S. policy on torture, the Patriot Act, and
the National Security Agency’s warrant-less surveillance program in arguing that each of them
undermines the law and hinders the U.S.’s credibility in its fight against terrorism.

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Holder has been criticized for his approval of Clinton’s controversial pardon of fugitive
financier Mark Rich. Although Holder did not authorize the pardon, he is attacked for his
complacency in letting it pass. It is unlikely that this matter will hinder his confirmation process.


National Security Advisor

A highly respected four-star general with broad bipartisan support, Jones is known for
combining commitment to the military with the ease of a statesman. Jones is an outspoken
pragmatist with a special sensibility for Europe and especially for NATO, having served as
commander of NATO as it coordinated efforts to join the mission in Afghanistan. He
recognizes that NATO is not winning on the ground, that civil effort must accompany troops,
and that a better strategy must be implemented immediately. Jones says that NATO cannot
afford failure. As he told the Washington Post in 2008, “A moribund and unraveled NATO will
have profoundly negative geostrategic impact.”

During his tenure at NATO and since, Jones thought extensively about emerging threats
such as counterinsurgency and terrorism. He is responsible for launching NATO’s first rapid
reaction force. Jones co-authored a report detailing the situation in Afghanistan, investigated
police and security forces in Iraq, and was named special envoy by the Bush Administration in
2007 to facilitate security agreements between Israel and Palestine. As National Security
Advisor, Jones will be the President's broker between the Departments of State and Defense and
will guide the President's strategic and tactical national security policy decisions.

Secretary of the Department of Homeland Security

Janet Napolitano will be called on to repair the Department’s image following its
mismanagement of Hurricane Katrina and to rehabilitate its cumbersome bureaucracy.

As governor of Arizona, a border state, Napolitano is most credible on immigration. Though

criticized for taking up the issue relatively late in her first term, Napolitano has received praise
for attacking the systemic causes of the problem rather than simply criminalizing the
immigrants. She passed legislation to ensure that state contractors verify the legal status of their
employees and established an undercover unit to infiltrate forgers of identity documents.
Concurrently, she created a guest-worker program and a path to citizenship for those already in
the U.S. She considers herself tough on immigration however, having declared a state of
emergency to be able to deploy the Arizona National Guard to fortify borders and to attract an
influx of federal funding.

As governor, Napolitano has negotiated commercial and security agreements with the
Mexican government. On the international front, she has traveled to Iraq and Afghanistan and
received official briefings on provincial reconstruction projects.

Prepared by Amy Greene, +33 (0) 6 37 08 79 90
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U.S. Ambassador to the United Nations

Formerly an advisor during the Clinton Administration at the National Security Council, Rice
later became Assistant Secretary of State for African Affairs. After leaving the government,
Rice moved to Tony Lake’s strategic analysis firm before joining the Brookings Institution.

An avid proponent of exercising U.S. power and leadership within multilateral

organizations, Rice believes those institutions have strong normative power. She has long
pushed for smarter U.S. policy towards Africa, most recently criticizing the weak response to
the crisis in Darfur and calling for tougher sanctions and the use of force to end the violence.
She favors using structures like NATO to create norms that permit military intervention in
humanitarian crises when governments are unwilling or unable to protect civilians. Faced with
ongoing crises of this sort, most notably in Africa, the question begs to be asked: how
aggressively will Rice pursue interventionist action today? Especially after calling herself willing
to go down in flames in order to intervene today and not repeat the non-intervention in

Rice emphasizes global poverty as a threat to U.S. national security and calls on multilateral
organizations to commit their power and resources to bottom-up economic stimulus initiatives.

Obama has made public his desire to elevate the role of UN Ambassador to a Cabinet-level post
and act vigorously to make Rice a part of high-level policymaking. Since making those remarks,
Rice has attempted to set up her own transition office within the State Department, but was
rejected by the Obama transition team and by Clinton aides. This power play by Rice serves to
evoke questions about the nature of her eventual relationship with Clinton, since Rice’s early
endorsement of Obama was seen by the Clintons as a betrayal and has already strained relations.

Co-Chair, Obama Transition Project National Security Working Group

James Steinberg is a veteran of foreign policy and national security, having been State
Department Chief of Staff under Clinton, aide to Senator Ted Kennedy on the Senate Armed
Services Committee, analyst for RAND Corporation, and vice president of foreign policy studies
at Brookings. His mastery of complex, nuanced global questions is overshadowed at times by
what is classified as a volatile and combative personality.

During the presidential campaign, Steinberg helped craft Obama’s positions on various
national security issues, including the Israel-Palestine conflict, and was one of the chief
authors of Obama’s 2008 speech to AIPAC (American-Israel Public Affairs Committee)
detailing his policy towards that region. This speech was hailed for its explicit commitment to
Israel, but dismayed those hoping to see a change of course in the controversial alliance.

Steinberg has written extensively advocating preventive war, but insisting that its role must be
clearly specified, standards for use must be widely agreed upon, and multilateral institutional
support must be won before undertaking any such endeavor. He is widely considered the
favorite to be named deputy Secretary of State under Hillary Clinton.

Prepared by Amy Greene, +33 (0) 6 37 08 79 90
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Name Position

Hillary Clinton Secretary of State

Richard Danzig Member, Obama Transition Project, National

Security Working Group; rumored Deputy
Secretary of Defense

Robert Gates Secretary of Defense

Eric Holder Attorney General

General James Jones National Security Advisor

Janet Napolitano Secretary of the Department of Homeland


Susan Rice U.S. Ambassador to the United Nations

James Steinberg Co-Chair, Obama Transition Project National

Security Working Group; favored to become
Deputy Secretary of State

Prepared by Amy Greene, +33 (0) 6 37 08 79 90

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