The Difference an Advisor Makes
With respect to the question about Obama using Clinton-era advisors in his campaign, which was the lead-in for my post below, I have to agree with Matthew Yglesias that the question about Obama’s advisors is a good one. As he explains:
I think the question was actually meant to ask precisely what was asked — superficially, there doesn’t seem to be a lot to choose from between Bill Clinton’s wife, with a team packed full of ex-Clinton people, and between a young Senator from Illinois with a team packed full of ex-Clinton people.
But though there are various exceptions and ins-and-outs to this, the basic shape of things is that Hillary’s team is weighted toward people who, like her, backed the war whereas Obama’s team is weighted toward people who, like him, opposed it. Obama’s standard has also attracted some prominent people like Zbigniew Brzezinksi and Samantha Power (both of whom opposed the war) who weren’t in the Clinton administration.
Neither candidate has really tried to open up a broad doctrinal argument, but within the wonk world, in short, there’s a significant divide that’s reflected in the Clinton versus Obama race. And while this was most notably operationalized over the Iraq question, it reflects some broader differences — Obama people are more likely to value international law, strategic restraint, and a narrow focus on al-Qaeda whereas Clinton people are more likely to take a pragmatic/instrumental view of international institutions, worry that nothing will happen without American leadership, and to have more sympathy for the Bushian idea that you need broad confrontation with rogue regimes.
I think that this is absolutely correct, and it’s definitely a difference worth noting. For what it’s worth, my sympathies lie in the direction of the Obama camp. The past seven years have demonstrated that the threat of Islamist terrorism, although very real, is less of a threat to the West than I and just about everybody else thought shortly after 9/11. Additionally, the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan have keenly demonstrated the limits of American military power. We may be the “only remaining superpower”–whatever that means–but our power is limited and it’s clear that America cannot change the world on its own.
Personally, I think that it would be better for the United States if we placed a stronger emphasis on continuing to build strong international institutions capable of settling disputes between nations. Unfortunately, this will involve doing things that, in the short term, may seem repugnant, such as welcoming dictatorships into the international community. However, if the post-World War II era has taught us anything, it is that isolation and sanctions only strengthen dictatorships, while trade and inclusion weakens them. It doesn’t happen consistently, and it doesn’t happen overnight, but it happens. And strong international institutions and a strong consensus about human rights and other issues can help to accelerate the process.
Still, I admit that this particular view, to which Obama appears to at the very least sympathize with, is hardly a universal one. How America should act in the world, and whether it should or has the right to lead it is an argument worth having. A vigorous debate on the matter between Clinton and Obama would be welcome. Though, given the nature of the political process, it probably won’t happen.