Say this for Barack Obama. In staffing his administration, he has shown an extraordinary willingness to include people who have argued, quite convincingly, that Barack Obama is dead wrong about the most important issues of our day.
For secretary of state, Obama has decided to appoint the woman who voted to authorize the war in Iraq and who convinced 19 million Democrats that Obama simply wasn’t ready to be president. For secretary of defense, Obama has decided to keep in office the man who oversaw the success of the surge Obama believed would fail. And for national-security adviser, Obama has picked a retired general who, when rumored to be a possible Obama running mate, killed the speculation by making a joint appearance with his close friend John McCain.
We think these are good choices, given the circumstances.
Throughout the Democratic primary campaign, Hillary Clinton showed that she had a more realistic view of the world than Obama. She recognized immediately the folly of his pledge to meet “without precondition” the tyrants of Iran, North Korea, Cuba, and Venezuela. She never apologized for her vote to authorize the war, even under intense pressure from her party’s left wing. And that famous “3 A.M.” campaign ad? We thought that was right on the money.
We didn’t want either Clinton or Obama to become president, but now that Obama has won, and that 3 A.M. phone call is on the way, Clinton is as good a pick as could have been expected for the nation’s top foreign-policy position.
The same is true of Robert Gates. The current defense secretary took office amid increasing violence in Iraq and deepening aimlessness in U.S. policy. A member of the late and unlamented Iraq Study Group, Gates was noncommittal on the surge when he was nominated to succeed Donald Rumsfeld. But Gates traveled to Iraq, signed on to the policy, and came to argue effectively for it. He also pointed to signs of early progress in Iraq at a time when many — including the president-elect and vice president-elect — were still predicting disaster. Our hope is that Gates, having seen the value of a firm, assertive policy, will be a strong voice on the Obama team.
As for James Jones, the retired Marine general and former NATO commander was said to be on the list of possible running mates for both candidates — Obama for the national-security credibility Jones would have brought with him, and McCain for the fact that the two have been longtime friends and see the world in similar ways. Obama, soon to be the commander-in-chief, still needs the credibility, and we hope Jones will help provide it.
It’s hard to believe that this team will oversee a precipitous withdrawal from Iraq. In his press conference, Obama said he’s sticking by his 16-month withdrawal plan, but talked of a residual force and of listening to commanders on the ground. He’d be foolish to do anything that would bring about failure in Iraq when meaningful success is within reach. Certainly Gates, who has done so much to turn the war around, didn’t sign up to punt away all our progress.
Obama told reporters on Monday, “I’m a strong believer in strong personalities and strong opinions.” Top aides can become “wrapped up in groupthink,” Obama continued, and to avoid that he will try to foster “a vigorous debate inside the White House.” We hope he’s right, and we hope Clinton, Gates, and Jones win their share of the arguments.