The Campaign Spot

Meet the Press, With The President-Elect And His Strategic Ambiguity

You can’t say the man is avoiding reporters. President-elect Obama appeared on Meet the Press this morning, with Tom Brokaw, for the full hour. However, when Brokaw asked Obama, point blank, about some of the tougher decisions facing him once he takes office, concrete answers were few and far between; ‘well, maybe’ seem to be the slogan of the morning. Perhaps the incoming president is being extremely deferential to the outgoing president, or Obama is playing his cards extremely close to the vest on the most challenging issues facing him, or maybe he isn’t quite sure what he wants to do yet.  

Take the possibility of an auto industry bailout. Asked whether the Big Three should survive, Obama began by saying that the Big Three have made “repeated strategic mistakes,” but said that “I don’t think it’s an option to simply let it collapse.” He said any government assistance is going to be based upon “significant restructuring” because they “don’t have a sustainable business model right now… I’m concerned about us ing 10 or 20 or $30 or whatever billions into an industry, and then six months later they come, hat in hand, and say, ‘give us more.’”

Despite the somewhat tough tone of some of the comments, Obama was careful to never quite say, ‘if the Big Three don’t make enough changes to be more competitive, they will go out of business.’ The tone suggests that Obama wants a bailout, and may make the auto industry jump through additional hoops in demonstrating that they have a long term plan. At the end of the day, though, the Big Three seem to be in the reassuring position of knowing that the incoming president is afraid to see them go out of business, and who is willing to open up the Treasury to keep them in business.

Asked whether the current management will have to go, Obama said, “What I will say is I want to see an end to the ‘head in the sand’ approach to the auto industry that has been prevalent for decades now.” Thus, asked a pretty straightforward yes or no question, the incoming president took the opportunity to  dispel the notion that he endorsed a head in the sand approach. Thanks, Mr. President-Elect.

On whether or not Obama would be raising taxes in his first year, or would simply wait until the Bush tax cuts expire in 2011, the answer was, essentially, ‘maybe, wait and see.’ Obama repeated that his economic advisers were studying the issue and had not yet charted a course: “We don’t yet know what the best approach is going to be… My economic team is looking at this right now.”

Discussing a future economic stimulus package, Obama mentioned infrastructure improvements and “shovel-ready” projects that the governors had ready to go. Unmentioned by Brokaw or Obama is the regulatory complications of enacting those projects, and the near-inevitable lawsuits other challenges that delay and complicate such projects, regardless of need or validity.

On the stimulus package: “How much it’s going to cost, my economic team is looking at that right now.”

Then on India, and the pursuit of the perpetrators of the Mumbai Massacre:

MR. BROKAW:  I want to move now to international affairs, the war on terror. Obviously, we have all been stunned by what happened in India at Mumbai.  It is still playing out in that part of the world.  You have said that the United States reserves the right to go after terrorists in Pakistan if you have targets of opportunity.  Does India now also have that right of hot pursuit?

PRES.-ELECT OBAMA:  Well, I’m not going to comment on that.  What, what I’m going to restate is a basic principle.  Number one, if a country is attacked, it has the right to defend itself.  I think that’s universally acknowledged. The second thing is that we need a strategic partnership with all the parties in the region–Pakistan and India and the Afghan government–to stamp out the kind of militant, violent, terrorist extremists that have set up base camps and that are operating in ways that threaten the security of everybody in the international community. 

Thus, if you’re India, and wondering if the U.S. will support you if you launch a cross-border strike in Pakistan to kill terrorists, you’re left with the answer… “well, maybe.”

And finally, on the number of troops that will remain in Iraq long-term:

MR. BROKAW:  Before we leave that part of the world, on Iraq, there’s a new phrase that has come into play called “residual force,” how many troops will stay behind in an Obama administration.  Speculation is 35,000 to 50,000.  Is that a fair number?

PRES.-ELECT OBAMA:  Well, I’m not going to speculate on the numbers.  What I’ve said is that we are going to maintain a large enough force in the region to assure that our civilian troops–or our, our, our civilian personnel and our, our embassies are protected, to make sure that we can ferret out any remaining terrorist activity in the region, in cooperation with the Iraqi government, that we are providing training and logistical support, maintaining the integrity of Iraq as necessary.

Perhaps next week incoming host David Gregory could interview members of the economic and foreign policy team and get some real answers.

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