Who is Giving Obama National Security Advice?
By Joseph Fitsanakis | intelNews | 12.16.2008
THIS PAST MONDAY, US PRESIDENT-Elect Barack Obama chaired the first official meeting of the national security team he assembled earlier this month. The names of participants are already known: US Defense Secretary Robert Gates; Joint Chiefs of Staff Chairman Admiral Mike Mullen; Director of National Intelligence Mike McConnel; as well as Vice-President Elect Joseph Biden; Secretary of State designate Hillary Clinton; Attorney General designate Eric Holder; Ambassador to the United Nations designate Susan Rice; and National Security Adviser designate General James Jones.
But according to an article  published today in The International Herald Tribune, an extended list of national security advisers to the President-Elect includes the names of several individuals whom he has contacted seeking counsel. The paper cites an unnamed “senior adviser to the President-Elect” who discloses that Barack Obama has been seeking out advice from people such as Brent Scowcroft, George Shultz and even Richard Armitage. Meanwhile, General James Jones is acting as Obama’s main counselor and mentor on national security issues. The President-Elect has reportedly  held “several long sessions, both on the telephone and in person, with Jones, in what the General has described as a ‘walk around the world’”.
General Jones’ background has already been questioned by many observers seeking a drastic reorganization of American national security policy. When Obama offered Jones the post of National Security Advisor in the new Administration, the General was president and chief executive officer of the Institute for 21st Century Energy. The group, which is affiliated with the US Chamber of Commerce, has recently taken a lead in challenging the usefulness of the Clean Air Act for combating global warming, and has repeatedly issued calls for drastic increases in US oil and gas output. Jones was also director of Pentagon-subsidized aerospace and weapons manufacturer Boeing, as well as one of the directors of Chevron Corporation. Based on Jones’ substantial corporate ties, one may question the degree to which the Obama national security team is willing to break with convention in US foreign policy.
OLD REPUBLICAN PRAGMATISTS
Yet the unconvincing credentials of General Jones appear encouraging in comparison with those of people such as Brent Scowcroft, from whom Barack Obama is reportedly  receiving counsel. The former National Security Advisor to President Gerald Ford, whom The International Herald Tribune describes as “an old Republican realist”, is the same person who was dispatched to China by President George Bush, Sr., right after the 1989 Tiananmen Square massacre, to reassure  Beijing that the US was “still behind [them]” and that there would be “no serious fallout  in the US-China relationship”. Scowcroft’s role in dramatically improving US-Chinese relations in the years following the Tiananmen Square massacre typifies what The International Herald Tribune calls his long argument “against an ideologically driven foreign policy”. Furthermore, Scowcroft maintains a long political friendship with former US Secretary of State Henry Kissinger -the man who, on December 9, 1970, relayed  without protest to Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, Admiral Thomas Moorer, President Richard Nixon’s genocidal order to commence “a massive bombing campaign on Cambodia[, launching] anything that flys [sic] on anything that moves”.
THE FATHER OF THE BUSH DOCTRINE
Another “old Republican” whom Barack Obama has been calling  for advice is George Shultz. Shultz, who was US Secretary of State under President Regan, was one of numerous American officials charged  by the Khmer Rouge legal defense team with “suppor[ting] the Khmer Rouge [regime and guerilla movement] until 1993″. In 1989, Shultz left public office to become director and president of engineering giant Bechtel Corporation. Bechtel, which was awarded a massive $600 million contract by the US government under its Iraqi reconstruction program, has been mired by numerous scandals  while working in Iraq. In 2003, The New Yorker revealed  that Bechtel had handled a $10 million private investment in one of its equity funds by the bin Laden family. Shultz’s ties to the George W. Bush Administration have been strong. In 1984, he made a speech  calling for the American response to terrorism to “go beyond passive defense to consider means of active prevention, pre-emption and retaliation”. Because of Shultz’s early association with the Bush Administration’s neoconservative policies (he introduced George W. Bush to Condoleezza Rice) The Wall Street Journal described  him in 2006 as “the father of the Bush Doctrine, or at least its most controversial tenet –pre-emption”.
THE MAN WHO THREATENED TO BOMB PAKISTAN
Remarkably, we are told  that “Obama has also sought advice from Richard Armitage”. Richard Armitage? This is the man who destroyed the career and endangered the life of CIA undercover agent Valerie Plame, as well as the lives of her contacts, by revealing her covert status without authorization to a journalist, who then published the revelation. In late 2006, Armitage, who was Deputy Secretary of State under the first George W. Bush administration, finally admitted  to having revealed Plame’s covert status. But he was never punished for this and never explained the reasons for doing it, though many in the CIA and the State Department maintain that he did it to penalize Plame’s husband, former ambassador Joseph C. Wilson, for his criticism of the 2003 Iraq invasion. Armitage is also the man who in 2001 threatened  former Pakistani dictator and US ally, General Pervez Musharraf, that “the US would bomb Pakistan back to the stone age unless it joined the fight against al-Qaeda” (we saw how well that worked).
WHERE IS THE CHANGE?
One hopes that Barack Obama’s stated  willingness to resort to unauthorized military strikes on targets in Pakistan does not draw inspiration from Richard Armitage’s earlier threats against that country. The question, however, is why Barack Obama continues to court figures such as Armitage, Shultz or Scowcroft. Is he simply contacting them as a standard procedural duty, wishing perhaps to ensure some kind of managerial continuum between the current and incoming administrations? But if this is the case, why do his “senior adviser[s]” insist on releasing  these names to the press as being among the President Elect’s counsels, on the day of the very first official meeting of Obama’s national security team? The International Herald Tribune describes Obama’s courtship of Reaganite and neoconservative hardliners as the President-Elect “mov[ing] to the center”. But if Richard Armitage, a man who threatened to bomb a US ally “back to the stone age” unless it cooperated with Washington’s plans, represents “the center”, then one wonders who represents the hardline right in this country.
In any event, The International Herald Tribune does relay a consoling message to Obama’s progressive electoral base from his unnamed “senior adviser”: the President-Elect has just “finished [the book] Ghost Wars by Steve Coll [and] is now reading Common Wealth [...], by the economist Jeffrey Sachs”. Phew! Thank goodness for that. And I was beginning to worry.
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11 Holland, S. (2007) “Tough talk on Pakistan from Obama“, Reuters, 1 August.