Thursday, December 04, 2008

Elixir or Delegator?

It's reassuring to see Barack Obama's team of advisors is almost the size of the National Guard, and to think that, instead of an alligator at 1600 Pennsylvania Avenue, we'll have a delegator. And, as an added bonus, it may even be a way to avoid bringing back the draft.

No one would question the value of intellectual diversity, especially when looking at some of those Obama has chosen to be his economic consultants, who have backgrounds as diverse as Paul Volcker and Robert Reich.

Obama's economic appointments are surpassed only by his national security advice crew which includes a retired marine general, Jim Jones, a current defense secretary, Robert Gates, and a former presidential candidate, Hillary Clinton, whose campaign mantra was "end the war," but who may change her tune when she replaces Condi Rice to something like "end this war." Maybe we could use a little Chicago street smarts?

And, for those optimists among us, there is a consolation prize: at least Obama won't be outsourcing his foreign, or economic, policies to India, or China. Still, his repeated insistence that he is in charge can't help but fly in the face of logic given his swiftness in transforming a unitary executive into one willing to collaborate with friends, foes, partisans, nonpartisans, as well as political agnostics, but the buck stops where?

What a refreshing change, indeed a novelty, to have, as our next president, a team player instead of wannabe royalty but, again, one can't help but ask --- the buck stops where? Whose call will it be as to how much money is appropriated in the next budget for defense spending? Will an advisor make that decision, or the president, or the president in conjunction with his advisors? Will national security be a priority, or will there be an equal budgetary emphasis on health care, and programs for those hardest hit by this catastrophic economic freefall?

We already know, despite voting against the Iraq war initially, what Obama's stand is when it comes to the war on terror, Afghanistan, bin Laden, and setting a definitive date to withdraw from Iraq, is not fundamentally different from that of his predecessor. The main difference appears to be that the President-elect will listen to his generals on the ground rather than the Almighty.

But, may we infer from his national security appointments that the Department of Defense will be as top drawer under President Obama as it was under George W. Bush? Or, may we deduce that, one of the primary reasons Mr. Obama has taken on such a large fleet of advisors is so that, should either his foreign or domestic policies not get off the ground, there will be plenty of blame to spread around?

More importantly, what can Obama do to counter arguments such as this one? He can speak up maybe, and let his own ideas on defense spending, and bailing out Detroit, come through loud and clear.

There are others who observe that the chief achievements we may expect from a first term Obama administration are enhanced possibilities for good will among former adversaries, the certain prospect of progressive Supreme Court nominations, and an economic "correction" that may well incorporate a seismic shift, or redistribution, of income from the haves to the have nots. These would all be worthy accomplishments.

No one would suggest, at this point in world history, that any new president, whether American or European, could be an elixir, or magical formula, for instant global peace; however, one would like to know what this administration's agenda is, and how it intends to get there.

We look forward to a commander-in-chief who likes to talk, but we also need talk about priorities. In the end, a prerequisite for taking the wheel isn't the ability to redefine "round."

And, clearly, it makes no sense to go from a White House that consulted no one with Bush and Cheney doubling as the Lone Ranger and Tonto for the past eight years to one that is Who's Who of domestic, and foreign, experts, and that can stand in as a small army if we find ourselves hard pressed for forces in Afghanistan. It would help to know which playbook we're working from that redefines withdrawal as redeployment.

It takes intelligence to know how to listen, wisdom to seek counsel, and courage to take a stand. We know Mr. Obama has courage, and that he will act when he thinks the time has come. We can only hope that he sees the time is here.

While the honeymoon has barely begun, the ether will eventually wear off in the delicatessen of broken promises, and like that character in a Samuel Beckett play, we may yet be asking "Is it time for my pain killer yet?"