Monday, December 15, 2008

The dilemma of being President-elect

This is the problem with being a high-profile President-elect: you're not President.

I don't mean that to be facetious, but to highlight the uncomfortable problem that Barack Obama has right now--especially with US foreign policy.

There's stuff you just can't comment upon.

Take this brief snippet from

Yesterday, top US military commander in Iraq General Ray Odierno said that, though the Status of Forces Agreement (SOFA) explicitly requires all US forces to be out of Iraqi cities by June 30, he expects troops will remain in the cities past that date.

OK, so as President-elect what do you say about this?

You're already hung up between campaign rhetoric that you'll begin an immediate withdrawal from Iraq that contradicts your official policy statements that the US will retain forces there for years. You've announced a foreign policy team that is more conservative than you are, and there is mounting pressure from the intelligence community and even inside your own party to keep the current Director of the CIA and Director of National Intelligence in office, as well as to continue to authorize Torture lite, and to go very, v-e-r-y s-l-o-w-l-y on closing Gitmo.

In short: while the majority of American citizens are understandably focused on the economy, you seem to have adopted a foreign policy that is far more conservative than the people who supported you.

And you can't really comment on General Odierno's statement, because to do so would be to undercut the current administration in ways that are traditionally off limits--and besides, he works for Defense Secretary Gates, whom you've already said will continue in place.

Which at least gives the impression that when the Defense Department or our Generals speak, they are doing so with the approval of the man you want in charge, which is tantamount to saying, I'm Barack Obama, and I approved this message.

I doubt there is a right answer for President-elect Obama's current situation, because he's pretty much in uncharted territory.

But I do sense this: for all that he appears to be moving pretty deftly toward his domestic agenda, Obama is drifting into a foreign policy rather than (apparently) even thinking about imposing his will on events.

There's time. People will remind me, he's not President yet.

But you can't have it both ways. You can't call news conferences and announce appointments, and act like you're already assuming power on the domestic front with effectively asserting a functional co-Presidency.

No comments: