Saturday, November 22, 2008

No time for a learning curve

Now, his reported selections for two of the major positions in his cabinet — Senator Hillary Rodham Clinton as secretary of state and Timothy F. Geithner as secretary of the Treasury — suggest that Mr. Obama is planning to govern from the center-right of his party, surrounding himself with pragmatists rather than ideologues.

The choices are as revealing of the new president as they are of his appointees — and suggest that, from its first days, an Obama White House will brim with big personalities and far more spirited debate than occurred among the largely like-minded advisers who populated President Bush’s first term.

But the names racing through the ether in Washington about the choices to follow also suggest that Mr. Obama continues to place a premium on deep experience. He is widely reported to be considering asking Mr. Bush’s defense secretary, Robert M. Gates, to stay on for a year; and he is thinking about Gen. James L. Jones, the former NATO commander and Marine Corps commandant, for national security adviser, and placing Lawrence H. Summers, the former Treasury secretary whom Mr. Obama considered putting back in his old post, inside the White House as a senior economic adviser.

This is the violin model: Hold power with the left hand, and play the music with your right,” David J. Rothkopf, a former Clinton official who wrote a history of the National Security Council, said on Friday, as news of Mrs. Clinton’s and Mr. Geithner’s appointments leaked. “It’s teaching us something about Obama: while he wants to bring new ideas to the game, he is working from the center space of American foreign policy.”

The reason, several of Mr. Obama’s transition team members say, is that they believe that the new administration will have no time for a learning curve. With the country facing a deep recession or worse, global market turmoil, chaos in Pakistan and a worsening war in Afghanistan, “there’s going to be no time for experimentation,” a member of the Obama foreign policy team said.

That explains Mr. Obama’s first selection: Rahm Emanuel, another centrist Democrat and former member of the Clinton White House, as his chief of staff.

In some ways, the choices made so far are reminiscent of the way the last senator to be elected president, John F. Kennedy, chose a cabinet. As president-elect, Kennedy soon picked three top officials significantly more conservative than he was: Dean Rusk as secretary of state, Robert S. McNamara as secretary of defense and C. Douglas Dillon, a Republican, as secretary of the Treasury. They helped him navigate the Cuban missile crisis, but also got him bogged down in Vietnam.

-Obama Tilts to Center, Inviting a Clash of Ideas

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