October 20, 2008

NOT A PARODY:

Worlds Apart: Obama, McCain, and the future of foreign policy (Nicholas Lemann, 10/13/08, The New Yorker)

The network of experts set up by Lake and Rice eventually grew to about three hundred, divided into teams by region and issue, with each group generating its own material and passing it up the line. (Now, after the official absorption of Hillary Clinton’s foreign-policy apparatus, there may be as many as five hundred experts connected to the Obama campaign.) These people support a close group of about a half-dozen advisers, who include, in addition to Rice, Lake, Craig, Danzig, and Lippert, another former Senate staffer named Denis McDonough, who worked for Tom Daschle before he was unseated in 2004; Ben Rhodes, a young speechwriter who had helped draft the Iraq Study Group Report in 2006; and Scott Gration, a retired Air Force major-general whom Obama has befriended. Only Lippert, Rhodes, and McDonough are on the campaign’s payroll; Lippert travels with Obama, Rhodes is based at campaign headquarters in Chicago, and McDonough splits his time between Chicago and Washington. The thoughts of the many experts—who generally respond by e-mail—are most often filtered through Rice, Lippert, and McDonough. Thus far, nobody leaks, nobody bickers in a way that can be discerned by outsiders, and there are not obvious camps. The general feel of the campaign, both in its spread-out virtual form and at its headquarters in a modern office tower in downtown Chicago, is a little like that of the Microsoft campus in the nineteen-nineties, or the Google campus today: everybody seems young, trim, competent, cool, and casual, but casual in a “you and I both know that we’re ferocious and brilliant and we’re going to crush the other team” way.

The tone comes from Obama himself—he’s a mixture of soulful outsider and competitive, hyper-organized meritocrat—and it has an ideological manifestation. The Obama people think of themselves as future-oriented strategic thinkers, not old-fashioned, gooey, Eleanor Roosevelt-style humanitarians—as people who get it, the “it” being the new realities of the twenty-first century. Although the candidates may be required to say that their foremost concern is how the economic crisis affects the middle class, they seem to get their inexhaustible drive from the belief that they might be able to run American foreign policy. Obama’s foreign-policy staff likes to think he reads their memos first. The most sustained signal we have about Obama’s personal views on foreign policy is the next-to-last chapter of his 2006 book “The Audacity of Hope,” which is called “The World Beyond Our Borders,” and which, by all accounts, he wrote himself, taking particular care with it. [...]

The most mystical believer in Obamaism whom I met was Scott Gration, the retired Air Force major-general—a burly, friendly, artifice-less guy who assured me that he had only recently begun to wear a tie regularly. I went to see him over the summer at his house in Nutley, New Jersey. An American flag flies from a flagpole on the lawn. Gration, who grew up in Africa as the son of American missionaries, and who flew two hundred and seventy-four combat missions over Iraq, used to be a registered Republican, but he became a Democrat after spending time with Obama, especially during a trip to Africa in 2006. Perhaps because his background isn’t conventionally liberal, he is more open than the other top Obama advisers in expressing a soaring optimism about the possibility of a less arrogant, more coöperative, more empathetic America leading the world in confronting its most intractable problems. “We’ve screwed up,” he told me. “We don’t really fix these things.” He mentioned the humanitarian crisis in Darfur, the Israel-Palestine dispute, and the tension between Russia and Georgia. “What I’d hope we learn from that is: ‘Yep, we’ve got to fix the basic issues here.’ ” He went on, “What doesn’t work, in Gration’s mind, is forcing a solution. Create an environment, give people the opportunity to air their differences, and see if they can come together. We don’t tell them what the solution is, but we do have an obligation—let’s get people in here, find out the needs, see if you can come up with a plan. Don’t try to freeze conflicts!”

Gration was impatient with the idea that conflict is the natural state of the world, to be managed rather than resolved. “People are more alike than their cultures and religions,” he said. “When Obama talks about global citizens, it’s the same framework. You see, religion and culture—they’re the way people communicate their values. They want stability, order, education. This is just humanness. Then you add on your religion, your culture—that’s how you execute it.” His implication was that if we can get past the religious and cultural identities that serve as host organisms for conflict, and deal with people at the level of their humanity and their basic needs, then we can make real progress—especially if Obama personally holds an office that permits him to set the tone and lead the effort.


This one has everything: the 300 advisors, the unusual specificity about this one chapter of the book actually having been written by the Unicorn Rider, and General Gration's belief in magic....

Posted by Orrin Judd at October 20, 2008 6:29 PM
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