I ran into Steven Clemons, director of the American Strategy program at the New America Foundation and Washington Note editor, today during a meeting on NATO’s future at the Council on Foreign Relations.
During our conversation about President Obama’s foreign policy, Clemons raised the issue of what he says is a burgeoning division within the Obama administration’s foreign policy universe.
One the one hand, he said, you have the “global interventionists,” or “global justice camp,” who he said want to pursue “reckless crusades” in countries such as Sudan by sending in U.S. troops to deal with violence in the Darfur region that was at one point a genocide (levels of violence there are currently not thought to be anywhere near the threshold of genocide, though U.S. Ambassador to the United Nations Susan Rice continues to call it an “ongoing genocide”).
Along with Rice, National Security Council adviser Samantha Power is one of the leading faces of the “global justice” group that Clemons was criticizing.
On the other hand, he said, you have realists and pragmatists, who want to work with countries such as China and Russia — countries with very poor records on human rights and democracy — to collaborate on issues such as the Iranian threat, nuclear weapons proliferation, North Korea, etc.
Clemons said that Obama may have thought he could handle foreign policy while also tackling the economic crisis, but that the economy has consumed his attention, and that in the absence of his leadership on issues, the two camps within his administration will “paralyze” decision-making. He said in some cases this is already the case.
As for the global justice crowd, Clemons said: “Obama has to figure out how he talks to that crowd and never deliver.”
Clemons later listed the top Obama administration officials who he sees as being in both these camps.
The realist group, he said, is comprised of Defense Secretary Bob Gates, National Security Adviser Gen. Jim Jones, Director of National Intelligence Dennis Blair, NSC director of strategic communications Denis McDonough, and NSC chief of staff Mark Lippert.
Clemons named Secretary of State Hillary Clinton as the lead interventionist, citing her past statements and positions on women’s issues, human rights, darfur, and China, but said she has begun to give herself a “makeover” into a realist, starting with her recent comments on human rights in China.
Along with the aforementioned Rice and Power, Clemons also said Anne Marie Slaughter, director of policy planning at the State Department.
Deputy Secretary of State Jim Steinberg is also a fence straddler, Clemons said.
And there are outside advisers in both camps, he said: Brent Scowcroft with the realists and Anthony Lake with the interventionists.
— Jon Ward, White House reporter,The Washington Times