Another Barack Obama came in from the cold Monday. The man who gave us the unexpected in his team to resurrect the economy introduced his team to reorganize the world of which he sees himself as president-elect. The new message is clear - being president merely of the United States is for bush-leaguers.
Hillary Clinton, who suggested she has the equipment to be the manliest member of the entire Obama administration, invoked the campaign mantra right away, cheering an uneasy cult after those earlier appointments. She’s not only for change, but “positive” change. She promised to work with the toy countries of the world to resolve global crises.
“The American people have demanded not just a new direction at home, but a new effort to renew America’s standing in the world as a force for positive change,” she said. She vowed to “reach out to the world again,” to give the thirsty world a Coke after the drought of the Bush years.
The president-elect said the appointment of Mrs. Clinton, who once mocked Mr. Obama’s cut-and-run strategy for Iraq and derided him as a naive amateur for promising to talk to global troublemakers without first determining whether they were serious about making nice, is “a sign to friend and foe of the seriousness of my commitment to renew American diplomacy and restore our alliances.”
He didn’t say why anyone, even a tough new secretary of state, should think that timid and diffident allies, hearts throbbing with vacillation, will be inspired by soft men with a message of irresolution. Even George M. Cohan couldn’t make an anthem of “The Yanks are leaving, the U.N. is coming.” We shouldn’t expect to terrify the terrorists.
The appointment of Susan Rice as ambassador to the United Nations, and raising her to Cabinet level, hints at just how soft Mr. Obama expects American power to be under his watch. She will be an advocate of “dramatic action” in a place where “dramatic action” is extended debate on how to do nothing more effectively, unless it’s a resolution denouncing Israel for defending itself and taunting the United States for being the land of the free.
She has credentials - a Rhodes scholarship to Oxford and a turn as an assistant secretary of state in the Clinton administration - and with credentials judgment is not necessarily required. She was dispatched by Bill Clinton to inspect the ruins of the American embassies in Kenya and Tanzania, the work of al Qaeda, and then to Rwanda to see the work of barbarians there.
She described herself as haunted forever by the sight of hacked-up bodies, piled atop each other as mute testimony to an orgy of tribal retribution. “I swore to myself that if I ever faced such a crisis again,” she told Atlantic Monthly years afterward, “I would come down on the side of dramatic action, going down in flames if that was required.”
But “going down in flames,” as Jimmy Carter did in the attempt to rescue American diplomats in Iran, the mission his irresolution and indecision botched at the cost of eight splendid young Americans, ought not to be the goal of Americans, even of diplomats. Nevertheless, “going down in flames” is a reasonable prospect if an American president counts on “soft” diplomats to recruit “soft” allies to help him practice “soft” diplomacy. Regiments of softies won’t soften the hard, sharp edges of the real world.
The appointment of Miss Rice sets up a delicious prospect of the sort of conflict that Washington never gets enough of. She is a veteran of the Clinton White House, and to the fury of the Clintons she defected to Mr. Obama with the opening of the presidential campaign. Now she must “coordinate” her vision of dramatic change with Hillary, with no one at the State Department to watch her back. Hillary is said to have “made no objection” to the appointment of Miss Rice. No doubt.
The appointments of James Jones, the one-time commandant of the Marine Corps, to be the top national security adviser, and Robert Gates as a holdover secretary of defense, might give Mr. Obama a little cover for his retreat from Iraq while pumping up an expanded war of his own in Afghanistan, and they should be helpful in executing the Obama scheme to make Americans social workers to the world. Quite a comedown for a Marine.
And what does the new president do about Bubba? Will he become a “special envoy” to India and Pakistan, as Mr. Obama suggested in a recent interview? Or will his secretary of state be commissioned to find a more obscure place to send him? Would Iceland be cold enough?
Wesley Pruden is editor emeritus of The Washington Times.