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North Korea Crisis: Obama’s Crisis Team Isn’t Exactly the Dream Team

Gird your loins! The international test is here, so let's meet a few of the people advising President Obama as he faces the mess in Korea.

by
Bryan Preston

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November 23, 2010 - 3:00 pm
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Remember this ad, from the 2008 campaign?

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It’s the Hillary 3 am ad — there’s a crisis somewhere in the world, the phone rings in the White House, and we need someone there who knows what to do, knows all the world’s leaders, etc.

The irony at the time of that ad’s release was that a) it came from Hillary Clinton, whose chief claim to competence was having been married to a president whose own foreign policy was weak and often driven by domestic, rather than strategic, concerns, and b) that it was nevertheless right about Obama and raised a very valid point about his experience, or lack thereof.

Here we are a couple years later, and President Obama is awakened at 4 am by a call regarding one of the world’s most dangerous flash points: Korea.  A messy succession plus the usual Pyongyang chain-yanking results in an artillery barrage, killing two South Koreans and wounding 14 more.  East Asia’s a rough neighborhood, and Obama’s relations with our strongest allies there, Japan and South Korea, are weakened thanks to his consistent disdaining of strong U.S. allies in general, and in particular his bungling of a trade deal with South Korea during his last Asian swing.

So Obama gets the call.  One of the first things he did was to convene his national security team.  Jake Tapper lists them over on The Note.  Having read it over, I have one reaction: Be afraid.  Be very afraid.  This national security team is as weak as the president who created it.

  • National Security Adviser Tom Donilon;
  • Vice President Biden’s National Security Adviser Tony Blinken;
  • Secretary of State Hillary Clinton;
  • Deputy Secretary of State James Steinberg;
  • Secretary of Defense Robert Gates;
  • Deputy Secretary of Defense Michele Flournoy;
  • US Ambassador to the United Nations Dr. Susan Rice (via secure video teleconference);
  • Director of National Intelligence James Clapper;
  • Deputy CIA Director Michael Morell;
  • Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff Adm. Mike Mullen;
  • Vice Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff Gen. James Cartwright;
  • Adm. Willard, Commander, U.S. Pacific Command (via secure video teleconference);
  • Gen. Sharp, Commander U.S. Forces Korea (via secure video teleconference);
  • Deputy National Security Advisor for Homeland Security John Brennan;
  • Deputy National Security Advisor Denis McDonough;
  • Deputy National Security Advisor for Strategic Communication Ben Rhodes;
  • National Security Staff Senior Director for Asian Affairs Jeff Bader;
  • Deputy Assistant to the President and Deputy Counsel to the President Mary DeRosa;
  • Director for Asian Affairs Daniel Russel; and
  • Senior White House Coordinator for Weapons of Mass Destruction, Counterterrorism and Arms Control Gary Samore

To be sure, there are a number of strong national security minds in that group, chiefly the military figures and SecDef Robert Gates.  But picking out a few of the others –

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