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

Remember this ad, from the 2008 campaign?

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 —

National Security Adviser Tom Donilon: He just rose to his current post in October, replacing Jim Jones.  Prior to his tenure in the Obama administration, Donilon was chiefly … a Democratic operative.  And a lobbyist for Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac, for six years.  Aren’t you glad a Fan-Fred lobbyist is advising POTUS on dealing with the wildly unpredictable, violent, and dangerous Kim family in North Korea?

Vice President Biden’s National Security Adviser Tony Blinken: Blinken’s national security resume is arguably a little stronger than Donilon’s, having worked around the national security apparatus a bit more than Donilon has.  On the other hand, VP Biden calls Blinken “one of the smartest guys I’ve ever worked with,” (coming from the man who opposed the surge and wanted to divide Iraq into three separate states and leave them for Iran’s pickings, that’s quite a statement!) and he has the unabashed endorsement of violent-fantasy prone rabid left-wing blogger Spencer Ackerman, who calls Blinken an “energetic progressive.”  Seriously.

Senior White House Coordinator for Weapons of Mass Destruction, Counterterrorism and Arms Control Gary Samore: Among the chief architects of the controversial START treaty, which, according to its opponents like the Heritage Foundation, is tipped to heavily favor the Russians against U.S. interests.  Samore also does a good job of misunderstanding the roots of strife in the Middle East.  Hint: Arab states attacked tiny and barely armed Israel repeatedly before “arms control” was even a glimmer in Nixon’s eye.

US Ambassador to the United Nations Dr. Susan Rice: Where to start?  How about Rwanda.  Rice was in the Clinton administration’s State Department when that genocide occurred.  She reportedly learned a lesson from that, which was that the U.S. should have intervened.  But for some reason that same lesson didn’t apply to Iraq, where the U.S. had actual security interests at stake and from which Saddam Hussein threatened the region and the world.  She appears to be one of a long line of “progressives” who advocate for U.S. involvement in international crises in inverse proportion to our national security interests that might be at stake (such thinking elevates Darfur above, say, Iraq).  She was John Kerry’s senior foreign policy adviser during his 2004 run for the presidency.

Secretary of State Hillary Clinton: She boasts an undeserved reputation for international competence; her tenure at State got off to a rocky start with the Russian “reset” faux pas (which was an attempt to placate KGB man Vlad Putin & Co by taking a cheap shot at former President Bush while she was on foreign soil) and has only gotten smoother in direct proportion to her silence. That’s because like her boss, when she does speak, she tends to go around making apologies for the very nation whose interests she is supposed to represent.

These folks and a few others surround our young and inexperienced president as he picks up the crisis phone.  Gird your loins, as they say.