Obama's One-Stop Shop for Foreign Policy Advisers

When a new president with little foreign policy expertise goes shopping for experts to man his foreign policy apparatus, where does he go — especially when his campaign mantra has been “change”?


Barack Obama will have the ability to select over 200 people to fill positions in the foreign policy apparatus — not just in the State Department but also in related areas in the Department of Defense and National Security Council. Andrew McCarthy notes that Barack Obama’s appointment strategy might consist of selecting moderate center-left nominees who will need Senate approval to assume office. The next step might be to move leftward with hundreds of executive level appointments: the deputy secretaries, under secretaries, and associates, who are the ones who help craft and implement policies. They in turn hire thousands of other people who do not need Senate approval but who nevertheless control the levers of power.

President-elect Obama has been highly critical of the foreign policy approach of the current president. What might he do to project and protect his image as being a “change” agent?

One place he may go for help is an influential non-governmental organization (these are popular in the liberal sphere): the International Crisis Group (ICG).

The ICG is formally based in Brussels but has offices around the world (Washington, D.C., of course, is a major office). These offices are prominent in various “hot spots” in Asia, Africa, and the Middle East since the stated mission of the group is “conflict resolution.” Indeed, the group might be considered a proto-State Department. It has a roster of foreign policy analysts who travel throughout the world, meeting with political and other leaders to try to bring about “change.”


This group also has ties to Barack Obama. One of its major donors is prominent Obama supporter George Soros, who received a “Founders Award” from the ICG. He also serves on its board and executive committee. Indeed, the ICG was founded by former UN official Mark Malloch Brown, whose involvement in the oil-for-food scandal and close ties to George Soros were controversial enough to merit editorials in the Wall Street Journal and other media outlets.

One of the first foreign policy gurus who advised Barack Obama was Zbigniew Brzezinski, Jimmy Carter’s national security adviser during the disastrous era that led to the empowerment of the radical Shiite regime in Iran. Brzezinski serves on the board of the ICG. Wesley Clark, former NATO supreme allied commander and an Obama surrogate during the campaign, also serves on the board.

The foreign policy guru closest to Barack Obama is Samantha Power , who was forced from the campaign for making disparaging remarks about Hilly Clinton. She has, at various times, stated she expects to serve in a prominent position in an Obama administration. Power is a member of the executive committee of the ICG.

Robert Malley is the director of the ICG’s Middle East/North Africa Program. Malley is an on-again, off-again foreign policy adviser to Barack Obama. News reports indicated during the campaign that he was an adviser to Barack Obama; when controversy erupted because of Malley’s views and history, the campaign denied that he was an adviser.


Later, when reports surfaced about his meetings with Hamas, he “resigned” as an adviser to the Obama campaign, though — as mentioned above — the campaign itself had previously denied he was an adviser. He does seem to be indefatigable and Zelig-like. There are reports that Malley again traveled to Syria and Egypt recently to outline Obama’s policy in the Middle East, though this may be apocryphal.

Malley did generate controversy recently because he met with Syrian President Bashar Al-Assad. Reportedly, Malley explained to Assad the role the ICG would have in briefing the new administration about Syria’s “important” role in the region. A Web site closely associated with the Syrian government stated that “Malley’s opinions would shape the next U.S. president’s ideas about the Middle East.” (Another Obama adviser, Daniel Kurtzer, also recently traveled to Syria, where he met its foreign minister.)

Malley heads a group of experts whose common ideology seems to blame America for the world’s problems. These experts also believes in outreach to terrorists and the regimes that support them.

Malley’s staff includes Issandr el Amrani, who has accused the Bush administration of fanning the flames of sectarian strife by rallying support against Iran. He absurdly claims that the goal of this alliance is to create “a new regional security arrangement with the Jewish state firmly as its center — the holy grail of the neo-conservatives who, despite reports to the contrary, continue to craft U.S. Middle East policy.”


Peter Harling is also on Malley’s staff. Harling has co-written numerous op-eds with Malley that advocate outreach toward Iraqi extremist leader Moqtada al-Sadr and talks with Iran and Syria. He has also written numerous op-eds critical of American actions in Iraq.

Another person on Malley’s staff is Nicholas Pelham, who advocates outreach toward Hamas. (Other analysts and their opinions can be found here.)

What might we expect from this new crew in Washington?

Insights might be gained from the various op-eds, public statements, and position papers written by them. They are uniformly critical of George Bush’s foreign policy. They are skeptical, if not outright hostile, towards the exercise of military power by America (though Power, who won a Pulitzer Prize for her superb book on genocide would make an exception in the case of Darfur). They believe in outreach towards Iran and its terror proxies, be they Hamas, Hezbollah, or the Iraqi Shiite militia leader Muqtada Al-Sadr (currently sidelined and weakened, which gives one an idea of the wisdom of the ICG’s counsel).

The political adviser of Hamas, Ahmad Yousef, recently revealed that prior to the American general election, a secret meeting was held between Barack Obama’s advisers and Hamas officials.

If true, this would contradict the promises of the Obama campaign that there would be no contact between the campaign and Hamas until that group recognized Israel’s right to exist, agreed to abide by previous Palestinian agreements with Israel, and forswore violence.


Yousef added that he personally had friendly relations with a few of Obama’s advisers whom he had met when he lived in the U.S.

Syria would most likely benefit should ICG experts encamp to Foggy Bottom. The ICG has had an office in Damascus for years (there are rumors that the Syrian government subsidizes, if not outright pays for, the expenses of this office).

The ICG experts would work to empower international organizations and make cooperation with the United Nations and other international groups (including the International Criminal Court, the universe of NGOs such as the ICG, and a raft of other Soros-supported groups such as Human Rights Watch) the sine qua non of an Obama administration. There are signs this is the prevailing philosophy of Barack Obama already; placing fellow travelers and believers in key positions of power would enable this philosophy to be put into action. International treaties would be signed by Barack Obama and approved by a Senate dominated by Democrats. These could have permanent consequences that would restrict our range of actions and shrink our sovereignty. American foreign policy actions might very well face a “global test.” We could confront the prospect of being “tied down” as Gulliver was by the Lilliputians.

Critics of the Bush foreign policy would applaud these changes. So would UN apparatchiks (Obama’s Global Poverty Act would be a honey pot for the United Nations). The New York Times editorial board would be ecstatic.


However, American power can also be a force for good (for example, Bill Clinton’s unilateral action to save Bosnian Muslims from genocide). The possibility of our actions facing a veto in the Security Council or being controlled by international bodies heavily influenced by American adversaries should give most Americans pause.


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