Change We Can Believe In?

The slogan of Sen. Barack Obama’s presidential campaign is "change we can believe in." It’s clear that Obama believes we need to change course with regard to Iraq. In January 2007, he introduced legislation calling for removing combat brigades from Iraq by March 31, 2008, and declared, "It is time for us to fundamentally change our policy. It is time to give Iraqis their country back." And according to his presidential campaign Web site: "Obama will immediately begin to remove our troops from Iraq. He will remove one to two combat brigades each month, and have all of our combat brigades out of Iraq within 16 months."

Like the proverbial joke about a thousand lawyers at the bottom of the sea, Obama’s Iraq intentions are a good start. But what about the rest of his foreign policy? A look at his current National Security Working Group provides some insight.

Some are former members of Congress and no big surprises. Sam Nunn was chairman of the Senate Armed Services Committee and co-author of the Nunn-Lugar Cooperative Threat Reduction (CTR) legislation that has resulted in the destruction or deactivation of over 6,000 nuclear warheads and 500 intercontinental ballistic missiles, as well as security upgrades to protect fissile material and nuclear warhead storage sites. David Boren was former chairman of the Senate Select Committee on Intelligence. Lee Hamilton served on the House Committee on Foreign Affairs and the U.S. House Permanent Select Committee on Intelligence, and after leaving Congress he was the vice chairman of the 9/11 Commission and the co-chair of the Iraq Study Group. Tim Roemer also served on the 9/11 Commission.

The group also includes two former Clinton administration secretaries of state: Warren Christopher and Madeleine Albright. This is the same Warren Christopher who advocated U.S. intervention in Bosnia using the specious argument that the situation in Bosnia and Herzegovina was a threat to international peace and security. (Another Obama adviser, Jim Steinberg, similarly argued as director of policy planning at the State Department that if the United States did not act "we would face the imminent danger of a widening war that could embroil our allies, undermine NATO’s credibility, destabilize nearby democracies, and drive a wedge between the United States and Russia.") Following in the footsteps of her predecessor at Foggy Bottom, Albright argued that the air campaign against Kosovo was "necessary and right" because the fate of Kosovo was somehow "critical to our own security." (Madeleine Albright is also famous for asking then chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff Colin Powell, "What’s the point of having this superb military you’re always talking about if we can’t use it?") Yet Clinton’s intervention in the Balkans was largely similar to Bush’s invasion of Iraq: both demonized rulers as Hitlers, both were unnecessary military actions against sovereign states conducted without the formal approval of the UN Security Council, and neither involved an imminent threat to U.S. security – and both were rationalized on humanitarian grounds.

Another member of the working group is former Clinton national security adviser Tony Lake, who articulated a doctrine of enlargement to "foster and consolidate new democracies" in order to "counter the aggression – and support the liberalization – of states hostile to democracy," which sounds a lot like Bush administration rhetoric. Indeed, Lake argued that "the idea of freedom has universal appeal," which is the same argument President Bush made just prior to the Iraq War: "Democracy will always and everywhere have greater appeal than the slogans of hatred and the tactics of terror."

Other former Clinton administration members include: Greg Craig (director of policy planning in Madeleine Albright’s State Department), Richard Danzig (former secretary of the Navy), Eric Holder (deputy attorney general under Janet Reno), William Perry (former secretary of defense), and Susan Rice (former assistant secretary of state for African affairs).

Because Obama has been criticized for not having enough experience, it’s not surprising that he would choose to deflect some of that criticism by bringing on experienced advisers – but with so many of them being former Clinton administration appointees, one has to wonder whether they represent recycling more than real change. If the foreign policy change Obama wants us to believe in is only Iraq, that may be the most audacity we can hope for. The question is whether it is enough to believe in.


I cited comedian George Carlin in my last column, and he has since died as a result of heart failure at the age of 71. Carlin was a counterculture hero and one of my favorite comedians. Although Carlin is probably most famous for his "seven words you can’t say on television" routine, upon hearing of his death I couldn’t help but think of this particular bit he came up with during the height of the Cold War when we were threatening to deploy Pershing II nuclear missiles in Europe as a response to the Soviet SS-23:

"If we really wanted to scare the ever loving sh*t out of the Russians, we should start a movement in this country. By claiming 2nd Amendment rights, we should allow RV owners to mount ICBMs on their vehicles. It just makes more sense. Doesn’t it? We’re a nation on wheels anyway. Why not let Joe Blow help in national defense and reduce the cost? On a three-day weekend no one would know where the hell our nukes were. So lighten up, Mr. Brezhnev. It’s the 4th of July. I’m out in my Winnebago with a case of beer and a Minuteman missile!"

George Carlin will be sorely missed – not just for his wit, but for his wisdom.

Author: Charles V. Peña

Charles V. Peña is a senior fellow at the Independent Institute, a senior fellow with the Coalition for a Realistic Foreign Policy, a former senior fellow with the George Washington University Homeland Security
Policy Institute
, an adviser to the Straus Military Reform Project, and an analyst for MSNBC television. Peña is the co-author of Exiting Iraq: Why the U.S. Must End the Military Occupation and Renew the War Against al-Qaeda and author of Winning the Un-War: A New Strategy for the War on Terrorism.