Obama’s administration a circular firing squad?

U.S. President-elect Barack Obama has wasted no time getting down to work, assembling both his economic and national security teams. Now the question is whether the new team will be able to work well with both Obama, and with each other.

Obama nominated Hillary Clinton as Secretary of State, Susan Rice as the U.S. Ambassador to the UN, and Robert Gates will stay on as Secretary of Defense.

Hillary Clinton is without a doubt a popular politician and a highly respected person, but is she qualified to be the next Secretary of State?  

When officially introducing Clinton in her new role in the Administration, Barack Obama said:

“I have known Hillary Clinton as a friend, a colleague, a source of council and a tough campaign opponent. She possesses extraordinary intelligence and a remarkable work ethic. I am proud that she will be our next Secretary of State. She’s an American of tremendous statue who will have my complete confidence, who knows many of the world’s leaders, who will command respect in every capitol and who clearly has the ability to advance our interests around the world.”

However, just months before that statement, in February 2008, Obama expressed a different view about Clinton’s foreign policy expertise, her experience and judgment. Commenting on Hillary Clinton’s approach to the Iraq issue, he said:  

«…in fact, she was ready to give in to George Bush on day one on this critical issue. So the same person that she criticizes for having terrible judgment, and we can't afford to have another one of those – in fact, she facilitated and enabled this individual to make a decision that has been strategically damaging to the United States of America.»

Another appointee, Susan Rice, served on the National Security Council and as Assistant Secretary of State for African Affairs during Clinton's second term. She also was senior foreign policy adviser for Obama’s presidential campaign. Rice also had something to say about Clinton:

“On the critical foreign policy issues of the day, whether it was a decision to go to war in Iraq or the decision to give President Bush the benefit of the doubt and beat the drums of war with Iran, Hillary Clinton has made the same wrong judgment as John McCain and George W. Bush. Barack Obama has made a very different judgment,” she said.

She continued:

“And then she claimed that she played an instrumental role in negotiating the Northern Ireland peace agreement. George Mitchell who was the negotiator said she was not directly involved. She claimed she went to Kosovo and opened the border with Macedonia, and yet the border opened the day before she arrived on that trip through no direct involvement of her own.”

Meanwhile, Rice, who hasn’t started to work as UN ambassador yet, has already been criticized for her previous decisions. Some experts blame her for playing a key role in blocking efforts to neutralize Osama bin Laden in the 90s.

According to Mansoor Ijaz, a former troubleshooter for the Clinton administration, the FBI had their efforts to capture bin Laden “overruled every single time by the State Department, by Susan Rice and her cronies, who were hell-bent on destroying the Sudan.”

Samantha Power, who was forced to resign from Obama’s campaign after calling Clinton a “monster”, is not a big fan of Rice either. In her article titled “Bystanders to Genocide” she outlined Rice’s role in the “do-nothing policy” of the Clinton Administration.

“As the terror in Rwanda [in 1994] unfolded, Clinton had shown virtually no interest in stopping the genocide, and his Administration had stood by as the death toll rose into the hundreds of thousands,” Power wrote.

President-elect Obama has re-appointed Robert Gates to stay on as Secretary of Defense. Many liberals are quite angry with that decision.

A prominent liberal blogger in the U.S., Chris Bowers of The Open Left, says the message sent by the selection of Gates undermines Democrats.

“Further, keeping Gates on would only worsen Democratic image problems on national security, as he would be the second consecutive non-Democratic Secretary of Defense nominated by a Democratic President. The message would be clear: even Democrats agree that Democrats can't run the military,” he wrote in his blog.

These people are going to work together, and it’s hoped that, despite all their differences, they will manage to tackle the foreign policy challenges facing the U.S.