Friday, November 21, 2008

The punditry on Obama's appointments

As a recent glutton of political news, I've been reading some of the analyses of Obama's possible appointments to the Cabinet and other administration posts. Lots of ink is being shed over Emanuel, Clinton, Daschle, Holder, Gates, Hagel, Napolitano, and most recently, John Brennan as possible CIA chief. (Sullivan is livid about that last one.)

Here are my thoughts. First of all, do you notice the word "possible" a couple of times in that last paragraph? Most of these people haven't even been officially offered positions yet. So I'm not getting too worked up.

Second, whoever is eventually appointed to these positions will have some degree of autonomy in carrying out their executive (and sometimes legislative) functions. So it is absolutely fair to analyze their past behavior and the likely actions they would take in the upcoming administration. So, for example, it's reasonable to be concerned about whether a SecDef Gates would be inclined to start withdrawing troops from Iraq, since he has largely overseen Bush's surge strategy.

Third, it's also fair to speculate about what these possible appointments tell us about Obama's own plans for the next four years. The appointees' positions probably reflect a little bit on Obama's positions. But I want to emphasize, "a little bit." That's my main point here. Ultimately, Obama is the boss, and the buck stops there. So he will (and should) be appointing people who can help him accomplish his goals. Sometimes, those people might disagree with him on particular policies, but they are fundamentally contracted to implement Obama's policies.

So that's why my reaction to a possible Brennan appointment to the CIA is mixed. If Brennan is as ambivalent about torture and illegal detention as Sullivan claims, then we should absolutely be concerned. Indeed, if Brennan was legally complicit in Bush-Cheney-Tenet war crimes at the CIA, he should be disqualified, period. But if Brennan does eventually get selected, I wouldn't interpret that as a clear and convincing sign that Obama has backtracked from his commitment to end human rights abuses. Obama is the boss, and Brennan would have to obey his directives. If the directives change, or Brennan goes rogue, then let's talk.

Am I being too credulous of Obama here? Do I have "Yes We Can" blinders on? Perhaps.

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