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NAIROBI — If the election of Barack Obama has been greeted with glee across much of Africa, there is at least one spot where the mood is decidedly different.
In the Sudanese capital of Khartoum these days, political elites are bracing for what they expect will be a major shift in U.S. policy toward a government the United States has blamed for orchestrating a violent campaign against civilians in the western Darfur region.
“Compared to the Republicans, the Democrats, I think they are hawks,” said Ghazi Suleiman, a human rights lawyer and member of the Southern People’s Liberation Movement, which has a fragile power-sharing agreement with the ruling party. “I know Obama’s appointees. And I know their policy towards Sudan. Everybody here knows it. The policy is very aggressive and very harsh. I think we really will miss the judgments of George W. Bush.”
While the Bush administration most recently advocated the idea of “normalizing” relations with Sudan as a carrot approach to ending a crisis it labeled a genocide, Obama’s foreign policy appointees have pushed for sticks.
Hillary Rodham Clinton, the nominee for secretary of state, has called for a NATO-enforced no-fly zone to “blanket” Darfur in order to prevent Sudanese bombing of villages. The appointee for U.N. ambassador, Susan E. Rice — a key Africa adviser to the Clinton administration during the 1994 Rwandan genocide, when President Bill Clinton was sharply criticized for failing to act — has pushed for U.S. or NATO airstrikes and a naval blockade of Sudan’s major port to prevent lucrative oil exports. Rice has vowed to “go down in flames” advocating tough measures.
Vice President-elect Joseph R. Biden Jr., who was chosen for his foreign policy experience and pressed early for U.S. intervention to stop the fighting in the Balkans, was blunt during a hearing last year: “I would use American force now,” he said.
But it remains unclear how those pre-election views will square with the president-elect, who has outlined a pragmatic, coalition-based approach to foreign policy, while also speaking of America’s “moral obligation” in the face of humanitarian catastrophes of the sort that are plentiful in Africa.
Heading off potential genocide is the focus of a task force report to be released today in Washington. The group recommends, among other things, that the Obama administration create a high-level forum in the White House to direct the government’s response to threats of mass violence.
So far, Obama has been more cautious on Darfur than some of his appointees, advocating tougher sanctions against Khartoum and a no-fly zone that might be enforced with U.S. “help.” He has not called for direct U.S. intervention.
Obama intends to keep Bush’s defense secretary, Robert M. Gates, who has already suggested that the United States will not provide much-needed helicopters to a struggling peacekeeping mission in Darfur because U.S. forces are stretched too thin in Iraq and Afghanistan. Obama has also nominated as national security adviser retired Marine Gen. James L. Jones, a former NATO supreme allied commander who has suggested that NATO’s role in Darfur should be training and support to the current peacekeeping mission rather than direct intervention.
And specialists close to Obama’s presidential campaign said that more generally, the new administration sees a need for diplomatic approaches to security crises across the continent.
“We don’t have the capacity to pacify these places militarily,” said John Prendergast, a Darfur activist and former White House aide during the Clinton administration, citing Sudan and the worsening conflicts in Congo and Somalia. “We need political solutions.”
Sudan’s U.N. ambassador, Abdalmahmood Abdalhaleem Mohamad, dismissed the calls for military action as “only election slogans.”
“You cannot claim to be disengaging from disasters like Iraq but creating a new disaster in one of Africa’s biggest countries,” he said.
The crisis is in many ways a far more complex conflict than the one the Bush administration confronted. The violence in Darfur began in February 2003 when two rebel groups attacked Sudan’s Islamic government, claiming a pattern of bias against the region’s black African tribes. Khartoum organized a local Arab militia, known as the Janjaweed, to wage a scorched-earth campaign against the three ethnic groups — mostly farmers and traders — thought to be the rebels’ political base.
Some analysts estimate that as many as 450,000 people have died from disease and violence in the conflict. About half the population of the Darfur region — about 2.5 million people — are now displaced.
Even Without That Task, Huge Agency Poses Challenges
Under the best of circumstances, overseeing the Department of Health and Human Services is an enormous undertaking. With 65,000 employees and a budget of $707.7 billion, it accounts for nearly one-quarter of all federal spending, second only to the Defense Department.
But in the Obama administration the job is taking on a second, perhaps more daunting, responsibility: shepherding health-care reform legislation through Congress.
Unlike his predecessors, Thomas A. Daschle, President-elect Barack Obama’s choice for HHS secretary, will be given an expanded role, leading administration efforts to overhaul the U.S. health system.
“This really creates a new type of secretary,” said Charles N. “Chip” Kahn III, president of the Federation of American Hospitals. In the past, “HHS was more or less a service organization to the White House,” while White House advisers drove policy initiatives.
In broad terms, Obama campaigned on the idea of reducing medical costs, improving quality and eventually achieving universal insurance coverage. He promised to cover every child and to reduce the average family’s medical bill by $2,500 a year. He advocated a greater emphasis on prevention and expanding participation in the government-subsidized Medicare and Medicaid programs.
“There are two aspects to the challenge of pushing for health reform,” said Dan Mendelson, a budget and health adviser in the Clinton administration. “One is to get the right concepts together with what Congress wants to do, and the other is managing the disparate concepts and generous egos.”
A serious restructuring of the health system will require extensive data and analytic capabilities to dissect the proposed changes and the impact they might have, said Karen Davis, president of the Commonwealth Fund, a private, nonpartisan research foundation. “Right now, there’s nothing other than the Office of the Actuary to do back-of-the-envelope estimates,” she said.
With the expectation that Daschle, a former Senate majority leader, will focus heavily on crafting and pushing legislation, there will be an even greater need for a strong No. 2. HHS is a collection of 11 agencies including the Food and Drug Administration, the National Institutes of Health, the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services, and the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.
“He’ll need to have deputies who are well-versed in the agency as a whole and who can manage the ongoing operation of HHS while he leads the health reform discussions,” said Len Nichols, director of health policy at the New America Foundation. One of those will likely be Jeanne Lambrew, a veteran of the Clinton administration and a co-author of Daschle’s book “Critical: What We Can Do About the Health-Care Crisis.”
Lambrew, in a chapter of a book published by the liberal Center for American Progress outlining a proposed agenda for the incoming president, agreed that fixing the health system is a top priority. However, she noted, “these urgent problems overshadow persistent, neglected and potentially deadly infrastructure gaps in the system.”
According to her assessment, the nation’s ability to respond to natural or man-made crises is weak, as evidenced by the poor response to Hurricane Katrina. Chronic illnesses such as diabetes have been given short shrift, and little has been done to prepare for the long-term health needs of an aging population.
The Commonwealth Fund, after interviewing two dozen health leaders, issued its own set of recommendations. It urged the next administration to make a “real focus on what it takes to improve health outcomes,” as opposed to secondary issues related to insurance markets, Davis said. That means tackling childhood obesity, racial disparities and preventable illnesses.
During a press conference earlier today, CNN’s Ed Henry challenged President-elect Barack Obama on his naming of some recent appointees who have had experience serving in the government. “What do you say to your supporters looking for change?” Henry wondered. Obama noted that there is a “conventional wisdom floating around Washington that ‘well, there’s a recycling of people who were in the Clinton administration.’”
Addressing the media criticism directly, Obama explained:
- It would be surprising if I selected a Treasury secretary who had had no connection with the last Democratic administration because that would mean the person had no experience in Washington whatsoever. And I suspect you would be troubled and the American people would be troubled if I selected a Treasury secretary or a chairman of the National Economic Council…who had no experience whatsoever.
Obama said his personnel selections will “combine experience with fresh thinking.” But he underscored that the buck stops with him:
- But understand where the vision for change comes from first and foremost. It comes from me. That’s my job — is to provide a vision in terms of where we are going and to make sure that my team is implementing it.
Obama concluded, “What I don’t want to do is to somehow suggest that because you served in the last Democratic administration that you’re somehow barred from serving again — because we need people are going to be able to hit the ground running.”
Source: Think Progress
WASHINGTON — The thaw in the resentful relationship between the most powerful woman in the Democratic Party and her younger male rival began at the party’s convention this summer, when Senator Hillary Rodham Clinton gave such a passionate speech supporting Senator Barack Obama that his top aides leapt out of their chairs backstage to give her a standing ovation as she swept past.
Mr. Obama, who was in the first steps of what would become a strategic courtship, called afterward to thank her. By then, close aides to Mrs. Clinton said, she had come to respect the campaign Mr. Obama had run against her. At the least, she knew he understood like no one else the brutal strains of their epic primary battle.
By this past Thursday, when Mr. Obama reassured Mrs. Clinton that as secretary of state she would have direct access to him and could select her own staff, the wooing was complete.
“She feels like she’s been treated very well in the way she’s been asked,” said a close associate of Mrs. Clinton, who like others interviewed asked for anonymity because the nomination will not be formally announced until after Thanksgiving.
Few are predicting that this new relationship born of mutual respect and self-interest will grow into a tight bond between the new president and the woman who will be the public face of his foreign policy, though some say it is not impossible. They argue that a close friendship between the two powerful officials is useful but not essential, and is not a predictor of the success of the nation’s chief diplomat.
While James A. Baker III was extraordinarily close to the first President George Bush and is widely considered one of the most successful recent secretaries of state, Dean Acheson was not a friend of Harry S. Truman and Henry A. Kissinger did not particularly like Richard M. Nixon.
“Two of the nation’s greatest secretaries of state in the modern period, Dean Acheson and Henry Kissinger, were not personally close but were intellectually bonded to their presidents,” said Walter Isaacson, the author of a biography of Mr. Kissinger and the co-author, with Evan Thomas, of “The Wise Men,” a book about America’s postwar foreign policy establishment. “I think that Obama and Clinton could form a perfect partnership based on respect for each other’s view of the world.”
Colin L. Powell, who was President Bush’s first-term celebrity secretary of state, would appear to be a cautionary tale for Mrs. Clinton since his relationship with the president was strained, and he left office an unhappy man. But Mr. Bush’s second-term secretary of state, Condoleezza Rice, is generally not viewed as having the success her unusually tight bond with the president might have engendered.
In the Obama-Clinton relationship, advisers say, the relatively smooth nature of their talks about the secretary of state job indicate that both, for now, have a working chemistry. The advisers say that Mr. Obama was clearly interested in bringing a rival under his wing, and that he also recognized that Mrs. Clinton had far more discipline and focus than her husband.
At the same time, Mr. Obama’s advisers said, he had the self-confidence to name a global brand as his emissary to the world. He recognizes, they said, that after Jan. 20, he will have to build the kind of relationship that ensures that foreign leaders know that when Mrs. Clinton speaks, she is speaking directly for him.
“It helps to have a relationship that Bush had with Baker, that’s no doubt true,” said Martin Indyk, a former American ambassador to Israel, who was a supporter of Mrs. Clinton in the primary battles. “But if they are seen as working together effectively, I think that can be easily overcome. I don’t think he would have decided to appoint her if he didn’t want her to be effective.”
One close adviser to Mr. Obama said the president-elect also saw that Mrs. Clinton’s political skills would serve her well in the job, as happened with Mr. Baker and Mr. Kissinger. “They understood that statecraft is politics by another name,” the adviser said.
Mr. Obama and Mrs. Clinton first spoke after their primary fight on a flight in June to Unity, N.H., their first stage-managed appearance after he won the nomination. As they settled into their seats on his plane, the conversation, according to people on both sides, was far less awkward than they had feared. Over the passing weeks, the relationship gradually improved.
“They got past this long before their supporters and the party activists did,” said one Democrat who is close to both Mr. Obama and Mrs. Clinton.
After Mrs. Clinton’s speech in support of Mr. Obama at the Democratic convention, she crisscrossed the country tirelessly to campaign for him — so much so that he told aides he was impressed by the sheer number of events she was doing on his behalf.
Mrs. Clinton, it should be said, was herself diligent in advertising how hard she was working for the man who defeated her. When announcing her appearances, her press office included tallies of how many events she had held for Mr. Obama, and in how many states. At some rallies, organizers would distribute “Hillary Sent Me” buttons, as if Mrs. Clinton was being magnanimous by “sending” her followers to vote for Mr. Obama.
But Mr. Obama began calling Mrs. Clinton after some of the events — he dialed directly from his cellphone to hers one day in Michigan and another day in Florida — to check in and thank her for helping. By then, their intense primary fights over policy, which both sides now insist was more about heat than substance, had long receded.
“The reality at the end of the day was, whether it was Iran or health care or some of these other issues, we were always fighting big battles over small differences,” said a senior aide to Mr. Obama, adding that “in a campaign, conflict is what you go to.”
Substantively, the two were at odds over the Iraq war — Mrs. Clinton voted to authorize it and Mr. Obama said he would have opposed it had he been in the Senate then — and to a lesser extent over negotiations with Iran. But although Mrs. Clinton criticized Mr. Obama for being willing to sit down and talk to dictators, he has said he would have a lower-level envoy do preparatory work for a meeting with Iran’s leaders first. Mrs. Clinton has said she favors robust diplomacy with Iran and lower-level contacts as well.
In the weeks just before the election, the relationship between Mr. Obama and Mrs. Clinton further mellowed, even as she found herself in a startling role reversal with her younger rival. As a celebrity senator and powerhouse on Capitol Hill, she had helped Mr. Obama in his Senate race and offered advice when he first came to Washington; now she was the workhorse for a political phenomenon.
Since the election, Mrs. Clinton has talked to Mr. Obama only a handful of times, even as two close advisers to Mr. Obama who held top positions in the Clinton administration — Rahm Emanuel and John D. Podesta — have served as key negotiators between her and the president-elect on the secretary of state position.
But Mrs. Clinton has talked several times to Michelle Obama about raising a family in the White House and private schools in Washington. On Friday, Mrs. Obama said the two Obama girls, Malia and Sasha, would attend the Sidwell Friends School, just as Chelsea Clinton did.
Jeff Zeleny contributed reporting from Chicago, and Mark Leibovich from Washington.
American elections are a powerful drug: they bring delusions of omnipotence. All that talk of “change” and “hope” brings demands for swift action: “Do it now,” “first six months,” “hundred days.” The economic crisis may indeed demand speed, but in foreign policy the reality is that, on the afternoon of Jan. 20, President Obama will face the same challenges that President Bush did that morning. And none presents much opportunity for bold new initiatives.
That’s fortunate. Incoming presidents making big decisions in a hurry is a surefire recipe for error. Think JFK and the Bay of Pigs. More recently, George W. Bush’s reflexive ditching of the Clinton administration’s strategy on North Korea was a misstep it has taken years to retrieve.
The foreign-policy and national-security inbox shows that, even on pressing issues, Obama has the luxury of time. A quick overview:
Iraq. Obama has pledged to withdraw U.S. troops. But that’s already getting under way. At issue still: the pace of the drawdown, a date for final disengagement and the number of U.S. troops who should then remain as last-ditch guarantors of a democratic government in Baghdad. No Iraqi politician is going to be able to engage seriously on those topics until after their own elections next fall.