In an interesting and short book (The Limits of Power: The End of American Exceptionalism), Andrew J. Bacevich addresses what he sees as the self-reinforcing American crises in profligacy, politics and the military. In the section on politics, he states that modern presidents have come to distrust the “national security apparatus,” which consists of governmental agencies and officials who are supposed to advise on issues of security.
No one has been more attuned to the defects of the national security state than the client for whom it was created. Here is a great irony: Over the last several decades, presidents have come to view the national security apparatus not as an aid but as an impediment in decision making. More often than not, presidents come into office wary of any advice that these institutions might have on offer, suspecting that it is anything but disinterested. Those not already educated in the ways of Washington quickly learn that institutions nominally subordinate to executive authority pursue their own agendas and will privilege their own purposes over those of whoever happens to occupy the White House.
For those who occupy the inner circle of power, the national security state is an obstacle to be evaded rather than an asset to be harnessed.
Read the rest ->
If this is the case for one area of government, couldn’t it also be the case for others? Do presidents trust agencies of the federal government? I suppose a president who distrusts the organization around him has, essentially, two choices:
1) Fill all possible slots with friends and/or flunkies.
2) Fill slots as necessary for political cover and set up a more loyal organization outside of official channels.
GWB seemed to choose door number one. Cheney used both options but used the second option quite a bit (energy panel, anyone?). What will Obama do? Well, he chose a lot of “Clintonistas” for cabinet positions, but whether or not he’ll rely on them remains to be seen. In the meantime, Obama has also added some “czars” to his staff.
A “car czar.” According to NYT, the car czar’s role will be to oversee and shepherd the automobile industry’s revamping.
A regulatory czar. According to the WSJ, the regulatory czar will have some interesting responsibilities.
Cass Sunstein, a Harvard Law School professor who pioneered efforts to design regulation around the ways people behave, will be named the Obama administration’s regulatory czar, a transition official said Wednesday.
Obama will also have a special counterterrorism advisor who was not acceptable to Congress as CIA chief. CBSnews had this snippet:
Brennan, who has led Obama’s intelligence-transition team, was originally a leading candidate to head the CIA, but withdrew his name from consideration after critics accused him of supporting the Bush Administration’s harsh interrogation techniques.
Brennan also served as the first director of the National Counterterrorism Center (NCTC) and will be part of Obama’s National Security Council and will be the point man for all counterterrorism issues.
A climate czar. The Washington Times, talking about the background of the appointee described the job.
Mr. Obama, who has said action on climate change would be a priority in his administration, tapped Mrs. Browner last month to fill a new position as White House coordinator of climate and energy policies. The appointment does not need Senate confirmation.
Now, Obama has already nominated Lisa Jackson to head EPA. According to swamppolitics.com:
We expect to hear questions this morning about if and how Lisa Jackson, the former top environmental official in New Jersey now nominated to head the Environmental Protection Agency, plans to use the Clean Air Act to regulate carbon emissions. We expect to hear questions about the administration’s broader climate-change plans for Los Angeles Deputy Mayor Nancy Sutley, nominated to lead the White House Council on Environmental Quality.
Why should Congress worry about what Jackson might or might do about climate change if there will be a Climate czar? Will she be an agency head without portfolio?
Now, why would Obama not rely on EPA for work on climate change? Why not rely on Commerce for help with the auto industry? As a practical matter, who do these czars report to? Will they have their own staff? If a local government or, heaven forbid, a citizen wants help on climate change, who ya gonna call? Whose paperwork are you going to fill out and who will be accountable to you? When the office of the czar inevitably points a finger at an existing agency and the agency points to the czar, what will get done?
A czar is one thing, but how about a political apparatus devoted to a person rather than a party? What if that group of people could be used in many different ways – as dictated by necessity? Today’s LATImes has a very interesting story about the new Committee to Re-Elect the President. I kid you not.
As Barack Obama builds his administration and prepares to take office next week, his political team is quietly planning for a nationwide hiring binge that would marshal an army of full-time organizers to press the new president’s agenda and lay the foundation for his reelection.
The organization, known internally as “Barack Obama 2.0,” is being designed to sustain a grass-roots network of millions that was mobilized last year to elect Obama and now is widely considered the country’s most potent political machine.
The plan could prompt tensions with members of Congress, who are unlikely to welcome the idea of Obama’s political network targeting them from within their own districts. Already, Democratic Party officials on the state level worry that it could become a competing political force that revolves around the president’s ambitions while diminishing the needs of down-ballot Democrats.
Though the plan still is emerging, one source with knowledge of the internal discussion said the organization could have an annual budget of $75 million in privately raised funds. Another said it would deploy hundreds of paid staff members — possibly one for every congressional district in certain politically important states and even more in larger battlegrounds such as Florida, Ohio, Colorado, Virginia and North Carolina.
In what would be another unprecedented step, Obama’s political staff is deciding whether to create a service organization that would use the vast corps of its grass-roots campaign supporters. As described by one source knowledgeable with the discussions, this nonprofit arm would be used to help victims of natural disasters, but would do so under the Obama umbrella while continuing to build the overall network’s massive e-mail database.
The prospect of a president being able to guide a service or relief agency outside the framework of his government is a unique development.
No kidding that’s a new thing. So, benevolent leader and/or his minions will come swooping down after the F5 tornado and hand out trailers instead of FEMA? Wanna take bets on whether the Obama trailers or the FEMA trailers will be better???
Is this the “service corps” BO mentioned during the campaign? Would serving on the Obamacorps count toward service hours for students required to do such things? Ok that’s worth discussing on its own. From the change.gov website:
As the new administration takes shape, Barack Obama and Joe Biden will call on Americans from every walk of life to serve. President-elect Obama and Vice President-elect Biden will expand national service programs like AmeriCorps and the Peace Corps and will create new service organizations to meet the nation’s challenges head on. . .
They’ll set a goal that all middle school and high school students engage in 50 hours of community service a year, and develop a plan for all college students who engage in 100 hours of community service to receive a fully-refundable tax credit of $4,000 for their education. Obama and Biden will encourage retiring Americans to serve by improving programs available for individuals over age 55, while at the same time promoting youth programs such as Youth Build and Head Start.
But, just what is PEBO creating here? In addition to his agency nominees, he is filling out “advisor / czar” positions that clearly shadow responsibilities of those agency chiefs. That’s at least a duplication of effort. So, do the agencies no longer address those issues or is their advice simply disregarded? Who will Obama listen to during the inevitable policy disagreements and/or turf fights between his climate czar and EPA chief Jackson? Who will have Obama’s ear on counterterrorism? Will the CIA and Panetta have a place at the table, or will Brennan be the go-to guy? And who will quit first?
Are all these czars proof that Obama does not trust agency people and intends to create his own information channels? Wouldn’t that be a major breakdown in government?
And WTH is this political apparatus he’s building going to do?