|President Barack Obama has been trying, mostly in secret, to craft a new foreign policy that relies heavily on cooperation with Russian President Vladimir Putin to tamp down confrontations in hotspots such as Iran and Syria. But Obama’s timidity about publicly explaining this strategy has left it open to attack from powerful elements of Official Washington, including well-placed neocons and people in his own administration.
The gravest threat to this Obama-Putin collaboration has now emerged in Ukraine, where a coalition of U.S. neocon operatives and neocon holdovers within the State Department fanned the flames of unrest in Ukraine, contributing to the violent overthrow of democratically elected President Viktor Yanukovych and now to a military intervention by Russian troops in the Crimea, a region in southern Ukraine that historically was part of Russia.
Though I’m told the Ukraine crisis caught Obama and Putin by surprise, the neocon determination to drive a wedge between the two leaders has been apparent for months, especially after Putin brokered a deal to head off U.S. military strikes against Syria last summer and helped get Iran to negotiate concessions on its nuclear program, both moves upsetting the neocons who had favored heightened confrontations.
Putin also is reported to have verbally dressed down Israel’s Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and then-Saudi intelligence chief Prince Bandar bin Sultan over what Putin considered their provocative actions regarding the Syrian civil war. So, by disrupting neocon plans and offending Netanyahu and Bandar, the Russian president found himself squarely in the crosshairs of some very powerful people.
The neocons were dealt another setback in 2008 when Barack Obama defeated a neocon favorite, Sen. John McCain. But Obama then made one of the fateful decisions of his presidency, deciding to staff key foreign-policy positions with “a team of rivals,” i.e. keeping Republican operative Robert Gates at the Defense Department and recruiting Hillary Clinton, a neocon-lite, to head the State Department.
Obama also retained Bush’s high command, most significantly the media-darling Gen. David Petraeus. That meant that Obama didn’t take control over his own foreign policy.
So, instead of a major personnel shakeup in the wake of the catastrophic Iraq War, Obama presided over what looked more like continuity with the Bush war policies, albeit with a firmer commitment to draw down troops in Iraq and eventually in Afghanistan.
Gates wrote that Kagan persuaded him to recommend the Afghan “surge” and that Obama grudgingly went along although Gates concluded that Obama didn’t believe in the “mission” and wanted to reverse course more quickly than Gates, Petraeus and their side wanted.
Faced with this resistance from his own bureaucracy, Obama began to rely on a small inner circle built around Vice President Joe Biden and a few White House advisers with the analytical support of some CIA officials, including CIA Director Leon Panetta.
In other words, what evolved out of Obama’s early “team of rivals” misjudgment was an extraordinary presidential foreign policy style, in which Obama developed and implemented much of his approach to the world outside the view of his secretaries of State and Defense (except when Panetta moved briefly to the Pentagon). […]
Blast from the Past. At Daily Kos on this date in 2009—Fox sweeps Rush Limbaugh under the rug:
|The investigative team at Baltimore TV station WBAL-TV raises an intriguing question: why did Michael Steele’s 2006 Senate campaign pay tens of thousands of dollars to a phantom commodities trading company that had forfeited its license to do business in the State of Maryland in 2005?
The company, Allied Berton, LLC, was not a political consulting firm, yet Steele listed his payments as political consulting fees. Making things more mysterious, former Governor Bob Ehrlich also paid tens of thousands to the company, as did the Maryland GOP.
Steele is also under investigation by the FBI for making large transfers from his campaign to his sister without receiving anything in exchange.
GOP insiders looked the other way on that issue when they selected Steele to run their party, but now that he's crossed swords with El Rushbo, will they continue to give him a free pass?
On today's Kagro in the Morning show, Greg Dworkin rounds up helpful Ukraine backgrounders, Forbes helps business types understand the value of being a decent human being, one professor's question, "When May I Shoot a Student?" and Ross Douthat's "surrender." Was the GWB lane closure supposed to set up Christie as a hero? Bunnygirl60 discusses her enormously popular diary, "Obamacare Small Business Goldmine."