Back in 2004, when James Mann wrote "Rise of the Vulcans: The History of
No such irony undergirds "The Obamians: The Struggle Inside the
Unlike Bush's senior advisors, some of whom brought years of foreign policy and national security experience to the White House, Obama drew his closest foreign policy advisors from his 2008 presidential campaign. Like him, they were mostly young, relatively inexperienced and driven to undo the damage they believed Bush's policies at home and abroad had caused to America's reputation and security.
"The Obamians self-consciously thought of themselves as a new generation in American foreign policy, and indeed in many ways they were," Mann writes. They were post-baby boomers born in the 1960s and 1970s. Most were still in school when the Cold War ended. The
Obama surrounded himself with acolytes rather than independent thinkers who would challenge his assumptions and ideas. This enabled him to become chief architect of his own evolving foreign policy, responsible more than anyone else for its successes and failures. Inside the White House, the objections along the way have come from the outer circle — the Washington veterans, the non-Obamians.
In Mann's telling, Clinton "chafed at the limits put on her" and battled with Obama's team over appointments. Obama overruled Gates on the decision to send U.S. warplanes to bomb
The pattern was set early on: Speechwriter Ben Rhodes, foreign policy aide Denis McDonough, former Democratic operative Thomas Donilon, advisors Mark Lippert, Michael McFaul and a handful of others often had more access to and influence with Obama than campaign officials with bigger titles and greater visibility. When they got to the White House, Obama conferred with his inner sanctum team before and after he met with Clinton, Gates and other key members of his Cabinet. The president then made his decisions with the "handful of aides closest to and most loyal to him," not the names in the headlines.
The results so far are decidedly mixed. Obama closed out the U.S. war in Iraq, and is on track to do the same in Afghanistan. His reluctant military intervention in Libya proved a success. But his "reset" of relations with Russia went nowhere. Ditto his attempts to restart Israeli-Arab negotiations and restrain
Two years later, during the
Would more seasoned hands have helped? Mann doesn't seem to think so. Obama had "probably the most politically attuned national security team in the modern era," he argues. Former White House advisors like Brent Scowcroft and Zbigniew Brzezinski are widely respected for their foreign policy chops. But neither one helped their bosses — presidents
A former reporter, columnist and colleague at the