The Not Ready for Prime Time Players are hilarious on Saturday Night Live, but not
so funny in a presidential campaign, as Sen. Barack Obama has learned to his sorrow.
Sen. Obama has the thinnest resume of any major presidential candidate in modern
times. He has not bolstered it with his selection of key advisers, most of whom
share his inexperience on the national scene.
That inexperience has bitten the Obama campaign hard recently.
Sen. Obama received much negative press coverage after it was disclosed by Canadian
television that Austan Goolsbee, a University of Chicago professor who advises the
Illinois senator on economic policy, had told the Canadian consul general in Chicago
that what Sen. Obama was telling voters in Ohio about renegotiating the North
American Free Trade Agreement was just campaign rhetoric.
Sen. Hillary Clinton overtook Sen. Obama in Texas in large part because of a
television ad which questioned Sen. Obama's readiness to deal with foreign policy
crises. Susan Rice, a foreign policy adviser, responded to the controversy by
declaring on MSNBC that: "They're both not ready to have that 3 a.m. phone call."
Expect to see that clip replayed in Republican ads this fall.
Ms. Rice is a relative heavyweight among Sen. Obama's advisers, because during the
Clinton administration she served as the African expert on the National Security
Council and later as Assistant Secretary of State for African Affairs. It was
chiefly she who persuaded President Clinton to reject Sudan's offer to turn Osama
bin Laden over to U.S. authorities, says Timothy Carney, who was the U.S. ambassador
to Sudan at the time, and Mansoor Ijaz, a Clinton fund-raiser of Pakistani descent
who served as a go-between. (The 9/11 Commission said it found no evidence the
Sudanese offer was credible.)
Susan Rice's gaffe was overshadowed by the serial verbal blunders of another foreign
policy adviser, Samantha Power, a Harvard professor who has written a well received
book on genocide, on her European book tour.
Ms. Power resigned from the Obama campaign after describing Hillary Clinton as a
"monster" to a reporter for the Scotsman newspaper. On the same tour, in an
interview with the Daily Telegraph, she made a snarky comment about British Prime
Minister Gordon Brown, and told a BBC interviewer that Sen. Obama doesn't really
mean it when he says he'll withdraw all U.S. troops from Iraq within 16 months.
Ms. Power, 37, appeared to enjoy overmuch the celebrity that comes with being a key
adviser to a presidential candidate. She used a four letter obscenity for sexual
intercourse in an interview with the New Statesman magazine, perhaps in an effort to
The interviewer, Sholto Byrnes, doubted Ms. Power meant all of what she told him:
"If she is to be a part of an Obama White House she will have to be able to deliver
the odd fib more persuasively," Mr. Byrnes wrote.
Ms. Power reportedly was very close to Sen. Obama, often, she claimed, receiving
instant messages from him late at night. So it's likely her views on foreign policy
are close to his own.
The most striking thing about Ms. Power's otherwise conventionally liberal views is
her hostility towards Israel. She has recanted the view she expressed in 2002 that
U.S. troops be sent to Israel to force creation of a Palestinian state. But she
criticized the New York Times in 2003 for covering Israel too favorably when the
Times reported the finding of a human rights group that a massacre had not in fact
occurred in the Palestinian town of Jenin.
Shortly after Ms. Power beat her well publicized retreat, the National Journal
published an interview with John Brennan, a former senior CIA official who now is an
adviser to the Obama campaign. Mr. Brennan said he "believed strongly" the current
impasse between the White House and Congress over extension of the Foreign
Intelligence Surveillance Act should be settled by granting immunity from lawsuits
to telecommunications companies which cooperate with the government, as President
Sen. Obama voted against granting immunity to the telcoms.
Those who would be president "need to make sure they do their homework, and it's not
going to be just knee jerk responses," Mr. Brennan said.
I agree completely with Mr. Brennan, who was head of the National Counterterrorism
Center before leaving government. But it had to be embarrassing for Sen. Obama to
have his leading adviser on intelligence matters imply that he doesn't do his