Bush Administration Gives Incoming Obama National Security Team Extensive Briefing
By Michael Bowman
12 January 2009
To many observers, the ongoing crisis in the Gaza Strip underscores the fact that Barack Obama will become president during turbulent times. From wars in Iraq and Afghanistan to instability in Pakistan to the nuclear ambitions of Iran and North Korea, Mr. Obama will inherit global hotspots requiring his attention and judgment. The national security component of America's first post-September 11 presidential transition - one that the president-elect and President Bush say they are determined to make a success.
On the night he was elected, Barack Obama stressed the need to confront America's adversaries and keep the nation safe.
"To those who would tear the world down, we will defeat you. To those who seek peace and security, we will support you," Mr. Obama said.
Days later, President Bush, who is leaving two wars and a continuing battle against terrorism to his successor, pledged a seamless transfer of power.
"Ensuring that this transition is as smooth as possible is a priority for the rest of my presidency," Mr. Bush said.
Extensive briefing involves defense, intelligence, diplomacy
To make good on that goal, Bush administration officials say they have exhaustively briefed the incoming Obama national security team on all facets of America's dealings and operations pertaining to defense, intelligence and diplomacy. And they have provided comprehensive reports on conflict zones around the world, with contingency plans and options should an international crisis emerge during the early months of the Obama administration.
Outgoing National Security Advisor Stephen Hadley says this unprecedented effort is appropriate for America's first wartime transition of power in four decades.
"What we thought was important in this different kind of transition was for them to know what they have to work with," he explained, "what kind of policies are in place, what kind of relationships are in place and what kind of tools they have available - and what we at least think are the challenges that are going to hit them quickly."
Additional motive could be behind preparation effort
But some analysts see an additional motive behind the Bush administration's efforts to prepare the incoming Obama team.
Anthony Cordesman is a national security specialist at Washington's Center for Strategic and International Studies.
"Every administration makes a real effort to brief the transition group," Cordesman explained. "And it does so not purely out of altruism. It obviously wants to have a legacy, to see continuity in policy. And so there is a very strong motive to provide the best transition possible."
Cordesman notes that contingency plans are nothing new in the U.S. government, particularly concerning national security. He says the incoming Obama team has every reason to listen to the briefings it receives, but is under no obligation to follow the advice it is given.
Bush administration viewed McCain as better prepared for commander-in-chief position
During the 2008 presidential campaign, then-Democratic candidate Obama repeatedly criticized President Bush, particularly on national security and foreign policy decisions such as the 2003 U.S.-led invasion of Iraq. Mr. Bush made no secret of his view that Republican John McCain would make a better prepared and more experienced commander-in-chief than Mr. Obama.
Bush administration officials have not signaled that their efforts to prepare the Obama team in any way reflect a continuation of that view or that the transition briefings would be any less thorough had McCain won the election. Rather, they say they are aware that they are leaving much unfinished business on the world stage for Mr. Obama to tackle, and that they want to be sure the new president is armed with all possible information for doing so.
Have briefings surprised President-elect Obama?
Appearing on ABC television's This Week program, the president-elect said the transition briefings have been informative, but contained little in the way of startling news.
"Most of what I have learned are things I have anticipated, partly because I was in the Senate and, although I was not on the Intelligence Committee, we would get top-secret briefings," he noted. "So there has not been something [from the transition briefings] that was eye-popping [i.e., astounding], but the [the U.S. national security] situation still requires vigilance."
Members of the incoming Obama national security team are not speaking publicly, but other prominent Democrats are praising the ongoing transition.
Thomas "Mack" McLarty served as President Clinton's chief of staff.
"In this point in time in the life of our country, it is very critical from a security standpoint to have an orderly transition," McLarty said. "And I think we are seeing that. I think we are seeing that in a very skilled, professional manner."
President-elect Obama takes the oath of office and becomes the nation's commander-in-chief on January 20.
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