Antiwar groups fear Barack Obama may create hawkish Cabinet

Antiwar groups and other liberal activists are increasingly concerned at signs that Barack Obama’s national security team will be dominated by appointees who favored the Iraq invasion and hold hawkish views on other important foreign policy issues.

The activists are uneasy not only about signs that both Sen. Hillary Rodham Clinton (D-N.Y.) and Defense Secretary Robert M. Gates could be in the Obama Cabinet, but at reports suggesting that several other short-list candidates for top security posts backed the decision to go to war.

“Obama ran his campaign around the idea the war was not legitimate, but it sends a very different message when you bring in people who supported the war from the beginning,” said Kelly Dougherty, executive director of the 54-chapter Iraq Veterans Against the War.

The activists – key members of the coalition that propelled Obama to the White House – fear he is drifting from the antiwar moorings of his once-longshot presidential candidacy. Obama has eased the rigid timetable he had set for withdrawing troops from Iraq, and he appears to be leaning toward the center in his candidates to fill key national security posts.

The president-elect has told some Democrats that he expects to take heat from parts of his political base but will not be deterred by it.

Aside from Clinton and Gates, the roster of possible Cabinet secretaries has included Sens. John F. Kerry (D-Mass.) and Richard G. Lugar (R-Ind.), who both voted in 2002 for the resolution authorizing President Bush to invade Iraq, though Lugar has since said he regretted it.

“It’s astonishing that not one of the 23 senators or 133 House members who voted against the war is in the mix,” said Sam Husseini of the liberal group Institute for Public Accuracy.

Clinton, who was Obama’s chief opponent during the Democratic presidential primaries, appears to be the top candidate for secretary of State in his administration. Speculation about Clinton has dismayed some liberal activists but has cheered some conservatives such as former Secretary of State Henry Kissinger and editor William Kristol of the Weekly Standard.

Clinton voted in favor of the Iraq war resolution, and despite pressure, she never said during the primary campaign that she regretted that vote. She also favored legislation last year to support the designation of Iran’s Revolutionary Guard Corps as a terrorist organization, another decision that pleased conservatives.

In a move to advance her candidacy, Clinton’s husband, former President Clinton, has agreed to take steps to avoid conflicts of interest posed by his far-flung financial dealings, Democrats close to the discussions said Wednesday.

Bill Clinton has agreed to check with the Obama administration before giving a paid speech. He also has agreed to disclose the sources of new contributions to his charitable enterprise, the William J. Clinton Foundation, those close to the matter said on condition of anonymity.

He also is trying to devise a way to share the identity of past donors, a touchy matter because some contributors do not want their identities divulged, said one Democrat.

Knowledgeable Democrats say that Gates is under consideration to remain in his post for at least several months even though he frequently has said he wants to return to private life when the Bush administration leaves office.

Activists note that Vice President-elect Joe Biden, also expected to be a leading voice in the new administration’s foreign policy, voted for the 2002 war resolution.

Another possible contender for the diplomatic post, former U.S. diplomat Richard C. Holbrooke, also backed the Iraq invasion.

Kevin Martin, executive director of the group Peace Action, said that although Obama had campaigned as an agent of change, the president-elect is “a fairly centrist guy” who appears to be choosing from the Democratic foreign policy establishment — “and nobody from outside it.”

“So, in the short term, we’re going to be disappointed,” he said. “They may turn out to be all pro-war, or at least people who were pro-war in the beginning.”

Martin said that his group was concerned about Gates and Clinton as well as Rahm Emanuel, Obama’s choice for White House chief of staff. He also said his group was trying to mobilize its grass-roots supporters with e-mail alerts, but recognized that it must approach the subject delicately because of public euphoria over Obama’s historic victory.

“There’s so much Obama hero worship, we’re having to walk this line where we can’t directly criticize him,” he said. “But we are expressing concern.”

Peace Action urged in a letter for its members to speak up because “we can be sure that the Obama team is under pressure to dial back plans to withdraw from Iraq.”

Despite concerns, some groups are trying to remain conciliatory.

Tom Andrews, national director of Win Without War, said that although he finds Sen. Clinton’s views “very troubling,” Obama should be given the benefit of the doubt.

“I take him at his word that he is committed to ending the occupation of Iraq in 16 months and that he’s going to assemble a team that’s committed to that goal,” Andrews said.

Obama campaigned on a promise to remove all combat troops from Iraq in 16 months, or roughly one brigade a month.

Since winning the White House, Obama has affirmed his pledge to remove the troops but has left himself some flexibility on the withdrawal timetable.

In an appearance on CBS’ “60 Minutes” on Sunday, Obama promised a troop pullback but described it in broad terms.

“I’ve said during the campaign, and I’ve stuck to this commitment, that as soon as I take office, I will call in the Joint Chiefs of Staff, my national security apparatus, and we will start executing a plan that draws down our troops,” the president-elect said.

Times staff writer Peter Nicholas in Washington contributed to this article.
http://www.latimes.com/news/politics/la-na-foreign-policy20-2008nov20,0,1380983.story