Ben Buchwalter


Terrorism and the Cabinet
December 2, 2008, 3:13 pm
Filed under: Foreign Affairs | Tags: ,

In a Washington Post column today, Eugene Robinson discusses threats of terrorism in relation to Obama’s newly-announced-but-unsurprising foreign policy team. When asked about the terrorist attacks in India, which many believe were supported by Pakistan, Obama promised to fight “those who kill innocent individuals to advance hateful extremism.” Robinson asks whether this is actually the definition of terrorism.

I think George and I were talking about this the other day. Is terrorism necessarily connected to an ideological objective? Or is terrorism more generally defined as a violent act to destabilize an established group and kill innocent people? My initial reaction was that terrorism is traditionally general, encompassing those who kill for a cause and those who kill for no reason. In its modern form, though, terrorism definitely refers to ideologically-based carnage.

So what do Obama’s choices for his foreign policy team suggest about his stance on terrorism? Well, it’s an interesting team. There was considerable debate among liberals about whether keeping Robert Gates as Secretary as Defense was a good choice. I would have been happier with someone else, but I see the political necessity to keeping a Republican in that position and having continuity in our wars as we get a new Commander in Chief.

Also, I think that the best way for the U.S. to protect itself against terror is to drastically change its perception in the world and that means engaging in constructive discussions with our foes. Steve Clemons writes that Gates could be a productive voice in making this happen.

He wants to try and push Iran-US relations into a constructive direction. He wants to change the game in Afghanistan — and the answer will not be a military-dominant strategy. He wants to try and stabilize Iraq in a negotiated, confidence building process that includes Saudi Arabia, Iran, Turkey and other regional forces. And he wants to support a big push on Israel-Palestine peace and reconfigure relations between much of the Arab League and Israel.

And the choice of General James L. Jones as National Security Advisor once again shows that Obama values a Cabinet with experience to implement his vision. General Jones is a retired Marine and former NATO commander. In recent months, Jones has criticized the war in Iraq because it forced the U.S. to “take its eye off the ball” in Afghanistan, which he sees as the central front in the war on terror. Jones also views reducing our dependence on foreign energy as central to decreasing the risk of future terrorism.

Obama’s choices for top foreign policy positions are very interesting, though not progressive. But if he’s going to choose a department in which to flex his bipartisan muscles, then the Department of Defense is a pretty good choice. And Gates and Jones are not your typical Rumsfeldian Defense Department ideologues.

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