Familiar Faces and Some Prominent Newcomers

Harvard professor Samantha Power
Harvard professor Samantha Power (Walter Chen - Via Bloomberg News)
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Monday, March 3, 2008

Sen. Barack Obama's foreign policy brain trust is an amalgam of figures from the Democratic foreign policy establishment as well as some new faces participating in their first presidential campaign.

At the top is a core group led by Anthony Lake, who was a national security adviser in the Clinton White House, and Susan Rice, then an assistant secretary of state for African affairs.

It includes former Navy secretary Richard J. Danzig; Michael Froman, who served as chief of staff to Clinton Treasury Secretary Robert Rubin; and Gregory B. Craig, former director of the State Department's Office of Policy Planning who also served as Bill Clinton's lawyer during his House impeachment.

Among the newcomers are Samantha Power, a professor of public policy at Harvard's Kennedy School of Government; retired Air Force Maj. Gen. Scott Gration; foreign policy speechwriter Ben Rhodes, who worked for the 9/11 Commission; and Denis McDonough, a senior aide to then-Sen. Thomas A. Daschle (D-S.D.) who serves as the campaign's foreign policy coordinator and spokesman.

Power and Gration are said to be closest to Obama, part of a group-within-the-group that he regularly turns to for advice. Obama sought Power out after reading her book "A Problem From Hell: America and the Age of Genocide," and she ended up working in his Senate office for a year.

Gration, a son of missionaries who spent most of his childhood in Africa, was a fighter pilot for most of his 32-year Air Force career. As director of strategy and planning under Marine Gen. James Jones, then supreme allied commander in Europe, he briefed Obama several times in the Senate, and when the senator planned a 2006 trip to Africa, he asked the general to accompany him as military liaison. They spent three weeks traveling through South Africa, Kenya, the Darfur refugee camps in Chad and the U.S. military installation in Djibouti; a few months later, Gration retired and joined Obama's campaign.

In addition to this core group of 15 to 20 advisers are a number of working groups organized around specific issues, headed for the most part by well-known Washington hands from previous Democratic administrations and congressional staffs, the military and mainline think tanks. They include Clinton administration veterans Philip H. Gordon, Ivo Daalder, Daniel Shapiro, Jeffrey Bader and Sarah Sewell.

Hundreds of other experts have provided support or advice but are more loosely tied to the campaign structure, including prominent counterterrorism experts Richard A. Clarke and Roger W. Cressey; Asia specialist and former CIA officer Bruce Riedel; retired Gen. Merrill A. McPeak, a former Air Force chief of staff; and Carter administration national security adviser Zbigniew Brzezinski.

"When I take office, I will have a group of advisers with me that have extraordinary breadth and depth of knowledge," Obama said last year. "I think people should feel confident that we'll be able to hit the ground running."

More important, he added, "I spent my entire life traveling. I have family that lives overseas. I spent part of my childhood overseas. I have a knowledge base not just of world leaders . . . but I know the lives and attitudes and hardships and concerns of the people that live in those countries."

"That is a knowledge base," he said, "that I think is unequaled in this presidential field."

-- Karen DeYoung

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