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Obama's ‘One President' Philosophy Is Not One-Fit-All

President-elect Barack Obama greets well-wishers in Honolulu. Obama, who is vacationing in Hawaii, has been silent about the latest Israeli-Palestinian conflagration, insisting that doing otherwise would undermine President Bush.
President-elect Barack Obama greets well-wishers in Honolulu. Obama, who is vacationing in Hawaii, has been silent about the latest Israeli-Palestinian conflagration, insisting that doing otherwise would undermine President Bush. (By Lawrence Jackson -- Associated Press)

Obama has asked Congress to have a stimulus package ready to "jolt" the economy by the time he is sworn in. And weeks ago, he assigned his economic advisers to work with Congress to write the legislation. "With our economy in distress, we cannot hesitate and we cannot delay," Obama said Nov. 25. "Our families can't afford to keep on waiting."

On Dec. 2, he met with the nation's governors, pledging to work with them to put people back to work. Five days later, in a radio address, he unveiled a plan to fix the nation's infrastructure, including the crumbling transportation grid, and to invest in green technology.

His aides are deep in discussion with the Democratic leadership in the U.S. House, which will return next week to take up an economic plan that Obama designed. On Dec. 21, after meeting with top economic advisers, the president-elect upped his job creation goal from 2.5 million to 3 million.

"A hemorrhaging financial system and economy, where there's got to be some confidence in the Fed and the U.S. government, leads to a departure from what would otherwise be 'one president at a time,' " said Graham Allison, a presidential scholar at Harvard University.

But Allison said the ongoing crisis in the Gaza Strip -- like the terrorist attacks in Mumbai last month -- does not present the same need to break from a long-standing tradition of deference. "It's not that clear what the U.S. can do or necessarily even should do," Allison said. "Given that [Obama] doesn't have responsibility, it gives him a way to avoid being just another part of the story."

That has been Obama's approach to foreign policy since the day after he was elected, when Russian President Dmitry Medvedev warned in a speech that he would deploy short-range missiles capable of striking NATO territory if Obama proceeded with plans to build a missile defense shield in Europe.

Obama declined to comment. Biden, who late in the campaign wondered aloud about a foreign policy test, was silent as well.

A few weeks later, when terrorists killed 171 people in India's financial capital, Obama condemned the attacks and said they demonstrated the need to stand with "nations around the world to root out and destroy terrorist networks."

But his aides refused to take the bait when reporters raised Obama's campaign statement that the United States should act unilaterally in Pakistan to eliminate terrorist threats. "If we have actionable intelligence about high-value terrorist targets and President [Pervez] Musharraf won't act, we will," he said at the time.

Obama's top advisers have been equally hesitant during the Gaza crisis, even as Israeli politicians have been quoting the president-elect's words from the campaign: "If somebody was sending rockets into my house where my two daughters sleep at night, I'm going to do everything in my power to stop that. And I would expect Israelis to do the same thing."

Senior Obama adviser David Axelrod acknowledged the statement during an interview on NBC's "Meet the Press" on Sunday. But he added: "The Bush administration has to speak for America now."

Obama, who is vacationing in Hawaii, has made no statements about the Mideast situation since Israel's aerial assault on Gaza began Saturday. A handful of pro-Palestinian activists gathered in front of Obama's $9 million rental home Tuesday, some of them carrying signs urging him to address Mideast policy when he becomes president.

Ann Wright, 62, a retired Army colonel, wore a T-shirt that read "We will not be silent" and carried a sign that said: "Change U.S. foreign policy. Yes we can." Her group, Veterans for Peace, later issued a news release: "We call on President-elect Obama to place the resolution of the Israeli-Palestinian conflict at the top of his list of priorities of his new administration."

Polling director Jon Cohen contributed to this report.


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