David Ignatius: Obama's team of loyalists

BY DAVID IGNATIUS Modified: February 22, 2013 at 7:31 pm •  Published: February 24, 2013
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In Obama's nomination of people who are skeptical about military power, you can sense a sharp turn away from his December 2009 decision for a troop surge in Afghanistan. The White House felt jammed by the military's pressure for more troops, backed by Gates and Clinton. Watching Obama's lukewarm support for the war after 2009, one suspected he felt pushed into what he eventually concluded was a mistake. Clearly, he doesn't intend to repeat that process.

Obama's choice for CIA director is also telling. The White House warily managed Petraeus, letting him run the CIA but keeping him away from the media. In choosing Brennan, the president opted for a member of his inner circle, with whom he did some of the hardest work of his presidency. Brennan was not a popular choice at the CIA, where some view him as having been too supportive of the Saudi government when he was station chief in Riyadh in the 1990s. But agency officials know, too, that the CIA prospers when its director is close to the president, which will certainly be the case with Brennan and Obama.

Obama has some big problems coming at him in foreign policy, starting with Syria and Iran. Both will require a delicate mix of pressure and diplomacy. To get the balance right, Obama will need a creative policy debate where advisers “think outside the box,” to use the management cliche.

Presidents always say they want that kind of open debate, and Obama handles it better than most. But by assembling a team where all the top players are going in the same direction, he is perilously close to groupthink.

WASHINGTON POST WRITERS GROUP

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