Requirements for Obama appointees

Obama had almost certainly picked on Rahm Emanuel as his WH chief of staff even before last Tuesday. But he told us yesterday that the next appointees– which will be to high cabinet positions– may take a bit more time/deliberation.
Brad DeLong, whom I think we can generally trust on this, tells us this about the general criteria in the selection process:

    Here are the talking points for Obama-Biden administration personnel selections. They have the added advantage of being true:
    1.The bench is very deep right now. Practically everyone competent and qualified for high executive office has come over to the Democratic Party over the fourteen years since the coming of Gingrich. Thus there are a huge number of superb choices available for every position.
    2. Everyone being considered for high federal office is intellectually honest: they understand not just the advantages of their own views, but their flaws and disadvantages as well; they understand the pluses of views opposed to theirs. Policy will be reality-based: it will depend upon our collective best guesses as to the way the world works, and not the idiosyncratic intellectual hobbyhorses of ex-AEI staffers.
    3. Everyone [being considered] knows that the American people have elected Barack Hussein Obama and Joe Biden–not their staffs. Everyone knows that the jobs of staffers will be to present Obama and Biden with the options, their pluses and minuses, and then strive to implement their choices as best they can. The policies of the Obama-Biden administration will be Obama-Biden policies.
    4.Everyone thinks it would be a great honor to work for the Obama-Biden administration.
    5. Everyone knows that the bench is deep, and that their chances–however qualified they are–are low.
    6. Everyone’s knows that this is bigger than any of us, and that the right attitude is to ask for an oar, find a place on a bench, and start rowing. There is an awful lot to do.

What a relief and a big change! To think that we’ll have people with real skills and expertise, rather than ideologues… As, too, that we’ll have people willing to understand and acknowledge the good points of in the arguments of those they disagree with, rather than bunch of same-thinking “true believers” deeply convinced their own individual and collective righteousness.
DeLong also quotes this from DC-based Spencer Ackerman:

    Do you know why you’re not reading solid stuff about who’s getting what positions in an Obama administration? Because everyone in Democratic D.C. thinks s/he’s about to get a job and doesn’t want to go spoiling his/her chances by blabbing to reporters, even when said reporters are just trying to collect quotes about what such-and-such an appointment would signify about Obama’s approach to issue X…

I totally agree, from the experiences I’ve had in DC in the past few weeks– and notably not just since the election– that there are a large number of people going around town with smug smiles on their faces and their lips intriguingly zipped. And by the way, that also includes many journalists, since so many US “journos” do actually aspire to run, or be very close to those who run, actual policy.
So many people in the intelligent part of the universe here seem to hope to be “called upon”. This has to do, of course, with the fact that whenever a new prez comes to town, s/he gets to fill around 3,000 or so jobs in the administration with his (or one day, her) own appointees. It makes the administration considerably more heavily politicized than any other in the developed world– positively “Big Mannish”, indeed.
As for me, y’all can rest quite assured that I neither aspire nor expect to get “called upon” to serve in any government administration!
It’s at times like the present, seeing all these expectant faces and “nudge-nudge-wink-wink” backslaps all around that I (a) am glad I’ve kept top my view of a journalist as being an outside-the-power-nexus observer, and (b) wish the US had a more thoroughly professionalized rather than politicized government administration.
I will also note that, of the necessarily limited sample of Very Politically Ambitious People I’ve encountered this time around, nearly all have been white males. From about age 25 onwards, white guys seem to slip so easily into playing the male professional escalator game. Especially at a time like this.
Let’s hope Pres-elect Obama might change the rules of the game a bit this time round??

An Egyptian-American at Grant Park

My friend Blayne Amir Sayed, an Egyptian-American medical researcher, lives in Chicago with his talented wife Amenah and their daughter. Blayne and Amenah are both observant Muslims, and for what it’s worth Amenah covers her hair with a hijab.
Tuesday night the two of them left their daughter with Amenah’s parents and headed down to the gigantic victory rally the Obama campaign organized in Grant Park. The next day Blayne wrote a great short reflection on the experience, which I’m happy to publish here with his permission. Thanks, Blayne!

    Grant Park
    by Blayne Amir Sayed, Nov. 5, 2008
    As we spilled out of Grant Park into the streets of downtown Chicago last night, I was surrounded by familiar faces: men and women, young and old, Black and White, Latino and Asian, bearded and clean-shaven… all smiling, laughing and shouting. Shining countenances indeed! Couples gay and straight walked hand in hand. Men in suits perched atop the large planters lining Michigan Avenue, ties crooked and faces flushed, slapping hands that reached up with tattooed arms from the sea of people below. Complete strangers embraced ecstatically. We held each other up, dazed with disbelief… euphoria… and relief. The last eight years have taught many of us how to protest… last night reminded us that we haven’t forgotten how to celebrate.
    Middle aged parents lingered in the streets with their children, both clearly pleased to be out past their bedtimes, the history lesson well underway. Octogenarian couples strolled slowly down the sidewalk arm in arm, murmuring to each other in hushed awed tones, “Did you ever think…?”. Amenah ran from one hug to another as she picked out other Muslim hijabis in the crowd – many in redwhiteandblue. Shy smiles were shared as we continually caught eyes, often red with tears, with African-Americans young and old – “The importance of you being here is not lost on me” we seemed to be saying to one another.
    And at the corner of Michigan and Wacker Avenues I bought a shirt with a portrait of Obama and “CHANGE” written underneath. But not without a bit of trepidation – less about the man but more about the pedestal. I have faces on many of my T-shirts – artists, musicians and revolutionaries… but a politician? What will his foreign policy look like? Can he make affordable healthcare for all Americans a reality?
    This morning I pulled it on over my Virginia T-shirt (first time Democratic since ’64!!!) as I stumbled out of bed. And as I waited in line for a much needed cup of coffee the gentleman in front of me turned and asked, not unkindly, “Do you really think anything will change?”. And I responded, also not unkindly, “They already have.” The fact that we will have a President whose face resembles mine… and whose name echoes mine… and whose family, like mine, is divided between two continents… these things mean something. Not just to me… not just to Chicagoans, or African-Americans or children of immigrants. These things mean something to all of us. They mean something about all of us. Our country has changed. We have taken a profound step forward.
    Regardless of the political course President Obama charts, we have already done something. And I’m proud to have been a small part of that.

Obama draws out the best in others

I just listened to the very gracious and supportive words that George W. Bush said about Pres.-elect Obama this morning on the steps of the White House.
Last night, John McCain also gave what I thought was one of the best and most gracious speeches I’ve ever heard from him, when he conceded the victory to Obama and congratulated him on it.
And before that, without a doubt the very best speech that Hillary Clinton throughout the entire, lengthy primary-race struggle she fought was the one in which she conceded victory to Obama.
What is it about this guy that he can elicit these generous and gracious reactions from people who, until just hours before, had been his bitter opponents?
I think it’s in good part his own calm, steady, and always respectful demeanor. What a resource. What a gift.
And yes, I know that all those gracious words spoken by, respectively, Clinton, McCain, and Bush did not necessarily signal that all the old resentments and criticisms had ended. (In Hillary’s case, as we subsequently saw, they clearly seemed not to have. Though after an interval of time, she did start doing some good work for the Obama campaign.)
But still, having those defeated opponents utter those gracious words of concession and congratulation is far, far preferable to having them speak in other, more grudging, mean-spirited, or even inflammatory tones.
Words matter.

America enters the 21st century

Okay, it’s a bit late, but I think it’s happening.
For the past eight years it has felt as if we being thrown back into some of the worst years of the 19th cntury. Years when the imperial armies of ‘white’ northern nations set out on expeditions to completely re-make (and control) distant portions of the non-‘white’ world.
But a majority of US citizens have now, a little belatedly, started to understand that we’re not in the 19th century any more.
Thank God.
Back in the 19th century, ‘white’ leaders wrapped up in the certainty of their own self-righteousness were able to launch those campaigns of imperial aggrandizement and control, and to have a reasonable chance of their success, for two key reasons:

    1. They fielded raw military power that far superior to anything that the indigenes of the distant terrains to be conquered could muster; and that military power could be used to quell any resistance and impose imperial control; and
    2. Most citizens of the ‘white’ imperial nations were really not convinced that non-‘white’ peoples had a humanity equal to their own or were worthy of equal consideration as God’s children.

Thus, during the 19th century the British, French, or other European armies could set out from their homelands to seize control of distant land-masses, or the US Cavalry would set out ever further westward to bring under Washington’s control vast portions of the lands of Indian nations. (‘Treaties’ be damned.)
But hear this: we aren’t in the 19th century any more. Now, a whole span of 108 years separates us from those days. And during the 20th century, two important things happened:

    1. Raw military power, on its own, became progressively less useful, thanks to the rapid improvement of information technology. Back in the 19th century, whole distant nations could be brutally subdued, or even genocided completely, and few people back in the imperial heartland would ever learn about the massacres. All they would ever learn would be incomplete snippets of the news; and even that would come in very late, and through channels dominated by the imperial armies themselves. Since then, the global information environment has been transformed. We get nearly real-time news of distant events through numerous channels, only some of which are controlled by the neo-imperial military. Foreign wars, as I have long argued, have thereby become just about unwinnable.
    2. But there’s been another important change since the 19th century, too. During the 20th century the international norm of the fundamental equality of all human persons became far more deeply embedded and more widely respected than it was back in 1899. So those distant casualties from imperial wars now matter to citizens of the ‘metropolitan’ countries, when we learn of them through today’s information technologies, much more than the vastly more numerous casualties of the 19th century ever ‘mattered’ to most citizens of London, Paris, or New York.

So there you have two great achievements of the 20th century: The exponential improvement of the means of worldwide communication (with the concomitant decline in the usefulness of military power), and the much broader international recognition of the norm of human equality.
Which have brought us to a 21st century in which whole new ways for the world’s peoples to be in this world together are now not just possible, but mandatory.
And yesterday, 62.5 million US voters– a clear majority of those who cast a ballot– finally seemed to understand that.
Jane and Joe Six-pack: welcome to the 21st century.

Obama’s key cabinet picks…

… Won’t be announced very soon, if I heard David Axelrod right yesterday.
He was asked on MSNBC when Obama would be announcing his top picks, and I believe the questioner even threw a few suggested names into the mix. But Axelrod replied, very clearly, something like: “While Obama will be proceeding with due haste he also recopgnizes that he needs to undertake his cabinet appointments with all the necessary deliberation…”
I think this is entirely right. Governing this country– especially at a time of so many great challenges, which have been openly acknowledged by the president-elect– is a challenge quite different from that of running for election.
Obama needs to reach down deep within himself at this point. He and those to closest to him need to change gears. He may well need to bring in and listen to voices of advice different than those he listened to during the campaign. I certainly hope he does these things before he makes any firm decisions on his cabinet team.
They will take a certain amount of time. As will the process of vetting possible top-level picks before he makes the final offers to them.
So I’m not going to make any public recommendations re possible picks. The only things I’ll say are that, in foreign policy and probably also in economic policy, choosing people who had high-level responsibility in the Clinton years would, in nearly all cases, undermine Pres. Obama’s ability to implement his agenda. He definitely needs to think outside the Clinton-era box.
For now, I merely want to urge Obama to take his time, and to reflect more deeply on how to implement the key portions of his transformation agenda, as he deliberates on the possible top-level picks. These are some of the absolutely most important decisions he will make in his life. They will strongly affect the effectiveness of his entire presidency.
I’m sure he has also given some thought to the key question of how he will get the information he needs to make his presidential decisions, and how he will organize the decision-deliberating functions of the cabinet. Those are key aspects of governance. In George W. Bush’s first term, effective executive power was exercised overwhelmingly by VP Cheney, who controlled the entire information flow to the president and completely subverted the concept of cabinet-level deliberations on the country’s most important decisions. (Cheney’s influence eroded noticeably during W’s second term.)
I think we can be confident that Joe Biden won’t be playing a role anything similar to Cheney’s. But as a long-time ‘Washington insider’ he can certainly be of some help as Obama navigates the shoals of 2009 Washington, including dealing with all the big egos and special interests associated with most (though not all) of the Democratic leaders in Congress.
Obama’s victory owes something to the large monetary support he received from big lobbying interests. But it owes most to the monetary support as well as dedicated ‘footwork’ support he received from 62.5 million voters throughout the whole country yesterday, and our desire for deepseated change. I guess for now we have to trust him not to forget that.
But I’m also, quite simply, praying for his survival.

“The Reign of Witches” ending.

210 years ago on June 4th, Thomas Jefferson wrote to John Taylor, with words of wisdom that speak as clearly to recent ills as to Jefferson’s day. Jefferson then was worried that American had abandoned its principles, most egregiously in the “Alien & Sedition Acts,” that America was in danger of being torn to shreds by foreign entanglements and wars. Jefferson was fearful for his own freedom to criticize such things openly, and implored Taylor not to let a single sentence be “got hold of by the Porcupines” who would use them to “abuse & persecute me in their papers for months.” (think Murdoch media, 18th century style)
Yet Jefferson remained the optimist in that dark hour:

A little patience, and we shall see the reign of witches pass over, their spells dissolve, and the people, recovering their true sight, restore their government to it’s true principles. It is true that in the mean time we are suffering deeply in spirit, and incurring the horrors of a war & long oppressions of enormous public debt…. If the game runs sometimes against us at home we must have patience till luck turns, & then we shall have an opportunity of winning back the principles we have lost, for this is a game where principles are the stake. Better luck, therefore, to us all; and health, happiness, & friendly salutations to yourself.

Just over two years after penning these words, Jefferson was elected America’s third president, amid a stark election that historian’s today characterize as Jefferson’s second revolution.
This lesson hardly is meant as a partisan invocation of Jefferson. Our Republican friends must be thinking long and hard about where and how the party of Lincoln and Eisenhower had gone so far off course, how principles both “republican” (as Jefferson used the term) and “American” could have been so cavalierly abandoned.
“Better luck” to us all indeed, in reclaiming the best principles of what it means to be America.

Yes, we did!

It’s been almost an hour now since CNN called the election for Obama.
Virginia put it over the top and then, at the top of the hour, California came in like gangbusters.
Earlier than Virginia, of course, Pennsylvania and Ohio already came in for the O-man.
McCain made an excellent concession speech. Good for him. All those Republican hardliners and lawyers who were preparing legal challenges here and there were thereby rendered irrelevant.
We had about eight friends here in Charlottesville watching the TV returns with us. There were several whoops and hollers throughout the evening.
We’re still waiting on our local congressional race, where Tom Perriello looks to be just a whisker ahead of the dreadful Virgil Goode.
We’re also waiting on Obama’s victory speech, out of Grant Park in Chicago where there’s yet another massive crowd gathering to hear him.
It truly does feel as if history’s being made here in the United States this evening.
The road ahead is still long. But the road of a thousand miles begins with the first step. This is it.

Obama discussing HIV/AIDS in South Africa

Thanks to Dominic who sent me the link to this YouTube video of a meeting Sen. Obama had in August 2006 with some leaders and township-based activists in South Africa’s HIV/AIDS Treatment Action Campaign.
A newsletter that the Treatment Action Campaign sent out today noted that,

    During the closed session of their meeting TAC members suggested to Senator Obama that he run for president. Obama took a strong position on preventing and treating HIV/AIDS…

Watching this video gives you a good reminder that the outcome of today’s election will have a major impact on the lives of billions of people around the world. Including the millions in sub-Saharan Africa who’ve been stricken by HIV/AIDS.
Bush administration spoksepeople have put a lot of emphasis on the generosity of the support it’s given to anti-AIDS efforts in Africa. But those efforts have been horribly held back by the Bushists’ staunch insistence that prevention campaigns should focus only on sexual abstinence rather than the full spectrum ‘ABC’ (Abstain; Be faithful; or Condomize) approach.

US elections: What non-US readers want

Most JWN readers from around the world seem to expect Barack Obama to win tomorrow’s presidential election in the US. And though, by and large, they also seem glad that he will win, still, they harbor some cynicism about whether a President Obama will do as much to change the relationship between the US and the rest of the world as they would hope…
Cynicism (or realism?) notwithstanding, we got some good responses to my invitation to people who are not US citizens to send in their requests of the next US President.
Sergi, commenting from China, included just about all the main points touched on by the other commenters when he wrote:

    I wish the US President will steer the USA as it used to be; pledge real democracy; stop bullying other countries for self interest; pledge fairness as it expect from others; be a leading country as a economic giant, to win respect again; sort out racism, as US is now the most racist country in he world; and cut down on Armed Forces spending and invest in his country’s own people, as they voted for him.
    Yes, this would be a dream and if the new President can bring this dream to reality he will become as much a Legend as George Washington…

I realize that the non-US people who read my blog are not ‘representative’ of the entirety of the 6 billion-plus people in today’s world who are not US citizens. Still, the comments/requests that have come in to the blog give a helpful window into the priorities of this group of, I would say, deeply engaged non-US people.
(You can find another interesting “global snapshot” of worldwide attitudes towards the election– which may not be more representative than mine– in this article in today’s Guardian. It includes interview material from Kabul, Paris, Beijing, Moscow, Tehran, Lahore, Nairobi, and Gaza. And Hizbullah’s fairly impressive English-language website, Al-Manar, has this round-up of reaction/hopes from various places around the world. It’s prefaced with this: ” A widespread anticipation of a new era in relations with the United States spread around the world Tuesday, even before the result of the US presidential election was known. Is it going to be an extended era for the President George W. Bush or is it going to be a new page concerning the US policy inside the country and abroad?…”)
Here on JWN, we had contributions from Thailand, Bangladesh, China, New Zealand Aotearoa, Belgium, India, Sweden, France, South Africa, Netherlands, the UK, Canada, Ireland– and at least one member of Iraq’s tragic current diaspora…
Mahmud H. Tejwal, from Dhaka, Bangladesh, had a very focused and realistic request:

    My request would be – take a small part of the US war spending and allocate it to solve the food crisis afflicting the world’s poor (about $12.5 billion or approximately two weeks cost for the Iraq and Afghanistan war).
    Millions of people are falling through the poverty trap due to rising food prices, itself the result of a complex combination of speculation, energy deficiency, policy prescriptions of the Breton Woods institutions and rapacious free traders!
    Poor nutrition in a setting of inadequate (read privatized) health care, poor to non existent social safety net, substandard infrastructure and non caring subservient national elites – this is the reality of the globalized world of today where the poor go hungry and die of preventable conditions!
    Mr.President, its about time we all should act, and act fast. Thank you and good luck.

Thanks for that, Mahmud. I guess my only further comment would be that though using, $12.5 billion (or whatever it takes) to meet the immediate, or one-year-long, food needs of the world’s poorest families seems to me an absolute moral imperative, still, to actually “solve” the longer-term challenge of food security/ food sustainability for all the world’s people also requires considerable systemic change. That would include, most crucially, an end to the massive subsidies governments give to rich-world farming corporations and big investment in rehabilitation of community-based farming systems all around the world…
Hetty, from Netherlands, advised that,

    First of all Obama should put things right in America, i.e. turn back the neocon wave of privatization and deregulation (including the privatization of the military). That will be a very difficult task after the ‘après moi le déluge’ of the Sun king Dubya; restoring the economy is his first task.
    Then he should demilitarize American foreign policy.
    Well, that’s enough for a whole bunch of presidents. And, to make his job easier, he should put Bush on trial for war crimes and treason.
    I wish Obama, the next president, all the best and good luck.

Brian, writing from Thailand, said,

    I don’t believe either candidate is serious about ‘world peace’ or any thing apart from world empire (aka US interests)! … The US has invaded and sought to control countries and governments since it invaded the Philippines a century ago, while preaching freedom and democracy, and western governments have been happy to support this fraud.
    … So lets not be naive. For the US to reenter peaceful relations with the world, it would need to prosecute those responsible for the current war crimes, and day for the damages done…Will this happen even under Obama? Not likely.

French citizen Yann said he “expects” the next US president to ‘re-engage’ in world peace. He added that France’s own Pres. Sarkozy also needs to become “re-engaged in the pursuit of humanism.”
“Indian”– I’m assuming here, sub-continent Indian– writes that he’s been living in the US for five years and “frankly I’m not optimistic about Obama’s (potential) presidency or the *single* party system.” However, he or she adds, “Suppressing my cynicism for a minute, my wish: The US President must support a climate change mitigation agreement as this affects the entire planet and not to start/escalate any more wars.”
Those thoughts were echoed (and amplified) by Mattias, from Sweden:

    I would like your next president to finish the job Reagan started, regarding nuclear disarmament. It is long past time to retire the left-over doomsday weapons from the cold war.
    I would like him to stand with us in creating a new climate treaty. And obviously I would like him to get serious on using working methods of conflict resolution.
    I would also like him to take America into the mainstream for western countries when it comes to social spending. Now the US is a beacon and example for all the forces here that want to privatize our health care system and reduce or eliminate other social programs. It would sure be nice if the US could set another example.

Frank (from Ireland) tells us:

    Walking away from the Iraq mess without providing compensation to the unfortunate refugees in Damascus and Amman, and the Internally Displaced Camps in Iraq would be a tragedy of unimaginable proportions.

Dominic from South Africa has this succinct advice:

    Yankee go home.

From Canada, “World Peace” writes:

    My wish is beneficial for our country and yours .
    If Barack Obama’s title changed from Senator to Mr. President, I will want Mr. Obama to do as he promised the Americans: rather than spending a billion dollar a day in Iraq, [actually more like a billion dollars every three days, but the argument is the same] he will invest the monies in their beloved country the United States of America. In finding alternative energy and creating thousands of jobs, they will not only become self sufficient, but back on track, as THE world leader .
    My wish will save innocent lives and further destruction, it will put a smile on what is left from the Iraqis, Afghanis, Somalis, Sudanese, Palestinians .
    Humanity is at stake after 8 bloody years of the Bush administration.
    We all need change, hope is what keeps us going…

From the UK, Doug writes:

    Dwight Eisenhower’s warning of an “Industrial, military ‘congressional’ complex” was I think the tip of an oncoming iceberg that the US failed to steer clear of, causing the ensuing ‘titanic’ train-wreck that has spilled out across the globe.
    If the next President could dismantle what President Eisenhower warned of, things might start to improve – but as I said, I don’t think the US system has the wherewithal to reform itself now. The Monster is now too big, to powerful and too sophisticated (and too ugly) to be reined in.
    … My advice to the next President would be simply “Bring the troops home – All OF THEM!!! and sort out your own country!”

It’s notable to me how many of these (non-US) contributors to the discussion had strong advice not just about our foreign policy, but also about our domestic and internal economic affairs. Quite rightly, in my view, they see these spheres of activity as closely linked.
For a long time now, too many Americans have simply assumed (a) that our own “way of life” is not only admirable but also widely admired by others around the world, and (b) that the US somehow has a “right” to tell other countries how to manage their internal affairs. These commenters– and other non-US friends and colleagues I’ve interacted with in recent years– are telling us that today, neither of these assumptions is valid. They’re telling us, moreover, that they consider they have every right to criticize how we’ve been running our internal affairs and to tell us how to do it better. What a reversal, eh?
Finally, anyone interested in the “democratization” agenda that the Bushists pursued fairly hard for a couple of years there, in the Middle East, should go and read the comment that Salah posted to the earlier discussion. (You can’t miss it: It’s the one all in bold.) It’s an excerpt from a letter that Gertrude Bell sent her father in August 1921, but it reads as very timely for today.
… Well, it’s now just seven hours till the polls open in some of the east-coast states. Let’s see how tomorrow goes…
Meanwhile, my big thanks to all of our international readers who sent comments in response to my earlier request. If you’re a US reader of JWN, please do what you can to help circulate and publicize the present post– and the full compilation of comments from the non-US readers, on the comments board here. It’s good to remind “our fellow Americans” that our fellow citizens-of-the-world from elsewhere also have a strong stake in the outcome of Tuesday’s vote.

Biggest items on next Prez’s plate

Here’s a good question: Why would anyone want to become president of the United States at a time of such huge and multifaceted crises?
Well, I guess two years ago, when these men decided to throw their hats into the ring, things didn’t look this bad.
But now, on the eve of this year’s election, I’m relatively reassured that in Barack Obama we have a person with the kind of breadth of vision and decision-making skills that will be needed to help our country chart a course through the next four (eight?) years that is as humane, inclusive, and compassionate as possible.
(Though I repeat: No, I don’t expect that, absent continued grassroots pressure, Obama will be anywhere near as humane, inclusive, and compassionate as I would like. So we’ll need to keep up the pressure on him. But he certainly looks closer to my ideal of wise leadership than John McCain does at this time.)
In today’s WaPo, David Ignatius has a column that looks at what’s going to be “on the new president’s plate” come January. It is uncharacteristically disappointing. For starters, it has a glaring internal inconsistency that makes it impossible to figure out what it is that David judges will be “the hardest” or “the worst” problem facing the new Prez. (I’m assuming those two superlatives are supposed to relate to the same item?)
David writes, “Let’s start with the hardest problem, which is Iraq…” And then, a few paras lower, he writes, “And now comes the worst problem of all, the economy…”
So which is the worst/hardest, David? This matters, because resources, attention, and priority should surely be accorded to the problem/challenge that “the worst”.
For my part, I think the “worst” one right now is the economy– with, of course, the grossly over-extended and actually unsustainable nature of our country’s military deployments being a major factor in the country’s indebtedness and general, continuing financial/economic malaise.
But Ignatius, who usually seems pretty savvy on matters Iranian, also makes what I consider to be a gross error of judgment regarding Tehran’s current interests inside Iraq.
About the US war/occupation of Iraq, he writes,

    Obama may have opposed the war in 2002, but if he’s elected, it will become his war on Jan. 21. Iran is waging an all-out campaign to push America out as soon as possible — to inflict a visible, painful defeat on the United States. How can the next president extricate America from this war without further empowering Iran?

I think his judgment about Iran there is flat-out wrong. As I noted have noted for a while, most recently here and here, and as others like Rob Malley and Hossein Agha have argued before, right now Iran has a strong (though necessarily somewhat concelaed) interest in keeping a broad deployment of US troops spread out inside Iraq. It’s one of their best guarantees against any US or US-enabled military attack against their country.
Most of the US troops in Afghanistan are deployed much further away from Iran’s borders and would be significantly harder to retaliate against than those in Iraq. Plus, the US troops in Afghanistan have a noticeably stronger “shield” of support/legitimacy from the international community than those in Iraq.
Tehran’s interest in keeping US troops deployed widely inside Iraq for some time to come– and at least until the Supreme Leader can feel reassured that a US (or US-enabled) military attack against his country is finally “off the table”– makes the US’s interactions and choices inside Iraq very different from what Ignatius posits.
And actually, I’d have to say that the US deployment inside Iraq is now not at the top of my list of “most urgent challenges” for the next Prez for these reasons:

    1. Bush and Petraeus– and, crucially, the pressure of events on the ground, the needs of global US force-planning and the US budget– have already pushed the US military project in Iraq into a “drawdown toward the end-game” phase. Yes, there will still be some very important decisions to be made. (Indeed, some of the most important of these will still need to be made by Bush and other current world leaders: Before December 31, they will be the ones deciding the terms on which the UN mandate to “the coalition” inside Iraq gets renewed.) But all the inside-Washington talk about “conditionality”, “benchmarks”, etc, relating to a continuing US troop presence in Iraq has been nonsense for a long time already… Honestly, there are no serious remaining issues to be decided in that regard. The Iraqis– or perhaps the Iranians– have “won” in Iraq. What’s clear already is that, at the political level, the US has “lost.” Deal with it.
    2. In a very important way, the “how” of the US getting out of Iraq, is a subset of of the “how” of how the US will deal with Iran, for the reasons explicated above. That means that the Iranian question– which also has several other very important dimensions– is more important for the new Prez to deal with than the Iraq question.

I don’t have time to write much more here. I just want to note that, regarding the economic crisis, my biggest hope is that the new Prez will think very broadly about what kind of America he wants to see emerging from the present cascade of challenges. I have a bunch of things to write about that. I started to do that a little bit, back in September, in my post on “Re-imagining America”. But now, I want to refine/revise those thoughts quite a bit.
Now is definitely the time to do that!
(Off to Quaker meeting…. Ommmm.)