Le Monde, France
Obama Chooses Military
Men to Bring Peace
Translated By Aleksandra J. Chlon
8 January 2013
Edited by Keturah Hetrick
France - Le Monde - Original Article (French)
The battle between the Obama administration and Republicans over the budget has detracted from major international events of 2013. The international community is, however, awaiting decisions — and leadership — from the U.S. on many matters that remained outstanding until the November 2012 election: the nuclear threat from Iran, the retreat from Afghanistan, the peace process between Israel and Palestine and, of course, Syria.
Without waiting for his inaugural speech on Jan. 21, Obama has begun the nomination process and already shows clear signs of the external action that he is aiming to take during his second mandate. Elected in 2008 after less than four years in the Senate, the American president had the foresight to surround himself with important figures: the Republican Bob Gates in defense, Hillary Clinton in foreign affairs and Leon Panetta at the CIA.
Today, he considers himself capable of choosing “his” people. The three candidates that he’s appointed — Democrat John Kerry at the Department of State, Republican Chuck Hagel at the Pentagon and the professional John Brennan at the CIA — are, above all, close to him. It matters little to him if they are far from providing unanimity in Congress. Hagel seriously irritates neoconservatives because of both his tendency to distance himself from the American Israel Public Affairs Committee, America’s pro-Israeli lobby, and his independent spirit, which led him to oppose the 2009 troop surge in Afghanistan. Brennan, who has spent 25 years at the CIA and approved George Bush’s “enhanced interrogations” program, is disliked by the Democratic Party’s left.
But the nomination of Kerry and Hagel has a more political sense: Barack Obama has chosen two former military men with many medals (together, the two have brought back five Purple Hearts from Vietnam). Unlike all the neoconservative warmongers who have never worn a uniform, the nominees know, according to the expression used by the American president on Jan. 7, that “war is not just an abstraction.” The choice of these two men demonstrates Obama’s plans to give diplomacy all its chances and to pursue the “ebb of war,” which began with the end of the conflict in Iraq.
Hagel’s main tasks will be speeding up the retreat from Afghanistan and reducing military expenses, which continue to represent 20 percent of the budget. Brennan, the “Mr. Drones” of the White House, must decrease the CIA’s military focus and concentrate on intelligence. John Kerry will, no doubt, be less flamboyant than Hillary Clinton. But his style — discrete missions and shadow diplomacy — could be valuable in dealing with such pressing matters as Iran or the Near East.
The Republicans are wrong to think that Obama’s choice of Hagel or Kerry is a sign that Obama means to shy away from Iran. On the contrary, there is nothing like the agreement of a team of “warriors despite themselves” if the circumstances ended up requiring a military intervention.
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