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The Return Of Holbrooke


One interesting undercurrent of chatter here in Denver: The apparent merging of former Clinton foreign policy guru Richard Holbrooke into Obama's advisory circle.

Holbrooke, as many readers will know, was long in Hillary's inner policy circle and a presumed top candidate for Secretary of State were she to win. He is also widely credited with urging her to take a hawkish pre-war stance toward Iraq. Despite his deep ties throughout the party establishment, Holbrooke was a conspicuous omission from the Obama campaign's offical national security working group and seemed destined for life in exile under an Obama regime. (One veteran Democratic foreign policy hand tells me that early in primary season Holbrooke was allegedly "not afraid to pick up the phone and ominously warn friends and former colleagues advising Obama that they were risking exclusion from a HRC administration if they did not come to their senses.")

I haven't gotten anyone in Obamaland to comment on this, but it makes particular sense in light of Joe Biden's place on the ticket. Although observers chuckled in 2004 at the supposed competition between Biden and Holbrooke to be Secretary of State in waiting, the men have been quite sympatico over the years. (Indeed, Biden was Holbrooke's champion during his 1999 Senate confirmation to be UN Ambassador.) Among other things, they were two of Washington's main proponents of a more forceful US response during the Balkan conflicts of the 1990s.

Another data point: Bill Richardson said not long ago that he thought Holbrooke should have a greater role in Obamaland and would be pushing for it. If Obama respects Richardson as much as he says, that has to have had an effect.

There's a tricky and sensitive aspect here, however--namely that Holbrooke and the man who has long been among Obama's senior foreign policy advisors, Tony Lake, are one-time best friends dating back to the 1970s who had a bitter falling out early in the Clinton years, and have at least been percieved as rivals ever since.

The larger context here is the still somewhat hazy question of precisely what a president Obama's foreign policy approach would look like, and who would have chief influence over it, especially in the early months as Obama finds his footing on the world stage. I'll keep an eye on this subplot and update when we know more.

--Michael Crowley