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Thursday, July 17, 2008

POLITICS: Newbie Hussein has 300 advisers.

Gee, wonder how may 'qaeda sympathizers make up his 300-man team!

WASHINGTON: Every day around 8 a.m., foreign policy aides at Senator Barack Obama's Chicago campaign headquarters send him two e-mails: a briefing on major world developments over the previous 24 hours and a set of questions, accompanied by suggested answers, that the candidate is likely to be asked about international relations during the day.

One recent Q. & A. asked, for example, whether Obama supported the decision by Iraq's prime minister, Nuri Kamal al-Maliki, to include a timetable for American troop withdrawal in any new security agreements with the United States. The answer, provided to Obama with bullet points, was yes — or "a genuine opportunity," as he put it in a speech on Iraq this week.

Behind the e-mail messages is a tight-knit group of aides supported by a huge 300-person foreign policy campaign bureaucracy, organized like a mini State Department, to assist a candidate whose limited national security experience remains a concern to many voters.

"It is unwieldy, no question," said Denis McDonough, 38, Obama's top foreign policy aide, speaking of an infrastructure that has been divided into 20 teams based on regions and issues, and that has recently absorbed, with some tensions, the top foreign policy advisers from Senator Hillary Rodham Clinton's presidential campaign. "But an administration is unwieldy, too. We also know that it's messier when you don't get as much information as you can."

The group is on the spot this week as Obama is planning to make his first overseas foray as the presumptive Democratic presidential nominee, with voters at home and leaders abroad watching closely to see how he handles himself on the global stage.

Unlike George W. Bush, who entered the presidential race in 2000 with scant exposure to national security issues, Obama has served since his election to the Senate in 2004 on the Foreign Relations Committee and has had a running tutorial from aides steeped in the issues. His campaign says that he is well prepared and that he often alters and expands on the talking points provided to him by his foreign policy advisers.

Most of the core members of his team served in government during President Bill Clinton's administration and by and large were junior to the advisers who worked on his wife's campaign for the Democratic nomination. But they remain in charge within the campaign even as it takes on more senior figures from the Clinton era, like two former secretaries of state, Madeleine Albright and Warren Christopher, and are positioned to put their own stamp on the party's foreign policy.

Most of them, like the candidate they are working for, distinguished themselves from Hillary Rodham Clinton's foreign policy camp by early opposition to the Iraq war. They also tend to be more liberal and to emphasize using the "soft power" of diplomacy and economic aid to try to advance the interests of the United States. Still, their positions fall well within centrist Democratic foreign policy thinking, and none of the deep policy fissures that have divided the Republicans into two camps, the neoconservatives and the so-called pragmatists, have opened.

Obama's core team is led by Susan Rice, an assistant secretary of state for African affairs in the Clinton administration, who has pushed for a tougher response to the crisis in the Darfur region of Sudan, and Anthony Lake, Bill Clinton's first national security adviser, who was criticized for the administration's failure to confront the genocide in Rwanda in 1994 and now acknowledges the inaction as a major mistake.

The core group also includes Gregory Craig, a former top official in the Clinton State Department who served as the president's lawyer during his impeachment trial; Richard Danzig, a navy secretary in the Clinton administration; Mark Lippert, Obama's former Senate foreign policy adviser, who just returned from a navy tour of duty in Iraq; and McDonough.

McDonough and Lippert are paid by the campaign and based in Chicago, and the rest are outside advisers who volunteer their time from Washington.

The group no longer includes Samantha Power, the Pulitzer Prize-winning Harvard human rights expert who resigned in March after she was quoted calling Hillary Clinton a "monster." But Lake still talks to Power, and Obama sent a long personal tribute that was read at her wedding in Ireland this month.

Obama's Republican rival, Senator John McCain of Arizona, has a far smaller and looser foreign policy advisory operation, about 75 people in all, and none are organized into teams. In 2004, the Democratic presidential nominee, Senator John Kerry, had a foreign policy structure similar in scale to Obama's, but it had limited influence on the candidate, who had spent 20 years in the Senate, former advisers said. Obama is not yet receiving the government intelligence briefing that is typically made available to a presidential candidate upon becoming his party's nominee.

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I'm so sick of this guy.