America the Energy Superpower: An Update

american-flag-oilA regular theme on this blog (here, here, here and here) is how the marked surge in U.S. oil and natural gas production over the past several years is reviving America’s strategic prospects.  The energy boom, which is due largely to innovations in extraction technology – namely, hydraulic fracturing (“fracking”) and horizontal drilling – that have unlocked gas and oil deposits previously thought inaccessible within tightly-packed shale rock formations, is a key geopolitical development already triggering significant global reverberations.  It puts paid to what was just a short time ago widely held notions about how the country was inexorably depleting its hydrocarbon energy resources.  It also puts a major dent in what many believe is this era’s mega-narrative – that China’s global preeminence is all but ordained.

Both of these points were amplified by a number of developments and observations over the last few weeks Continue reading

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McDonough’s Elevation and the Obamians’ Ascent

The pending appointment of Denis R. McDonough, currently President Obama’s deputy national security advisor, as White House chief of staff will have major ramifications for how the administration formulates foreign policy.  First, it underscores the argument in my last post about the subtle but significant policy disconnects between Cabinet-level nominees Chuck Hagel and John F. Kerry, on the one side, and the president’s national security inner team, on the other.  Second, it entrenches the decision-making dysfunctions so evident in the administration’s first term. Continue reading

Hagel, Kerry and the Ghost in Their Heads

President Obama at the Vietnam memorial in May 2012, marking the 50th anniversary of the conflict's start.

President Obama at the Vietnam memorial in May 2012, marking the 50th anniversary of the conflict’s start.

President Obama’s nomination of Chuck Hagel as his Defense Secretary has sparked a raging debate over whether the views held by the former Senator from Nebraska are sufficiently in the U.S. foreign policy mainstream.  Lost in the tumult, however, is how his appointment (along with John F. Kerry’s as Secretary of State) is in an important way out of step with Mr. Obama’s own worldview.

True, the selections mean that Obama is bringing into his Cabinet the trio of Senatorial confidants who tutored him on national security issues in the run-up to his first presidential campaign.  By reuniting Hagel and Kerry with Vice President Joe Biden, the president has formed what Michael Hirsh at the National Journal calls the “team of mentors.”  This is in contrast to the much-hyped “team of rivals” in Obama’s first term, created when Hillary Rodham Clinton, a fierce political opponent, was tapped for the State Department.

Despite his Republican Party affiliation, Hagel was much closer to Obama during their time together in the Senate than Clinton ever was.  At Obama’s invitation, he joined the high-profile July 2008 tour of Afghanistan and the Middle East that was designed to burnish the national security credentials of the Democratic presidential nominee.  Back then, Hagel was even talked about as a possible running mate for Obama; he was open to the idea though he advised Obama to pick Biden.*  His close bonds with Obama appeared to many as tantamount to endorsing Obama over his own party’s presidential nominee in 2008 and he helped deflect Republican criticism of Obama’s foreign policy positions.

Hagel is the first Vietnam veteran to be nominated for the Pentagon post and the White House is underscoring his distinguished war record.  But this experience also puts him (and Kerry) at sharp odds with the worldview held by Obama and many in his White House circle, who are not products of the Vietnam era and think of the conflict as ancient history. Continue reading