Diplomats' Book Warned of ‘Fiascos'

President Obama should think long and hard before reversing the foreign policies of the Bush administration.

That advice comes not from Dick Cheney but from Kurt Campbell, a national security expert Obama nominated last week for a top diplomatic post, and James Steinberg, his soon-to-be boss at the State Department.

In fact, it’s one of the premises of a 2008 book co-written by Campbell, Obama’s new nominee to be assistant secretary of state for Asian and Pacific affairs, and Steinberg, the No. 2 official at the State Department.

In “Difficult Transitions; Foreign Policy Troubles at the Outset of Presidential Power,” published last year by the Brookings Institution, Campbell and Steinberg conclude that “the tendency to write off the policies of the outgoing administration and the failure to appreciate the differences between campaign promises and policy realities” are among “the leading causes of foreign policy fiascos,” according to a blurb on the institution’s website.

The Senate Foreign Relations Committee has yet to schedule confirmation hearings for Campbell, who headed the left-leaning national security think tank the Center for a New American Security, but Steinberg won Senate confirmation as Deputy Secretary of State in January.

Steinberg — who advised Obama during the campaign and transition on foreign policy issues, including the Israeli peace process and Iran — was paid $25,000 to write the book and expects royalties from it, according to a financial disclosure statement on file with the U.S. Office of Government Ethics. It shows that he earned $325,000 last year from the University of Texas, where he was dean of the public affairs school, plus $70,000 in consulting fees from the D.C. public relations firm Glover Park Group and $47,000 in honoraria from groups in Japan, India and the U.S.

The ethics office has yet to release Campbell’s disclosure, but one filed by his wife Lael Brainard, Obama’s nominee to be Treasury undersecretary for international affairs, shows that the couple earned $945,000 in 2008 and this year from two Washington-based consulting firms, Campbell & Brainard Associates and StratAsia, http://strat-asia.com/about the latter of which advises multinational companies doing business in Asia.

Brainard’s disclosure did not list clients from either firm, but Obama’s strict ethics policy will bar the couple from working on issues “directly and substantially related” to their former clients for two years.

A deputy assistant secretary of defense under former President Bill Clinton, Campbell also pulled in $25,000 from Lockheed Martin for one 2008 speech and $10,000 from Goldman Sachs for another. And he earned less than $2,500 in royalties last year for another book he published through Brookings called “The Nuclear Tipping Point.”

“Difficult Transitions” was published before Obama’s victory. While it doesn’t single out specific Bush policies worth keeping or delve into how Obama’s campaign trail foreign policy rhetoric aligns with geopolitical realities, it does point out that both Obama and his Republican rival John McCain distanced themselves from a wide range of Bush administration policies.

“Expectations have been raised that an Obama administration would bring a substantial departure from current policies on a whole range of issues, such as the treatment of detainees, climate change and the conduct of the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan,” Steinberg and Campbell wrote.

Obama has already parted ways with Bush’s policies on those issues and others.

A State Department spokesman declined to elaborate on the hypotheses in “Difficult Transitions.” And Campbell is “not doing interviews,” according to a spokesman for the Center for a New American Security.

Their book also proffers another provocative suggestion — that the uncertainty of the new administration makes it likely the 44th president will be tested early on the foreign policy and security fronts, possibly by terrorist attack. “For terrorist groups in particular, targeting the early months of a new administration might be particularly appealing given their interest in the politics of disruption as well as destruction,” the pair write

During the campaign, now-Vice President Joe Biden raised eyebrows with a similar yet more precise prediction. 

“Mark my words,” Biden proclaimed at a Seattle fundraiser in October. “It will not be six months before the world tests Barack Obama like they did John Kennedy. ... Watch, we're going to have an international crisis, a generated crisis, to test the mettle of this guy.”

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