A Return to Professionalism
What Obama's Pentagon hires say about his presidential style.
What are all Obama's professionals going to do? That's a different question. Every issue they'll confront has political dimensions, if not a political core—and actual decisions will be made well over their heads.
By all indications, the Obama presidency will be a top-down organization. The president-elect himself has said that he's hiring smart, experienced people to give him advice, but ultimately their job will be to execute his policies.
There's something refreshing about the prospect of an intellectually engaged president who absorbs a wide range of views and takes responsibility for his subsequent actions. Still, Obama will be relying on those views as the inputs for his policymaking, and it's not yet clear how wide-ranging this group's views will be. Competence doesn't necessarily yield wisdom. Professionalism can breed narrow-mindedness at least as readily as it sparks creative bursts.
At least he'll be getting advice and assistance from people who know their assigned areas—and how to carry out policies once they're formed. That alone marks a dramatic change from much of the last eight years. But what the government does, where the country goes, and how it all works out will ultimately come down to Obama.
Fred Kaplan is Slate's "War Stories" columnist and author of the book, The Insurgents: David Petraeus and the Plot to Change the American Way of War. He can be reached at email@example.com. Follow him on Twitter.