Tuesday, February 26, 2008

Obama, Brzezinski and The Definition of "Advisor"

So what exactly does it mean to be a "foreign policy advisor" to a candidate?

Senator Obama had this to say about former national security advisor Zbigniew Brzezinski, who in the press has been identified as an "advisor" to the candidate, to a gathering in Cleveland over the weekend:

"He's not one of my key advisers. I've had lunch with him once. I've exchanged e-mails with him maybe three times. He came to Iowa to introduce ... for a speech on Iraq."

(Coverage of that Iraq speech from last September from an outlet that might be deemed less than sympathetic to either Obama or Brzezinski).

This doesn't sound like ongoing contact. But is the definition of an advisor predicated upon frequency of contact?

The official record--which can be accessed via TNI's Foreign Policy Advisors Index, is that the former NSA has endorsed Senator Obama; there is no mention of any official campaign role. Intermediaries have sometimes suggested that Brzezinski has been consulted by Obama only on questions related to Iraq and not larger foreign policy questions.

What we are seeing again is the shadowy usage of terms meant to enhance or conceal relationships as they prove advantageous or disadvantageous. A campaign has official spokesmen who represent the candidate and speak for the candidate, that is clear. "Advisor" is more nebulous. Does it imply, as HRC supporter Congressman Eliot Engel told the Sun, "People are going to say if you are advising Obama, you are representing Obama"? Can a candidate consult with people without having to take responsibility for everything that person says or stands for?

On the flip side, however, is the use of "lists" and "endorsements" as a way to enhance a candidate's own standing. It certainly helped a junior senator to have two former national security advisors endorsing him and certifying that he was qualified. It also raises questions about who exactly is a foreign policy expert and how expertise is determined and its relevance to a campaign, a subject Dan Drezner has been discussing in depth.

There's also the issue of degree.

Obama's statement just discusses direct candidate contact. There's also more indirect ways to advise. Close candidate advisors who are transmission belts for memos and messages. Having "disciples" in the inner circle around the candidate.

I doubt that ZB is looking to himself take up any post--but wouldn't mind having a chance to influence the composition of the foreign policy team.
Typical politician behavior. Trot out the advisors and lines that work best for your specific audience. Jewish audience in Ohio aren't going to be big Zbig fans, not that that's news.
Politics is a cold blooded business.

Implying that ZB is too hawkish for Obama? He was the east-west bulwark, while Cyrus vance and the north-south good will googoos stood idly.

I posted on this at The New Nixon:

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