Leonard Doyle: Team provides an iron fist for future President's velvet glove


With his foreign policy led by Hillary Clinton, who once declared she would "obliterate" Iran if it attacked Israel, Barack Obama wants to restore America's credibility in the world, without being accused of being a global community organiser.

The neo-conservative ideologues of the George Bush era who promoted the war on terror are gone, but Mr Obama's advisers expect his approach to be attacked from the right.

Mr Obama has assembled an impressive team of hard-knuckle pragmatists who will have no compunction about unleashing America's military might if they judge the cause to be right. At the heart of Mr Obama's pragmatic vision is the belief that America has the right, duty even, to intervene militarily when a failing state threatens international peace and security. Darfur could be an early test of his resolve to flex America's diplomatic and military muscle in a creative way.

The core of Mr Obama's vision is to boost America's "soft power" by sending ever-greater numbers of diplomats and aid workers abroad with the aim of preventing conflicts and patching together teetering states. After the military build-ups of the Bush years and the emasculation of the State Department, that is a huge change. His team includes not only his fierce rival for the nomination Mrs Clinton, but also two Cold War veterans sharply critical of President Bush's foreign policies. Robert Gates, who is staying on at the Pentagon, has complained that the US has more members of military bands than serving diplomats. General James Jones issued a withering report last year on President Bush's strategy, saying: "Nato is not winning in Afghanistan." He complained that serious efforts were never committed to rebuilding the country and without them, victory will never be achieved.

In Susan Rice, the UN ambassador designate, Mr Obama has a tenacious diplomat. On the campaign trail she was the President-elect's closest adviser. Her eyes would flare with anger if questioned about his policy of military strikes inside Pakistan against al-Qa'ida. Ms Rice was in the State Department when al-Qa'ida attacked US embassies in Kenya and Tanzania in 1998. Her toughest assignment was the genocide in Rwanda, where she saw thousands of rotting bodies. "I swore if I faced such a crisis again, I would come down on the side of dramatic action, going down in flames if that was required," she told The Atlantic magazine in 2001.