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Obama and His New Crew

The opinions expressed by columnists are their own and do not necessarily represent the views of

If you're not a "Star Trek" fan, you might not get this, but as I've watched President-elect Barack Obama these past few weeks, I feel as if the country is passing the torch from the brash, rule-breaking Capt. James T. Kirk, whose Starship Enterprise boldly went where no man had gone before in the original sci-fi series, to the more cerebral governance of Capt. Jean-Luc Picard, who ran the Enterprise not so much as his merry ship but as a cutting-edge corporate venture, which culled databases and held meetings to brainstorm possible responses to new challenges. (Note: when "Star Trek: The Next Generation" first aired in 1987, viewers didn't look at corporate execs as greed-filled panic-fueled incompetents.) Monday, Obama made some savvy additions to his new crew.

Hillary Rodham Clinton as secretary of state? A smart political move. For Obama's foreign policy to succeed abroad, he needs support at home. Clinton in the Senate would have a stake in Obama failure, but Clinton at the helm of the State Department will have a stake in Obama's success, and no incentive to undermine it.

Poor Joe Biden. With Hillary Clinton in charge, it looks as if he will be attending funerals -- not, as he may have imagined, pontificating and passing on to a less-seasoned president-in-training his sage advice on foreign policy, such as his plan to partition Iraq in three.

Obama's decision to keep on Defense Secretary Robert Gates has angered the anti-war left, as it signals that Obama is prepared to drop his pledge to withdraw U.S. combat troops from Iraq within 16 months two brigades per month -- of taking office. I'm thrilled. Gates would not agree to stay if he expected a precipitous troop withdrawal.

Thus, the big question about Obama has been answered: While Democrats -- even Clinton and Biden, who both voted to authorize the war -- may play the blame game with Bush about Iraq, Obama understands that if Iraq collapses after U.S. troops are withdrawn, then it won't matter who started the war. America loses, and he loses.

Now the question is: When did Obama know he would not honor his hard timeline pledge -- during the primary, as I suspect, or over time, as the Bush-Gates troop surge brought about increased security in Iraq? Either way, Obama is where he should be on the issue.

As for Obama's national security adviser nominee, James L. Jones Jr.: It turns out that, to the horror of some enviroes, Jones is involved with Chevron and the U.S. Chamber of Commerce on the global warming issue. It's like Christmas for global-warming skeptics.

On foreign policy, the left will have to content itself with Obama talking with Iran -- the left loves talks -- and honoring his pledge to close Guantanamo Bay. Meanwhile, the rest of us will have to cross our fingers and hope the number of released Gitmo inmates who have been killed or captured fighting with terrorists abroad does not climb above the June count of 13. Beware: A Pentagon fact sheet estimated that 7 percent of released Gitmo detainees returned to terrorist activities.

Obama's pick for attorney general -- Eric Holder, formerly of the Clinton Justice Department -- promises to disappoint some on the left and on the right. Holder's role in the 2001 Clinton pardon of fugitive financier Marc Rich showed a smarmy side of Obama's would-be top lawman. Yes, recent presidents -- both Bushes, Bill Clinton, Gerald Ford -- have pardoned political allies who broke the law. While it is not pretty, the practice has precedent, and does temper efforts to criminalize politics.

The Rich pardon broke the mold. When Holder issued a "neutral, leaning toward" favorable appraisal of Rich's pardon request, he did so without a full briefing from federal prosecutors, in complete disregard of Rich's fugitive status and despite intelligence reports that Rich had done business with rogue states Iraq and Iran. As Rep. Lamar Smith, R-Texas, told the New York Times, "If a Republican official had engaged in this kind of activity, he would never receive Senate confirmation."

I believe Smith is right.

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