Everyone, understandably, has been fixated on the Cabinet-level leaders of President Obama's foreign policy team--Secretary of State Hillary Clinton, Defense Secretary Bob Gates, and National Security Council adviser Gen. James Jones. But just underneath them, there is a tight-knit and generally like-minded clique of their deputies and close advisers. They already wield great influence on Obama's national-security policies and personnel selection. And yet, few beyond the Washington Beltway know who they are, what they do, and what they believe.
The clique plays a central role--just below the Cabinet and along with Obama's Chicago mafia in the White House--in choosing other top-level policy makers in the administration. (The ranking goes Cabinet secretary, deputy secretary, undersecretary, and assistant secretary.) Far more than their bosses in the White House, they know personally all the players in the international fields, so their bosses have to rely on them for top job recommendations. They usually have more policy expertise than their bosses (though not necessarily in this administration). And they will run the critical interdepartmental policy committees where major decisions are made and tougher ones passed up to the National Security Council itself. They also attend NSC meetings with their bosses.
Politics watchers who revel in bloodletting surely will be disheartened to hear that this Obama clique is not populated by ideological nuts, and that they get along with one another quite well. Thus, they are unlikely to treat us voyeurs to the usual brawls that sparkled with rancor and gossip throughout the Bush and Clinton administrations. There are interesting twists to how they'll perform and mingle, but more about this later.