Obama Should Avoid the Mistakes of Reagan and Bush, and Get Out of His Bunker

Says foreign policy rock star Leslie Gelb.

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By John Aloysius Farrell, Thomas Jefferson Street blog

Leslie Gelb is a rock star in the rarified world of foreign policy scholarship, right down to his rose-tinted shades.

And while pitching his new book, Power Rules, at breakfast the other day, the president emeritus of the Council on Foreign Relations, and former Pulitzer Prize-winning journalist, tossed down a challenge to congressional Democrats.

All those Democratic members of Congress who squealed about the lack of congressional oversight hearings during the days when Republicans ran things in Washington seem to have lost their sense of outrage, Gelb said, now that their party is pulling the strings. And that, he said, is a prescription for trouble.

Gelb has been making policy, or watching others do it, since the days of the Vietnam War. The new Obama administration, he says, has collected more policy-making power in the Oval Office than any of its immediate predecessors. "It is the most centralized decision-making operation I have ever seen," he said.

As it escalates the war in Afghanistan, and contemplates action against Iran, Team Audacity could profit from rigorous questioning and public debate on Capitol Hill. Congress needs "to make him run the gauntlet" on such important foreign policy decisions, said Gelb, instead of repeating "the same" mistakes that the Republican Congress made when George W. Bush was in power.

"You go into the government and you immediately go into the bunker," Gelb said. "You begin to get very distrustful of anyone not in your immediate sphere."

Far from being disloyal, Obama's former colleagues would be helping him by calling top cabinet officials to the Hill, and challenging their proposals and assumptions.

"They would be doing him a favor," Gelb said.

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