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Team Obama: Ready for Prime Time?

By Jack Kelly

The Not Ready for Prime Time Players are hilarious on Saturday Night Live, but not so funny in a presidential campaign, as Sen. Barack Obama has learned to his sorrow.

Sen. Obama has the thinnest resume of any major presidential candidate in modern times. He has not bolstered it with his selection of key advisers, most of whom share his inexperience on the national scene.

That inexperience has bitten the Obama campaign hard recently.

Sen. Obama received much negative press coverage after it was disclosed by Canadian television that Austan Goolsbee, a University of Chicago professor who advises the Illinois senator on economic policy, had told the Canadian consul general in Chicago that what Sen. Obama was telling voters in Ohio about renegotiating the North American Free Trade Agreement was just campaign rhetoric.

Sen. Hillary Clinton overtook Sen. Obama in Texas in large part because of a television ad which questioned Sen. Obama's readiness to deal with foreign policy crises. Susan Rice, a foreign policy adviser, responded to the controversy by declaring on MSNBC that: "They're both not ready to have that 3 a.m. phone call." Expect to see that clip replayed in Republican ads this fall.

Ms. Rice is a relative heavyweight among Sen. Obama's advisers, because during the Clinton administration she served as the African expert on the National Security Council and later as Assistant Secretary of State for African Affairs. It was chiefly she who persuaded President Clinton to reject Sudan's offer to turn Osama bin Laden over to U.S. authorities, say Timothy Carney, who was the U.S. ambassador to Sudan at the time, and Mansoor Ijaz, a Clinton fund-raiser of Pakistani descent who served as a go-between. (The 9/11 Commission said it found no evidence the Sudanese offer was credible.)

Susan Rice's gaffe was overshadowed by the serial verbal blunders of another foreign policy adviser, Samantha Power, a Harvard professor who has written a well received book on genocide, on her European book tour.

Ms. Power resigned from the Obama campaign after describing Hillary Clinton as a "monster" to a reporter for the Scotsman newspaper. On the same tour, in an interview with the Daily Telegraph, she made a snarky comment about British Prime Minister Gordon Brown, and told a BBC interviewer that Sen. Obama doesn't really mean it when he says he'll withdraw all U.S. troops from Iraq within 16 months.

Ms. Power, 37, appeared to enjoy overmuch the celebrity that comes with being a key adviser to a presidential candidate. She used a four letter obscenity for sexual intercourse in an interview with the New Statesman magazine, perhaps in an effort to seem "edgy."

The interviewer, Sholto Byrnes, doubted Ms. Power meant all of what she told him:

"If she is to be a part of an Obama White House she will have to be able to deliver the odd fib more persuasively," Mr. Byrnes wrote.

Ms. Power reportedly was very close to Sen. Obama, often, she claimed, receiving instant messages from him late at night. So it's likely her views on foreign policy are close to his own.

The most striking thing about Ms. Power's otherwise conventionally liberal views is her hostility towards Israel. She has recanted the view she expressed in 2002 that U.S. troops be sent to Israel to force creation of a Palestinian state. But she criticized the New York Times in 2003 for covering Israel too favorably when the Times reported the finding of a human rights group that a massacre had not in fact occurred in the Palestinian town of Jenin.

Shortly after Ms. Power beat her well publicized retreat, the National Journal published an interview with John Brennan, a former senior CIA official who now is an adviser to the Obama campaign. Mr. Brennan said he "believed strongly" the current impasse between the White House and Congress over extension of the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act should be settled by granting immunity from lawsuits to telecommunications companies which cooperate with the government, as President Bush insists.

Sen. Obama voted against granting immunity to the telcoms.

Those who would be president "need to make sure they do their homework, and it's not going to be just knee jerk responses," Mr. Brennan said.

I agree completely with Mr. Brennan, who was head of the National Counterterrorism Center before leaving government. But it had to be embarrassing for Sen. Obama to have his leading adviser on intelligence matters imply that he doesn't do his homework.

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