In the Arena

Better Questions, Please

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Watching the Obama rollout of his national security team from overseas–I’m in Europe, on my way to Afghanistan–I was struck by the inanity of most of the questions from my colleagues. Granted, these are political reporters, not national security or foreign policy specialists, but what sort of journalist expects the President-elect to tell the “inside story” of how he selected Hillary Clinton? (Those sorts of stories, if told at all, are wrenched from aides on background–and reported only after consulting multiple sources.) And what’s the point of raising the nasty things Obama and Clinton said about each other during the primaries? Did the reporter expect Obama to say, “Well, I still believe her resume is overblown, that’s why I appointed her…oh, and by the way, she still thinks it’s dumb to talk to the Iranians without preconditions.”

There are better questions to be asked–some that might even elicit responses, although the President-elect’s performance in these pressers is not only No Drama but also No News Obama. The question about whether Obama still favors the 16-month Iraq withdrawal timetable was a good one, even if it didn’t elicit news. Still, I would have tried others along that line:

–Are you still going to call it the Global War on Terror? 

–In a recent interview, you raised the possibility of Bill Clinton as special envoy to India and Pakistan, is that a real possibility now? Will you also have a special envoy for the middle east, and to begin the negotiations with Iran?

–What are you going to do about Robert Gates’s staff of Bush Administration holdovers? Will there be a new Deputy Secretary and roster of Under Secretaries, will you retain the current secretaries of the armed forces? Do you still plan to raise the Pentagon budget?

–Could you give us a better sense of what the vice president’s role will be in your Administration? With his foreign policy experience, will he be given specific overseas assignments–if so, have you settled on any yet?

No guarantee that those questions would be answered either, but at least they deal with substantive issues that are probably front and center in Obama’s mind right now. Oh, and by the way, what questions would you ask?