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Odd Woman Out

3:50 PM, Feb 9, 2009 • By MICHAEL GOLDFARB
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If Hillary Clinton bothered to read the papers yesterday, she would have learned that her role in the crafting of American foreign policy will likely be a small one. The Washington Post ran a rather stunning interview with National Security Adviser Jim Jones in which Jones "made it clear that he will run the process and be the primary conduit of national security advice to Obama, eliminating the 'back channels' that at times in the Bush administration allowed Cabinet secretaries and the vice president's office to unilaterally influence and make policy out of view of the others." The Post's report was titled "Obama's NSC Will Get New Power," and as Jones pointed out, as head of the NSC that power will be his. As if it wasn't enough to be the gatekeeper to the president on all matters of national security, Jones also declared that he would be redrawing the world map "along some map line we can all agree on."

But even Jones may not be the top dog, as was evidenced by the chaos within the administration over the Iraq ambassador post. Jones offered that job to his friend Anthony Zinni only to be overruled days later when the job was offered to Chris Hill instead. Hill's mentor, Richard Holbrooke, was the subject of a profile on Sunday, this one in the New York Times. We speculated here that it was Holbrooke who got his protégé appointed as ambassador to Iraq, even after Clinton had called in Zinni to discuss the post and told her deputy to get things moving. Now Hill may be working to repay the favor, telling the Times that Holbrooke is "someone who's larger than life." Apparently, he's also larger than Clinton, who is described by the Times as Holbrooke's "foreign policy pupil." One imagines his boss, and pupil, couldn't have been terribly pleased with the description.

Perhaps the most striking detail in the Times profile was that Holbrooke has his own "personal archivist." What kind of man has a personal archivist? A man who "sees power the way an artists sees color" is how Wesley Clark describes him in the piece. Michael Crowley trotted out another great description of Holbrooke which came when Jacques Chirac asked Bill Clinton how it was that Holbrooke had managed to broker the Dayton Accords with Milosevic. Clinton replied, "Because he has the same character as Milosevic." Translation: he's a megalomaniac.

So who has the president's ear? According to the Times, though Holbrooke's responsibilities extend "beyond the State Department," he will report to the president through Clinton. Clinton, presumably, will report through Jones, aka The Conduit, as Jones tells the Post that "he insisted on being 'in charge' and having open and final access to the president on all national security matters." Joe Biden, of course, insisted on the same thing -- and Obama assured him before he joined the ticket that "in every important decision [Obama makes], every critical decision, economic and political as well as foreign policy, I'll get to be in the room."

Obama must not have made any important decisions this weekend as both Jones and Biden attended the Munich Security conference with Holbrooke in tow. The only one left out seems to be Clinton. One Republican who heard Holbrooke speak at the conference says he "spent so much time talking about how hard 'Afpak' is [in order] to set himself up for glory if anything improves, but it wil be Petraeus and the Armed Forces that deserve the credit, not the giant ego of Holbrooke and his sidekick archivist." Ego seems to be one thing this administration has in spades.