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The Los Angeles Times

Antiwar Groups Fear Barack Obama May Create Hawkish Cabinet

Activists note that most of the candidates for top security posts voted for the 2002 resolution authorizing President Bush to invade Iraq or otherwise supported launching the war.

Paul Richter

Reading the signs. Anti-war activists and organizers are trying to bridge the gap between cynicism and optimism. They want to capitalize on the enthusiasm and energy that the Obama victory has stirred, while maintaining a level of pressure that isn't overly critical at the outset. Although resisting discouragement at this early stage, it's imperative that they 'express concern' over certain directions the President-Elect seems to be taking in cabinet choices and advisers.

Antiwar groups and other liberal activists are increasingly concerned
at signs that Barack Obama's national security team will be dominated
by appointees who favored the Iraq invasion and hold hawkish views on
other important foreign policy issues.

The activists are uneasy not only about signs that both Sen. Hillary
Rodham Clinton (D-N.Y.) and Defense Secretary Robert M. Gates could be
in the Obama Cabinet, but at reports suggesting that several other
short-list candidates for top security posts backed the decision to go
to war.

"Obama ran his campaign around the idea the war was not legitimate, but
it sends a very different message when you bring in people who
supported the war from the beginning," said Kelly Dougherty, executive
director of the 54-chapter Iraq Veterans Against the War.

The activists -- key members of the coalition that propelled Obama to
the White House -- fear he is drifting from the antiwar moorings of his
once-longshot presidential candidacy. Obama has eased the rigid
timetable he had set for withdrawing troops from Iraq, and he appears
to be leaning toward the center in his candidates to fill key national
security posts.

The president-elect has told some Democrats that he expects to take
heat from parts of his political base but will not be deterred by it.

Aside from Clinton and Gates, the roster of possible Cabinet
secretaries has included Sens. John F. Kerry (D-Mass.) and Richard G.
Lugar (R-Ind.), who both voted in 2002 for the resolution authorizing
President Bush to invade Iraq, though Lugar has since said he regretted

"It's astonishing that not one of the 23 senators or 133 House members
who voted against the war is in the mix," said Sam Husseini of the
liberal group Institute for Public Accuracy.

Clinton, who was Obama's chief opponent during the Democratic
presidential primaries, appears to be the top candidate for secretary
of State in his administration. Speculation about Clinton has dismayed
some liberal activists but has cheered some conservatives such as
former Secretary of State Henry Kissinger and editor William Kristol of
the Weekly Standard.

Clinton voted in favor of the Iraq war resolution, and despite
pressure, she never said during the primary campaign that she regretted
that vote. She also favored legislation last year to support the
designation of Iran's Revolutionary Guard Corps as a terrorist
organization, another decision that pleased conservatives.

In a move to advance her candidacy, Clinton's husband, former President
Clinton, has agreed to take steps to avoid conflicts of interest posed
by his far-flung financial dealings, Democrats close to the discussions
said Wednesday.

Bill Clinton has agreed to check with the Obama administration before
giving a paid speech. He also has agreed to disclose the sources of new
contributions to his charitable enterprise, the William J. Clinton
Foundation, those close to the matter said on condition of anonymity.

He also is trying to devise a way to share the identity of past donors,
a touchy matter because some contributors do not want their identities
divulged, said one Democrat.

Knowledgeable Democrats say that Gates is under consideration to remain
in his post for at least several months even though he frequently has
said he wants to return to private life when the Bush administration
leaves office.

Activists note that Vice President-elect Joe Biden, also expected to be
a leading voice in the new administration's foreign policy, voted for
the 2002 war resolution.


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Another possible contender for the diplomatic post, former U.S. diplomat Richard C. Holbrooke, also backed the Iraq invasion.

Kevin Martin, executive director of the group Peace Action, said that
although Obama had campaigned as an agent of change, the
president-elect is "a fairly centrist guy" who appears to be choosing
from the Democratic foreign policy establishment -- "and nobody from
outside it."

"So, in the short term, we're going to be disappointed," he said. "They
may turn out to be all pro-war, or at least people who were pro-war in
the beginning."

Martin said that his group was concerned about Gates and Clinton as
well as Rahm Emanuel, Obama's choice for White House chief of staff. He
also said his group was trying to mobilize its grass-roots supporters
with e-mail alerts, but recognized that it must approach the subject
delicately because of public euphoria over Obama's historic victory.

"There's so much Obama hero worship, we're having to walk this line
where we can't directly criticize him," he said. "But we are expressing

Peace Action urged in a letter for its members to speak up because "we
can be sure that the Obama team is under pressure to dial back plans to
withdraw from Iraq."

Despite concerns, some groups are trying to remain conciliatory.

Tom Andrews, national director of Win Without War, said that although
he finds Sen. Clinton's views "very troubling," Obama should be given
the benefit of the doubt.

"I take him at his word that he is committed to ending the occupation
of Iraq in 16 months and that he's going to assemble a team that's
committed to that goal," Andrews said.

Obama campaigned on a promise to remove all combat troops from Iraq in 16 months, or roughly one brigade a month.

Since winning the White House, Obama has affirmed his pledge to remove
the troops but has left himself some flexibility on the withdrawal

In an appearance on CBS' "60 Minutes" on Sunday, Obama promised a troop pullback but described it in broad terms.

"I've said during the campaign, and I've stuck to this commitment, that
as soon as I take office, I will call in the Joint Chiefs of Staff, my
national security apparatus, and we will start executing a plan that
draws down our troops," the president-elect said.

Richter is a writer in our Washington bureau.

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