Every day around 8 a.m., foreign policy aides at Senator Barack Obama's Chicago campaign headquarters send him two e-mails: a briefing on major world developments over the previous 24 hours and a set of questions, accompanied by suggested answers, that the candidate is likely to be asked about international relations during the day.
Behind the e-mail messages is a tight-knit group of aides supported by a huge 300-person foreign policy campaign bureaucracy, organized like a mini State Department, to assist a candidate whose limited national security experience remains a concern to many voters.
"It is unwieldy, no question," said Denis McDonough, 38, Mr. Obama's top foreign policy aide, speaking of an infrastructure that has been divided into 20 teams based on regions and issues, and that has recently absorbed, with some tensions, the top foreign policy advisers from Senator Hillary Rodham Clinton's presidential campaign. "But an administration is unwieldy, too. We also know that it's messier when you don't get as much information as you can."
The group is on the spot this week as Mr. Obama is planning to make his first overseas foray as the presumptive Democratic presidential nominee, with voters at home and leaders abroad watching closely to see how he handles himself on the global stage.
Unlike George W. Bush, who entered the presidential race in 2000 with scant exposure to national security issues, Mr. Obama has served since his election to the Senate in 2004 on the Foreign Relations Committee and has had a running tutorial from aides steeped in the issues. His campaign says that he is well prepared and that he often alters and expands on the talking points provided to him by his foreign policy advisers.
Most of the core members of his team served in government during President Bill Clinton's administration and by and large were junior to the advisers who worked on Mrs. Clinton's campaign for the Democratic nomination. But they remain in charge within the campaign even as it takes on more senior figures from the Clinton era, like two former secretaries of state, Madeleine K. Albright and Warren Christopher, and are positioned to put their own stamp on the party's foreign policy.
Most of them, like the candidate they are working for, distinguished themselves from Mrs. Clinton's foreign policy camp by early opposition to the Iraq war. They also tend to be more liberal and to emphasize using the "soft power" of diplomacy and economic aid to try to advance the interests of the United States. Still, their positions fall well within centrist Democratic foreign policy thinking, and none of the deep policy fissures that have divided the Republicans into two camps, the neoconservatives and the so-called pragmatists, have opened.
Although Mr. Obama's team has yet to show any public evidence of deep policy divisions, it has its share of personal tensions, not least those born of integrating Mrs. Clinton's former advisers into the effort. In that process, the old Clinton administration hierarchy has been turned upside down.
Iraq's P.M. Maliki supports Obama's plan for withdrawal
A good article on Obama's Dad
Bob Herbert on Gore's audacious challenge to find a way to get ALL of our energy from clean, carbon-free and renewable resources within 10 years:
The naysayers will tell you that once again Al Gore is dreaming, that the costs of his visionary energy challenge are too high, the technological obstacles too tough, the timeline too short and the political lift much too heavy.
But that's the thing about visionaries. They don't imagine what's easy. They imagine the benefits to be reaped once all the obstacles are overcome. Mr. Gore will tell you about the wind blowing through the corridor that stretches from Mexico to Canada, through the Plains states, and the tremendous amounts of electricity that would come from capturing the energy of that wind — enough to light up cities and towns from coast to coast.
"We need to make a big, massive, one-off investment to transform our energy infrastructure from one that relies on a dirty, expensive fuel to fuel that is free," said Mr. Gore. "The sun and the wind and geothermal are not going to run out, and we don't have to export them from the Persian Gulf, and they are not increasing in price.
"And since the only factor that controls the price is the efficiency and innovation that goes into the equipment that transforms it into electricity, once you start getting the scales that we're anticipating, those systems come down in cost."
The correct response to Mr. Gore's proposal would be a rush to figure out ways to make it happen. Don't hold your breath.
When exactly was it that the U.S. became a can't-do society? It wasn't at the very beginning when 13 ragamuffin colonies went to war against the world's mightiest empire. It wasn't during World War II when Japan and Nazi Germany had to be fought simultaneously. It wasn't in the postwar period that gave us the Marshall Plan and a robust G.I. Bill and the interstate highway system and the space program and the civil rights movement and the women's movement and the greatest society the world had ever known.
When was it?
Now we can't even lift New Orleans off its knees.
In his speech, delivered in Washington, Mr. Gore said: "We're borrowing money from China to buy oil from the Persian Gulf to burn it in ways that destroy the planet."
He described carbon-based fuel as the thread running through the global climate crisis, America's economic woes and its most serious national security threats. He then asked: "What if we could use fuels that are not expensive, don't cause pollution and are abundantly available right here at home?"
Americans are extremely anxious at the moment, and I think part of it has to do with a deeply unsettling feeling that the nation may not be up to the tremendous challenges it is facing. A recent poll by the Rockefeller Foundation and Time magazine that focused on economic issues found a deep pessimism running through respondents.
According to Margot Brandenburg, an official with the foundation, nearly half of 18- to 29-year-olds "feel that America's best days are in the past."
The moment is ripe for exactly the kind of challenge issued by Mr. Gore on Thursday. It doesn't matter if his proposal is less than perfect, or can't be realized within 10 years, or even it if is found to be deeply flawed. The goal is the thing.
Gore and Pelosi at Netroots Nation
the definitive Obama puff piece
Saturday's Pundit Round-Up