01/29/2008 02:13 pm ET Updated May 25, 2011

Where Some of the Serious Realists are Heading


I just had an interesting meeting with a prominent and thoughtful national security expert in Washington. I can't go into any of the details of the meeting, but I am intrigued with the calculation that at least one serious, non-ideological pragmatist in foreign policy is making.

This person's sense is that John McCain and Hillary Clinton would both be the wrong choices for the country. McCain, he/she said, does not have the temperament for the presidency -- and doesn't listen to others and thinks he has most of the answers.

Hillary Clinton too, this person said, brings a group of retainers and pols who think they've done it all before -- and don't understand that tomorrow's challenges are more serious and more complex than any of us have perhaps seen in our lifetimes. According to this policy intellectual, Hillary Clinton's experience led her to affirm the Kyl/Lieberman IRGC amendment, which could have very well been a loophole for another war.

This commentator -- who would not go on the record -- believes that both McCain and Clinton are almost looking for a fight, a contest of wills internationally, to establish their bona fides as strong national security presidents.

But he/she said what was impressive about Obama and Romney is that they both seem to listen, to survey the landscape of perspectives, and judiciously work through the problems. This person has been as put off as I have been by the gut and mystique campaign that some of Obama's followers have been offering in support of him -- though I think it undermines Obama's credibility.

In fairness, I think that both McCain and Clinton have advisers to whom they listen and that they are well qualified and experienced. But the very real challenge for both is that they seem not to have a national security plan or foreign policy vision that would be different than that of President Bush's team.

Continuity of our current foreign policy direction will be highly destructive to America's already faltering global position.

But while I feel it necessary to expose faults and weaknesses in all of the candidates -- particularly in both the Obama and Clinton profiles -- I think it is interesting that a hard-edged, unsentimental national security expert I highly respect sees the strength of open-mindedness in Obama and Mitt Romney.

More later.

-- Steve Clemons publishes the popular political blog, The Washington Note