Saturday, January 24, 2009

Should Obama have William Lynn for Defense?

It's taken me a lot of research to decide that it's not an issue and Obama is well aware of the conflict and that it requires special ongoing attention from him. It seems Obama feels his advantages greatly outweigh the risks. That said, let's talk it through for those less obsessed than I...

A story being followed among the politically preoccupied is Obama's pick of William Lynn for Deputy Secretary of Defense (read a recent bio). He seems to have strong experience and is well thought of, but he does have a large caveat — he has recently been lobbying for Raytheon. In the Bush administration, this wouldn't have been big news, but in light of The President's new ethics reforms, it gets complicated.

As stated in a previous post, Obama's ethics reform order is meant to keep lobbyists at an arms length from Presidential Administrations, not allowing them to work for a lobby two years before joining an Administration. Furthermore, after leaving the job, they are not allowed to lobby the administration.

Written into the order is a procedure for creating a waiver in special cases. It seems clear that Obama had this in mind for Lynn. His transition team, which voluntarily disclosed Lynn's lobbying activities, said Lynn's talents made him worth the apparent exception to the spirit of Obama's anti-lobbyists policy. It said it will work with Lynn to maintain Obama's high ethics standards.*

This has proven controversial. From John McCain (this article has some great background) to CNN's "No Bull" Campbell Brown, Obama (and his Press Secretary Robert Gibbs) criticism over the double standard seems to be growing.

But is this warranted? Are we being too tough on Obama? Does the reality of the day mean it is essential to make some concessions? Are we so cynical by 8 years of W that we can't trust anyone?

Or, are we simply holding Obama to the ideals he exposed in his address?

It will be difficult for Lynn to avoid defense issues related to Raytheon, said James Thurber, who teaches lobbying at American University.

"I think it's impossible in our system not to have people that have been in the advocacy system," he said. "They're the people who know the issues and have the expertise." The key is for the administration to disclose those connections and avoid financial conflicts, he said.*

Some comments from around the blogosphere on the issue include the following::
"Lynn is not indispensable, look for equivalent expertise along with an ability to satisfy the new lobbying guidelines."

"Mr Lynn is an excellent choice. IN my days at the Pentagon he was veiwed as smart objective and fair - all qualitities need to harnass that place. His recent experience with the defense industry only adds to his capability to make the changes needed. Does not taint him as previous comment implies. Would that same level of competence were evident in selections announced to lead the intelligence community."

"Obama should be criticized for this pick. There must be someone who is qualified and isn't in bed with corporations."

"[Lynn is] legit, he's mostly worked in the government and for think tanks. Very well respected when he was comptroller of Pentagon under Clinton."

"This is a sham Obama. I really thought that you were sincere in your pledge about lobbyists. This is not change - it's business as usual in DC."

"Will this be another fox guarding the henhouse? I was hoping Obama would stay away from defense contractors to get appointees. They all have been raping our treasury, and are war profiteers. I hope they vetted this guy and nothing comes up later regarding contracts. My fingers are crossed but I'm not confident."

"You can not throw a rock in Washington without hitting someone that is a lobbyist. Almost anyone with experience has worked in a lobbyist position. So I think it will be hard to find candidates for post that have no lobbyist ties, but Obama may want to look a little harder or build a better case. John McCain is right to call Obama out on this at least to keep him honest."

"'I don't take a dime of their [lobbyist] money, and when I am president, they won't find a job in my White House.' -Barack Obama"'
Here's a link to a Politico article on why Lynn is worth Obama taking a hit on.