Leslie Gelb Wants Complete WH Shakeup, Including Replacing Rahm : It's All Politics Leslie Gelb says that for the Obama Administration to succeed, the president is going to have to make wholesale changes in personnel.
NPR logo Leslie Gelb Wants Complete WH Shakeup, Including Replacing Rahm

Leslie Gelb Wants Complete WH Shakeup, Including Replacing Rahm

Health care? Nowhere.

Jobs bill? Nope.

Democrats are getting nervous about the direction the Obama Administration is taking, and I'm not talking only about the Evan Bayhs and Byron Dorgans of the world. More and more are worried about the lack of successes and the zig-zagging that has characterized the one-year old Obama presidency.

Leslie Gelb, the former New York Times columnist and president emeritus of the Council on Foreign Relations, is the latest to express his concern. Gelb pulls no punches in a blog post on The Daily Beast. He wants both Obama economic adviser Larry Summers and National Security adviser Jim Jones gone, and White House Chief of Staff Rahm Emanuel reassigned. And that's just for starters:

The president must change key personnel now. Unless he speedily sets up a new team, he will be reduced to a speechmaker. It's mostly a matter of relocating the Chicago and campaign crowd who surround the Oval Office and inserting people with proven records of getting things done in Washington and the world.

To be fair, it's not clear whether the bad judgments on priorities, practicalities, and steadiness come from Mr. Obama or his White House team. Maybe he overpowers them in discussions, or maybe he gives them a role in policymaking far beyond their experience in that realm. Unless you're there, you don't know. But Mr. Obama is the president, and except for the right-wing crazies, most Americans still recognize his great talents and promise. It is he who's got to be helped. So it is they who've got to go. ...

One may quarrel with my sense of urgency here. But it's hard to have a conversation with opinion leaders anywhere—and especially in Washington—that doesn't descend into ripping Obama's White House team.

Gelb says the complaints he hears are always the same. That Obama takes "forever" to make a strong stand, "only to backfill and trim." He points to the president's previous description of Wall Street bonuses as "shameful," only to say a few weeks later that he didn't "begrudge" Wall Streeters for what they made.

He said Obama "doesn't know what's really going on," especially in the Middle East. The president "wants to get along with everyone so badly he doesn't recognize real opposition when he sees it." Gelb points to Obama's stated optimism after a meeting with congressional GOP leaders on health care, when it seems clear to Gelb (and others) that Republicans said "they don't see any common ground" with the president.

And his Afghan policy, said Gelb, is just hard to follow. Obama sends 30,000 additional troops, then says he'll begin withdrawing some of them in a year or so. Or maybe he won't.

Gelb says the problem is Obama's Chicago-centric team, similar to what President Jimmy Carter had with fellow Georgians Hamilton Jordan and Jody Powell: "two very capable political campaigners" who were moved into key positions "without knowing very much about doing business in Washington."

Aside from Emanuel, most of the "Chicago crowd" doesn't have Washington or policy experience: "The result is an inexperienced president advised by an inexperienced team."

Gelb's suggestions: Remove Emanuel as chief of staff and place him in a senior political adviser slot. Replace him with either one of two former Clinton chiefs of staff, Erskine Bowles or Leon Panetta. Or maybe Sylvia Mathews or John Podesta, two more old Clinton hands.

Replace Summers with Paul Volcker, the former chair of the Federal Reserve. Get David Axelrod out of domestic and foreign policy stuff and have him concentrate on 2012. Replace him with Podesta, or former Senate Majority Leader Tom Daschle.

White House Press Secretary Robert Gibbs? He "needs a rest." His job "calls for memorable and pointed phrases and attacks, not circle-the-wagon circumlocutions." Replace him with a journalist: maybe Doyle McManus of the L.A. Times, Jake Tapper of ABC News, or Helene Cooper of The New York Times.

And NSA adviser Jim Jones "has to move on." He is not a strategist. One possible choice to succeed him, "despite his age," is Zbigniew Brzezinski, who had Jones' position under Carter. Zbig "has a first-rate strategic mind — a rare quality — and knows how to deliver results." One concern Gelb has about him: Obama will need to "iron out" his "lack of sympathy toward Israel and Russia."

That's it!