Unclenched Fists

Obama makes progress with Iran, but there’s no change in cronyism at home.

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President Obama is lying low today after capping his European tour with a surprise visit to Iraq yesterday. Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad says he is willing to strike up talks with the United States. In the Justice Department, Obama may finally be breaking from a Bush-era defense tactics. Obama scores a 10 on the Change-o-meter.

Ahmadinejad said today that he would engage in talks if the United States can play nice—specifically, he said, if it approaches the talks with “honesty, justice and respect.” For those who back Obama’s talk-therapy approach to international relations, it’s the most promising sign yet of a dialogue with Iran, particularly in contrast to Iranian leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei’s rejection of Obama’s “Happy Persian New Year” message last month. The ‘Meter awards 10 points for another baby step toward a constructive relationship with Iran.

When it comes to allocating ambassadors to much friendlier countries, however, Obama appears to be sticking with the traditional Washington formula: picking friends and donors for the cushiest positions in Western Europe. Among the names circulating for these posts are those who bundled hundreds of thousands of dollars for his campaign and inauguration. While the ‘Meter is not so naive as to think there’s not reciprocity expected in many big political donations, it’s still docking five points for the cronyism that Obama so frequently condemns. (The official nomination list hasn’t been released yet, so there’s still time to make more merit-based decisions.)

In the Justice Department, there’s a whiff of change after an earlier whiff of good-old Bush-style nonchange. Attorney General Eric Holder told CBS Evening News anchor Katie Couric yesterday that the new administration may reverse the use of “state secrets privilege” in at least one case left over from the Bush era. Critics of the use of this blanket defense had been disappointed that Obama continued to invoke the privilege, but this could be a step in the right direction. The Justice Department wouldn’t specify the case, so the ‘Meter awards a tentative five points until the administration gives more details.

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