Twenty-five years ago I was addicted to the British satirical comedy show Yes Minister and Yes Prime Minister. The show dealt with a fictional minister and later prime minister, the Rt Hon. Jim Hacker, and his struggles with the British civil service represented by his permanent secretary, Sir Humphrey Appleby, who was constantly trying to sabotage the legislation and reforms attempted by the elected official he was supposed to help. This struggle between the representatives of the people and the entrenched bureaucracies in government gave an insight into the powers of career bureaucrats.
I was just reminded of this show as I was reading about appointments by the Obama administration for undersecretary positions. We tend to look at the appointments to the cabinet and assume that the administration is moderate based on who was selected to what position. The press concentrates on the Secretaries of the different departments, but tends to forget the appointments of those assistants, who in many cases have the real power to shape policy based on their views in their areas of expertise.
Some appointments however are so outrageous, that even the ever-dormant media, pushed by bloggers, has no choice but to investigate and report on some of these appointees. We saw this in the case of Charles W. Freeman and his appointment to be chairman of the National Intelligence despite his radical views on China and Saudi Arabia, and his contempt for human rights in these nations. I still cannot understand what Obama was trying to achieve by this appointment, except perhaps to send a message to Israel that things were about to change, and not for the better.
A new appointment has again left many of us scratching our heads and trying to understand the reason for the nomination. The latest controversy came with the nomination of Harold Koh, former deal of Yale Law School, to the position of State Department legal adviser. In this position Koh will deal with international agreements on issues from trade to arms control, and help represent our country in such places as the United Nations and the International Court of Justice. However, as reported by Meghan Clyne in the New York Post, and by Daniel Pipes in his blog, Koh is most controversial on the issue of "transnational legal process," or the idea of interpreting the U.S. Constitution according to the legal norms of other countries, and his accusing the U.S. government of constituting an "axis of disobedience" along with North Korea and Saddam-era Iraq.
Furthermore, Steven Stein, a New York lawyer, says that in addressing the Yale Club of Greenwich in 2007, Koh claimed, "in an appropriate case, he didn't see any reason why Sharia law would not be applied to govern a case in the United States."
By his own admission, Koh is an activist and what many would define as a radical who would have the power in the State Department to implement his radical agenda. His nomination gives an insight into the Obama agenda; the hearings at the senate will give us an insight into whether he will be allowed to implement it..