Richard Danzig: How Obama Would Handle Putin

At the Democratic presidential nominating convention in Denver last week, Richard Danzig, a top national-security adviser to Barack Obama, seemed to be everywhere. The former Navy secretary reassured visiting diplomats, rapped with security experts and made the case that Obama's foreign policy is more complex than his detractors have made it out to be. He chatted with NEWSWEEK's Adam B. Kushner at a hotel near Invesco Field, where Obama accepted the Democratic nod Thursday night. Excerpts:

Kushner: You were on Obama ' s first world tour. Why do you think that, except for the rules of diplomatic protocol, Obama was generally received like a head of state rather than a candidate?
Danzig: His message is very appealing abroad—multilateralism, unity with our allies and talking candidly. He was very good at saying, "I've heard you," and repeating back to people what they said integrated into his own views, and they found it very credible. I don't want to overstate the degree to which America's standing in the world is carried by single personalities, but Barack Obama showed he had presidential stature.

You say we need to increase the diplomatic and cultural complement in Iraq. But staff from USAID and State refuse to be deployed there. Why is that different under Obama?
Increase the manpower. The total State Department Foreign Service has about 6,000 people. It's a small number, given our worldwide obligations. If you add numbers, you can allocate more people to language and cultural training, for example. But there's no miraculous fix, and these cultural things take time for change.

Could adulation to Obama lead to disillusion?
Barack Obama would be a very good president, and he's the man America needs. But he's not the Messiah. Part of his power is that he raises expectations. We should aim high. What follows is not miraculous, it's just better.

You and Obama have criticized John McCain ' s response to the invasion of Georgia. Is the problem here with ideology or tone?
The Russians need to be made to see that there are consequences. They isolate themselves from the world and suffer as a result—in political terms (with NATO), economic terms (the Russian stock market sank) and strategic terms (Poland rushed to complete a missile defense agreement it previously would have been reluctant to conclude). Making the rhetoric inflammatory—as opposed to showing Russia the cool realities—is not helpful.

Was John McCain ' s sharp response to the Georgia invasion wrong?
When McCain said before the invasion that Russia should be thrown out of the G8, that was not a productive proposal. It had the paradoxical effect of making the same statement after Russia invaded Georgia even less effective, because it clearly wasn't tied to Russian behavior.

Should we continue military aid to Georgia?
I think the administration has taken the right position on this, which is that Georgia needs military assistance, but at the moment what it really needs is humanitarian assistance. We shouldn't back away from Georgia as a member of NATO.

Some Obama advisers have said we should work even with unsavory local partners to accomplish security goals. Where would Obama make compromises on human rights to advance U.S. interests?
He's very pragmatic and he recognizes that the world doesn't divide into good guys and bad guys so much as fall on a spectrum. There are nations that can be induced to do good things and are at risk of doing bad things. It's determined case by case, and it's defined by moral and security dimensions. Doing it pragmatically rather than ideologically produces better results.

You can work with a group that strays on human rights for the greater moral good?
The Sons of Iraq—now called the Sons and Daughters of Iraq—is an example of the desirability of working with people you may have reservations about. One of the things we press the Iraqi government to do is take 20 percent of those people into the Iraqi national forces. They say, "These people were fighting us!" But the question for them should be: how do you increase security and create a better world?