Mark Lippert

BIGGEST TACTICAL BLUNDER: Pushing the Israeli-Arab peace process too hard. Obama took office looking for bold strokes at a time when peace seemed as far away as ever: Israel had just finished its punishing military campaign in Gaza last winter, and the Arab world was inflamed, and deeply uninterested in making offerings to Israel. Obama's squeeze on Israeli settlements, meanwhile, managed to a) tick off a backlash in Israel that enabled the Netanyahu government to stand its ground, without b) shaking loose meaningful Arab support.

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Mark Lippert When I was at the White House reporting a story this summer, I ran into Obama's longtime foreign policy advisor Mark Lippert, a Naval reservist who is leaving his post as chief of staff at the National Security Council to return to active duty. (Lippert also did a tour of duty in Iraq from 2007 to 2008.) Lippert looked a little tired. He had just returned from Obama's whirlwind tour of Russia, Africa, and Europe. I asked whether he'd recovered from the trip yet. Not really, Lippert said. He explained that he'd gotten home well after midnight the previous Saturday.

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Al Kamen: Also on the foreign policy front, deputy national security adviser Douglas E. Lute moved off the Iraq portfolio recently to focus exclusively on Afghanistan and Pakistan. Dennis Ross, who'd been handling Iraq at the State Department, moved over to the White House. But Ross is senior director for the Central Region. This has apparently caused some confusion about precisely who's the point person for Iraq. Ross? Foreign policy advisor Denis McDonough? National Security Council chief of staff Mark Lippert?

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The Decider

On the evening of Saturday, June 13, a day after the Iranian presidential election, Vice President Joe Biden was preparing for an appearance the next morning on NBC's "Meet the Press." Mahmoud Ahmadinejad, the Iranian incumbent, was already claiming a preposterously large margin of victory, and reformist protesters were clashing with basiij thugs in Tehran. The Obama administration faced a delicate and fluid situation, and it was far from clear what Biden should say. In circumstances like these, the vice president--especially this vice president--could not simply wing it.

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