The “alt-right” Twitter personality Mike Cernovich is at it again, with fresh accusations against the “Obama holdovers” who are supposedly undermining the Trump administration’s agenda. These attacks on apolitical career government officials show a deep misunderstanding of our government and undermine our institutions. I should know. As a political appointee early in the Obama administration, I worked with many “Bush holdovers”—and I can attest from personal experience that they are critical to achieving policy success.
My first job in government was as a junior political appointee on the Iran desk in the Office of the Secretary of Defense, starting in May 2009. Iran was a priority issue for President Barack Obama. He had distinguished himself from other Democratic candidates by arguing for engagement with adversaries, starting in the primaries in 2007 and culminating in the famous line from his first inaugural address: “We will extend a hand if you are willing to unclench your fist.”
I showed up at the Pentagon a true believer in the president’s policy. I was convinced that if only the United States were to engage diplomatically with Iran, a solution could be found to address Iran’s nuclear program and perhaps other issues on which we disagreed. I also assumed our predecessors in the Bush administration were incompetent.