Obama's Incredible Shrinking Team

Obama’s team is getting smaller by the day. News broke yesterday that Larry Summers, Obama’s top economic adviser, will be going back to Harvard at the end of the year. He is of course not the first economic official to go. Budget director Peter Orszag and Chairman of the Council of Economic Advisers Christy Romer both departed this summer. Rahm Emanuel is rumored to be considering a Chicago mayoral run. And Defense Secretary Robert Gates and National Security Adviser James Jones are thought to be leaving after the midterm elections.

Hillary Clinton at least is still around. The secretary of state is one of the many top-level officials in New York for the UN General Assembly, and she's certainly keeping busy. She's been touting clean stoves for the developing world at the Clinton Global Initiative, holding a slew of sideline meetings with world leaders, and  working on Israeli and Palestinian issues, despite last week’s disappointing peace-process results. Yesterday, Clinton spoke to the emir of Qatar, asking him to help support the Palestinian Authority, and to get others on board as well. And then there’s Syria. Clinton has a  meeting lined up today with Syrian Foreign Minister Walid Muallem. Special envoy George Mitchell has already paid a visit to Muallem in Damascus as part of an attempt by Washington to get Syria to restart peace talks with Israel. Some movement on that front could help with the stalled Israeli-Palestinian peace process.

Yesterday we heard from Treasury’s Stuart Levey that sanctions on Iran are having an impact on the country. Today, at the UN, Britain, China, Germany, Russia and the United States will take a close look at the sanctions’ impact and the prospects for diplomacy. They'll also meet with Iran about its nuclear program. According to U.S. Ambassador to the UN Susan Rice, the nations will “speak in one voice” to Tehran, but she urged everyone not to get their hopes up for something “dramatic.”

Special representative to AfPak Richard Holbrooke acknowledged yesterday that things are not progressing as quickly as expected in Afghanistan. Holbrooke though doesn’t think the slow stabilization will make President Obama change his withdrawal strategy. Washington will still execute a “careful, responsible” drawdown based on conditions on the ground. And according to Bob Woodward that strategy was hard to come by, thanks to infighting and disagreements among members of Obama’s national-security team. Obama at least seemed to be set from the outset: “This needs to be a plan about how we're going to hand it off and get out of Afghanistan. . . . I’m not doing long-term nation-building.”