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President-elect Obama arrives to announce Sen. Hillary Clinton (left) as his choice for secretary of state during a news conference in Chicago, as retired Gen. Jim Jones and Vice President-Elect Biden (right) look on.
President-elect Obama arrives to announce Sen. Hillary Clinton (left) as his choice for secretary of state during a news conference in Chicago, as retired Gen. Jim Jones and Vice President-Elect Biden (right) look on. Jim Watson/Getty Images
President-elect Barack Obama introduced Sen. Hillary Clinton, his archrival in the 2008 Democratic presidential race, as his secretary of state on Monday.
"I have known Hillary Clinton as a friend, a colleague, a source of counsel, and as a campaign opponent. She possesses an extraordinary intelligence and toughness, and a remarkable work ethic," said Obama, speaking at a news conference in Chicago where he has been managing his transition. "Hillary's appointment is a sign to friend and foe of the seriousness of my commitment to renew American diplomacy and restore our alliances."
In introducing his national security team, Obama said he will keep Robert Gates as secretary of defense. "I will be giving Secretary Gates and our military a new mission as soon as I take office: responsibly ending the war in Iraq through a successful transition to Iraqi control," Obama said.
A reporter later asked about Obama's plans to withdraw all U.S. forces from Iraq in 16 months after his inauguration on Jan. 20.
Obama replied, "I said that I would remove our combat troops from Iraq in 16 months, with the understanding that it might be necessary — likely to be necessary — to maintain a residual force to provide potential training, logistical support, to protect our civilians in Iraq."
The president-elect also formally nominated Eric Holder as attorney general, Arizona Gov. Janet Napolitano as secretary of the Department of Homeland Security and Susan Rice as ambassador to the United Nations. Obama named retired Gen. Jim Jones as his national security adviser.
By choosing Clinton as his secretary of state, Obama may be solving several problems. Because of her long, variegated political experience, Clinton advocates say, the former first lady is one of the most qualified people for the top diplomatic position.
Political observers also believe that Clinton's inclusion in Obama's inner circle goes a long way toward salving the disappointment of many Democrats who preferred Clinton over Obama.
And by bringing Clinton into his Cabinet, Obama removes a possibly prickly opponent from the Senate floor. "Clinton is giving up her independent political base by being taken out of the Senate," says Larry Sabato, director of the University of Virginia's Center for Politics. "She is now under his thumb."
The recurring theme of the news conference was two-pronged: The U.S. faces a vast number of threats, and it will take a concerted national effort and cooperation with other nations to address those threats.
After the announcement, Obama asked the members of his new team to say a few words each.
A smiling Clinton said, "I will give this assignment, your administration and our country my all." She thanked her New York constituents. She also said the U.S. must be "a force for positive change."
Striking the major notes of the day, Clinton emphasized that the U.S. must develop "more partners" and "fewer adversaries."
As Americans watched Obama on TV, his face was framed by his challenges: In a small box in the corner of the screen, the Dow fell steeply; in the news crawl along the bottom, there were headlines of increasing tensions between India and Pakistan.
Answering questions following the announcements, Obama spoke of the danger of "groupthink" in the White House and said he looks forward to vigorous debate among his advisers. But he added that he will be responsible for setting policy. "I will expect these people to implement this vision," he said.
Obama was asked about India's right to retaliate against the perpetrators of last week's attacks in Mumbai. "Sovereign nations obviously have a right to protect themselves," he said.
"We cannot tolerate a world in which innocents are being killed by extremists based on twisted ideologies," Obama said. "And we're going to have to bring the full force of our power — not only military, but also diplomatic, economic and political — to deal with those threats, not only to keep America safe, but also to ensure that peace and prosperity can exist around the world."
Asked about choosing his former political enemy as his secretary of state, Obama said that he and Hillary Clinton share similar views. "America has to be safe and secure," he said.
The president-elect was asked whether the reappointment of Gates satisfies Obama's desire to have a Republican in the Cabinet. Obama responded that he is not absolutely positive that Gates, who was appointed by President Bush, is a Republican. "I didn't check his voter registration," Obama said.
Asked one more time about the thought process that led him to Clinton, Obama smiled and said, "I was always interested after the primary was over in finding ways we could collaborate."
Noticeably absent from the news conference was discussion of Clinton's husband, former president Bill Clinton, who oversees a global philanthropic foundation. The Associated Press reports that the former president assured Obama's transition team that he would take steps — such as handing over a donor list and refusing certain donations — to avoid apparent conflicts of interest and to increase transparency in the way his foundation deals with international governments and contributors. Bill Clinton also agreed to relinquish day-to-day control of the foundation while his wife is a Cabinet member. That cleared the way for Hillary Clinton's appointment.
When the news conference was over, Obama walked off the stage with Clinton, a hand on her shoulder.