Obama Unveils National Security Team

President-elect Barack Obama has unveiled his national security team. Among the main appointments: Defense Secretary Robert Gates is staying on at the Pentagon, Sen. Hillary Clinton will be secretary of state and Eric Holder will be the attorney general.

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ROBERT SIEGEL, host:

From NPR News this is All Things Considered. I'm Robert Siegel. President-elect Barack Obama made it official today. His former political rival, Hillary Clinton, is his choice for secretary of state. Senator Clinton joined Mr. Obama onstage in Chicago along with five other people who we've confirmed will anchor the administration's national security policy. That includes the current defense secretary, Robert Gates, who's been asked to stay on the job, and retired Marine General James Jones as national security adviser and Eric Holder as attorney general. NPR's Don Gonyea sent this report from Chicago.

DON GONYEA: These are all big jobs announced today. In addition to Clinton, Gates, Jones, and Holder, Arizona Governor Janet Napolitano has been selected to run the Department of Homeland Security, while close Obama foreign policy adviser, Susan Rice, is the choice for United Nations ambassador. But by far the person getting the most attention is Senator Clinton. Here's what Mr. Obama had to say about it today.

President-elect BARACK OBAMA: She possesses an extraordinary intelligence and a remarkable work ethic. I am proud that she will be our next secretary of state. She's an American of tremendous stature who will have my complete confidence, who knows many of the world's leaders, who will command respect in every capital, and who will clearly have the ability to advance our interests around the world.

GONYEA: During the long presidential primary battle, the senator from New York and candidate Obama went toe to toe on national security issues. At one point in the campaign, she called him naive. But today she described herself as honored. And as she looks to become secretary of state, she thanked her current constituents.

Senator HILLARY CLINTON (Democrat, New York; Secretary of State-Elect): And you've also helped prepare me well for this new role. After all, New Yorkers aren't afraid to speak their minds and do so in every language.

GONYEA: During Q-and-A, Mr. Obama was asked about his own past criticisms of Senator Clinton, including the time he likened her many travels as first lady to having tea with world leaders.

President-elect OBAMA: Look, I mean - I think this is fun for the press to try to stir up whatever quotes were generated during the course of the campaign.

GONYEA: Mr. Obama then got to the point.

President-elect OBAMA: We share a view that America has to be safe and secure. And in order to do that we have to combine military power with strength and diplomacy.

GONYEA: As for the decision to keep Robert Gates at the Pentagon, the president-elect praised the work Gates has done in that job since taking over after Donald Rumsfeld was forced out two years ago, crediting him with restoring accountability, winning the confidence of men and women in uniform, and earning respect from Republicans and Democrats. Still, a core issue of the Obama campaign was his early and ongoing opposition to the Iraq war, a war that Gates has run as defense secretary.

Further, Obama has called for combat troops to be out within 16 months of taking office. Gates has called timelines a bad idea. Clearly, both men feel they can work well together despite such disagreement. Mr. Obama today offered at least a partial explanation of how that will work. Looking around at his assembled national security nominees, he noted that he likes strong personalities with strong opinions.

President-elect OBAMA: One of the dangers in a White House, based on my reading of history, is that you get wrapped up in group think, and everybody agrees with everything, and there's no discussion and there are no dissenting views. So I'm going to be welcoming a vigorous debate inside the White House. But understand, I will be setting policy as president.

GONYEA: In many ways, this national security team is a lot like the recently announced Obama economic team - lots of experience with a focus on centrism, not exactly what the president-elect's more liberal supporters are looking for. Today the task facing the new president was heightened by the weekend attack in India. He declined to weigh in beyond offering condolences and condemnation, stating that the nation has one president and that commenting would be inappropriate given the delicate diplomacy that will be needed in the coming weeks. Don Gonyea, NPR News, Chicago.

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Obama Names Hillary Clinton, Gates To Cabinet

President-elect Obama arrives to announce Sen. Hillary Clinton as his choice for secretary of state. i i

hide captionPresident-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 Obama arrives to announce Sen. Hillary Clinton as his choice for secretary of state.

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

Focus On National Security

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.

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