Obama Unveils National Security Team
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.