National Security Team Tasked With Obama's Vision

President-elect Barack Obama made his national security team selections official Monday. Obama said he will be responsible for the vision that this team carries out, and he expects them to implement that vision once decisions are made. One-time rival Hillary Clinton was picked for secretary of state. Current Defense Secretary Robert Gates has agreed to stay on in that job.


This is Morning Edition from NPR News. Good morning, I'm Renee Montagne.


And I'm Steve Inskeep. President-elect Barack Obama's national security team has won praise in surprising quarters. His choice for defense secretary is acceptable to the Bush administration, since President Bush chose the same man.

MONTAGNE: Hillary Clinton's nomination as secretary of state won praise from Rush Limbaugh. The conservative radio host told ABC News it was a brilliant stroke for political reasons.

INSKEEP: The nominee for secretary of homeland security was immediately praised by John McCain.

MONTAGNE: And in this way, Mr. Obama's choices resemble the announcement of his economic team.

INSKEEP: Both groups bring to mind words like pragmatist or centrist, rather than liberal. NPR's Don Gonyea reports.

DON GONYEA: The news was no surprise. Hillary Clinton to head the State Department. Still, the moment demanded attention. There stood two former rivals, having fought long and hard for the Democratic presidential nomination. But now she prepares to join the incoming administration in the most prestigious of Cabinet posts. The president-elect introduced Senator Clinton.

President-elect BARACK OBAMA: Hillary's appointment is a sign to friend and foe of the seriousness of my commitment to renew American diplomacy and restore our alliances.

GONYEA: Any animosity these two might have once felt seemed long-buried yesterday.

Senator HILLARY CLINTON (Democrat, New York): Mr. President-elect, thank you for this honor. If confirmed, I will give this assignment, your administration, and our country, my all.

GONYEA: Mr. Obama has said repeatedly he will bring Republicans into his administration. But during the campaign, few imagined a member of the Bush administration would be running the Pentagon under President Obama. After all, his early success in Democratic primaries was built in large part on his opposition to the Iraq war. But yesterday he named Robert Gates who has presided over that war for the Bush administration for the past two years. Mr. Obama praised Gates for restoring confidence in the military and for earning respect from Republicans and Democrats after the controversial Pentagon tenure of his predecessor, Donald Rumsfeld. But the president-elect also stated flatly yesterday that this campaign promise holds.

President-elect OBAMA: Responsibly ending the war in Iraq through a successful transition to Iraqi control. We will ensure that we have the strategy and resources to succeed against al-Qaeda and the Taliban. As Bob said not too long ago, Afghanistan is where the war on terror began and it is where it must end.

GONYEA: Here's Secretary Gates.

Secretary Robert Gates (Defense Department): With a profound sense of personal responsibility to and for our men and women in uniform and their families, I must do my duty as they do theirs. How could I do otherwise?

GONYEA: At one point during the news conference, a reporter asked if the Gates appointment means Mr. Obama has made good on his promise to have a Republican in his Cabinet.

President-elect OBAMA: I think the point here is that I didn't go around checking people's political registration. What I was most concerned with was whether or not they can serve the interests of the American people.

GONYEA: Less well-known to the American people, but in a job that may require him to play mediator between Clinton and Gates, is retired General James Jones. He's been tapped to be Mr. Obama's national security advisor. His presence puts a decorated military man just down the hall from the Oval Office. And yesterday the president-elect seemed eager to have his team engage in real debate within the White House walls.

President-elect OBAMA: But understand, I will be setting policy as president. I will be responsible for the vision that this team carries out. And I expect them to implement that vision once decisions are made. So, as Harry Truman said, the buck will stop with me.

GONYEA: Three other nominations were announced yesterday: Arizona Governor Janet Napolitano to head the Department of Homeland Security, long-time Obama advisor Susan Rice as ambassador to the United Nations, and former Clinton administration Justice Department veteran Eric Holder as attorney general. Today the president-elect is in Philadelphia to meet with the National Governors Association, a meeting where the focus will likely shift back to the other crisis that awaits Mr. Obama, the economy. Don Gonyea, NPR News.

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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

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 hide caption

itoggle caption 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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