By Michael Abramowitz, Shailagh Murray and Anne E. Kornblut
Washington Post Staff Writers
Saturday, November 22, 2008
Barack Obama appears intent on naming an experienced and centrist foreign policy team, with Sen. Hillary Rodham Clinton as secretary of state and retired Marine Gen. James L. Jones as national security adviser, sources said yesterday.
A friend of Clinton's said she is ready to accept an appointment that would make the former Obama rival his point person in tackling an array of international crises and restoring the United States' influence around the world, a frequently stated objective of the incoming administration.
Although the Obama transition team and Clinton's Senate spokesman said nothing has been finalized, her office for the first time officially confirmed that she is talking to Obama about the job. "We're still in discussions, which are very much on track. Any reports beyond that are premature," said Philippe Reines, Clinton's spokesman and senior adviser.
Meanwhile, several sources said that Jones has moved to the top of the list to be Obama's national security adviser and that the sides are in advanced talks. Sources familiar with the discussions said Obama is considering expanding the scope of the job to give the adviser the kind of authority once wielded by powerful figures such as Henry A. Kissinger.
The Jones appointment would put the onetime Marine Corps commandant and NATO commander in charge of managing an interagency process that many Democratic foreign policy experts say has been broken under the Bush administration.
With many Democrats expecting Robert M. Gates to remain as defense secretary, the emerging national security team appears to be centrist in orientation, with deep experience in many of the areas likely to be the focus of Obama's foreign policy -- including wars in Iraq and Afghanistan and instability in Pakistan and the Middle East, where Obama advisers have been signaling a desire to make an early mark in the stalled peace process.
While there has been much discussion about the president-elect's purported interest in creating a "team of rivals" in his Cabinet, the emerging group could also be one that works well together. Gates is widely known for being a nonpartisan, congenial manager, while Jones is considered by many who know him to be a self-effacing general who "wears power very gracefully," as one put it. That probably is part of their appeal to Obama, some Democrats said.
One wild card would be Clinton, who clashed sharply with Obama over foreign policy during their battle for the Democratic presidential nomination but worked hard for the party's ticket in the fall. And the past few days have brought increasing signs that, after some hesitation, Clinton and her husband, former president Bill Clinton, want her to take the job. That position comes after the Obama and Clinton sides came to an agreement on how to handle potential conflicts with Bill Clinton's activities.
"It seems more likely today, versus a few days ago, that she will accept," one Clinton loyalist said yesterday.
Obama has also been meeting with possible candidates for other posts, including director of national intelligence. One name that has surfaced as a possibility in recent days is retired Adm. Dennis Blair, a former chief of the U.S. Pacific Command. Others said to be possibilities include John Brennan, a former CIA analyst who worked his way up the agency ladder, and Sen. Chuck Hagel (R-Neb.). A member of the Senate Select Committee on Intelligence and a former Army officer and businessman, Hagel has strong Capitol Hill support and is respected within the national security community as a nonpartisan analyst of intelligence issues.
Sources said the announcement of the national security appointments will be made on the Monday after Thanksgiving.
In picking Jones, Obama would be sending a powerful sign that he wants to conduct a nonpartisan national security policy. Jones is also close to Sen. John McCain (R-Ariz.), his colleague as a military liaison to Capitol Hill in the 1970s, and stayed publicly neutral during the presidential campaign, though he quietly provided advice to Obama in telephone conversations, according to a source who knows both men. Jones is one of the few public figures who probably would have been courted for government service regardless of the election's outcome.
"He would bring a lot of the military dimension to the job," said Wesley K. Clark, a retired four-star general who was one of Jones's predecessors as NATO commander. "And his nonpartisanship at this juncture is really important. He provides a nonpartisan standard for the national interest -- that would be the presumption given his previous experience."
Said Jessica Tuchman Mathews, president of the Carnegie Endowment for International Peace: "I think that would be a very strong appointment. He's got very broad experience, both geographically and substantively, and he's been outstanding in everything he's done."
Mathews and other officials said they expected that Jones would also help impose order in the national security bureaucracy. Over the course of the Bush administration, national security advisers Condoleezza Rice and Steven J. Hadley have been criticized by some for not resolving interagency conflicts, although some of those disputes have receded in recent years.
Jones "is certain to be viewed as a very formidable figure," said David Rothkopf, who served in the Clinton administration and wrote a book about the NSC. "This is a general right out of central casting. He is extremely strong and forceful and thoughtful. . . . If you want a disciplined NSC process, this is your man."
Jones also has experience with many of the big issues that will confront the new administration. As NATO commander, he was intimately involved in assembling troops and other resources for the mission in Afghanistan. He also knows something about energy, a subject the Obama team expects to figure prominently in foreign policy discussions. Jones currently heads the U.S. Chamber of Commerce's Institute for 21st Century Energy.
He is known for being low-key but blunt: Journalist Bob Woodward wrote that Jones told then-Joint Chiefs Chairman Peter Pace that he "should not be the parrot on the secretary's shoulder," referring to Donald H. Rumsfeld.
Sources said another possibility for the national security job is James B. Steinberg, a close Obama adviser who was deputy national security adviser to Clinton, but Jones appears to be the strong favorite.
Sources also said yesterday that Rep. Raul M. Grijalva (D-Ariz.) has emerged as a leading contender for interior secretary. The son of a migrant worker who grew up in Tucson, Grijalva boasts a strong environmental record and chairs the House Natural Resources subcommittee on national parks, forests and public lands.
Also yesterday, transition officials announced the selection of five new White House staff members.
Patrick Gaspard, a longtime labor activist, will be the White House political director. He served as national political director for much of Obama's general-election campaign and was named deputy director of personnel for the transition effort. Prior to his work with Obama, Gaspard was a political operative for the Service Employees International Union.
Vice President-elect Joseph R. Biden Jr. named Cynthia Hogan as his counsel. She has been his legal adviser since 1991, when she became a counsel to the Senate Judiciary Committee.
Biden also named Moises V. Vela Jr. as his director of administration. Vela, a businessman in Denver, was a chief financial officer and senior adviser on Hispanic affairs for Vice President Al Gore.
Incoming first lady Michelle Obama has tapped Jackie Norris, who was Iowa state director for the Obama campaign, to be her chief of staff. Norris, a high school government and history teacher and longtime Iowa Democrat, was Iowa political director for Gore's 2000 presidential campaign and was finance director for future Iowa Gov. Tom Vilsack in 1998.
In addition, the vice president-elect's wife, Jill Biden, has named Catherine M. Russell to be her chief of staff. A former adviser to the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, she served as chief of staff for Jill Biden during the campaign and is the wife of Thomas E. Donilon, a co-chairman of Obama's transition team for the State Department.
Staff writers Michael A. Fletcher and Walter Pincus and staff researcher Madonna Lebling contributed to this report.