Obama Names National Security Team

President-elect Barack Obama announces his national security team, including naming Sen. Hillary Rodham Clinton as secretary of state. Video by AP
By Karen DeYoung and Michael D. Shear
Washington Post Staff Writers
Tuesday, December 2, 2008

President-elect Barack Obama's high-powered national security team, introduced yesterday at a Chicago news conference, faces the challenge of managing two wars and various ongoing foreign policy crises even as it helps the president-elect shape what he called "a new beginning, a new dawn of American leadership" in the world.

In announcing his choices of Sen. Hillary Rodham Clinton (D-N.Y.) to be secretary of state, Defense Secretary Robert M. Gates to continue in office and retired Marine Gen. James L. Jones to serve as national security adviser, Obama laid out a vision of an America whose global stature is restored and whose military, diplomatic and economic power are balanced with one another and with "the power of our moral example."

But he acknowledged that "grave" and "urgent" national security issues, including the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan, potential conflict between Pakistan and India, and economic crisis at home and abroad, require immediate attention. The challenge will be balancing those immediate priorities handed over by the Bush administration -- what the Obama camp calls the "inheritance issues" -- with national and international expectations for the longer-term changes he pledged during the campaign.

The members of his new team, Obama said yesterday, "share my pragmatism about the use of power, and my sense of purpose." Three other Cabinet selections announced were Eric H. Holder Jr. as attorney general, Arizona Gov. Janet Napolitano as secretary of homeland security and Susan Rice as U.S. ambassador to the United Nations.

Obama repeatedly emphasized his intention to expand U.S. diplomacy while buttressing the size and capabilities of the military, and he stressed the interconnectedness of national security and economic issues. Rice, who served as a senior foreign policy aide to Obama during the campaign, listed an ambitious global agenda -- "to prevent conflict, to promote peace, combat terrorism, prevent the spread and use of nuclear weapons, tackle climate change, end genocide, fight poverty and disease."

But "you have to manage the legacy" of the Bush administration "while trying to move forward on priorities," one Obama adviser said. "The balance is showing that you're serious about what's important -- what you said during the campaign -- without overloading the agenda. It's more important to have success that shows you're making progress than a long, uncompleted pass."

In addition to the pressing issues in Iraq, Afghanistan, Pakistan and India, Obama must quickly decide whether to continue negotiations begun by President Bush on North Korea and the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, how to deal with Iran, and what to do about the U.S. detention facility at Guantanamo Bay, Cuba. Preparations must be made for three major summits -- NATO, the Group of 20 and the Summit of the Americas -- scheduled within three months of the inauguration.

At yesterday's news conference, however, questions focused less on policy than on how the eclectic personalities standing behind Obama and in front of American flags -- particularly Clinton, Gates and Jones -- would mesh. Asked how he would avoid having a "clash of rivals" rather than the smoothly functioning team he portrayed, Obama said he expected "vigorous debate" and described himself as "a strong believer in strong personalities and strong opinions."

"One of the dangers in the White House, based on my reading of history," Obama continued, "is that you get wrapped up in groupthink and everybody agrees with everything and there's no discussion and there are no dissenting views."

Obama turned playful when a reporter reminded him of the sharp criticisms he leveled at Clinton during the campaign, including equating her travels as first lady to having tea with foreign leaders. Obama waved off the question, saying the press was merely "having fun" by stirring up quotes from the campaign.

"Differences get magnified" during campaigns, Obama said. "I did not ask for assurances from these individuals that they would agree with me at all times. I think they understood and would not be joining this team unless they understood and were prepared to carry out the decisions that have been made by me after full discussion."

"On the broad core vision of where America needs to go," he said, "we are in almost complete agreement. There are going to be differences in tactics and different assessments and judgments made. That's what I expect; that's what I welcome. That's why I asked them to join the team."

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