Dec 2, 2008

Hillary Clinton, Robert Gates on Obama national security team

President-elect Barack Obama unveiled his national security team today, including formally announcing his intention to nominate his onetime rival for the Democratic nomination, Sen. Hillary Clinton of New York, as the next secretary of State.

Obama also announced his intention to keep current Defense Secretary Robert Gates in his post, likely for at least a year in the new administration. The president-elect also said he would nominate Susan Rice as ambassador to the United Nations, retired Marine Gen. James Jones as his national security adviser, Arizona Gov. Janet Napolitano as homeland security director and Eric Holder as attorney general.

"The national security challenges we face are just as grave, and just as urgent, as our economic crisis," Obama said during a Chicago news conference where he was surrounded by his newly chosen team. "We are fighting two wars. Old conflicts remain unresolved, and newly assertive powers have put strains on the international system. The spread of nuclear weapons raises the peril that the world's deadliest technology could fall into dangerous hands. Our dependence on foreign oil empowers authoritarian governments and endangers our planet."

Obama said he, his security team and the American people believe "now is the time for us to regain American leadership in all of its dimensions" as he sought to strike a balance between "maintaining the strongest military on the planet" and employing "the wisdom of our diplomacy."

All of Obama's nominees appeared in Chicago as did the vice president-elect, Joe Biden.

The nomination of Clinton comes only months after a hard-fought and often caustic Democratic primary in which the former first lady, a member of the Senate Armed Services Committee, questioned Obama's experience on the world stage and his credentials to become commander in chief in contrast to herself and Republican nominee John McCain.

But Obama called Clinton "a friend, a colleague, a source of counsel" and "a tough campaign opponent."

"She is 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 capitol, and who will clearly have the ability to advance our interests around the world," Obama said, adding that her appointment was "a sign to friend and foe of the seriousness of my commitment to renew American diplomacy and restore our alliances."

Clinton said it was "very difficult" to leave her Senate seat of eight years but said her service prepared her for the job since "New Yorkers aren't afraid to speak their minds and do so in every language."

She called Obama's election a signal that the American people have demanded not only a new direction on domestic affairs, but in foreign relations as well, in which "vigorous diplomacy" is balanced with military might.

Clinton's nomination comes after her husband, former President Bill Clinton, agreed to curtail his foreign speechmaking and acceptance of money for his Clinton Global Initiative charitable conference. The former president also agreed to disclose the names of all contributors to his charitable foundation and submit his speech schedule for review by the State Department and the White House counsel.

In a statement, former President Clinton said his wife was the "right person for the job of helping to restore American's image abroad, end the war in Iraq" and "advance peace and increase our security."

"She has already earned the respect of foreign leaders and diplomats through her work to promote human rights and the empowerment of women through access to education, healthcare and economic opportunity," the former president said. "And Americans know from her leadership in the Senate on national security that she will always put the security, values and the interests of our people first."

But Republicans were quick to pounce on the appointment, noting that during the Democratic primary campaign Obama's camp said Clinton was never a "player" on foreign policy and did not do "any heavy lifting with foreign governments" during her time in her husband's White House.

Obama said he knew it was "fun for the press" to contrast the statements from the campaign trail to today's announcement.

"Look, if you look at the statements that Hillary Clinton and I have made outside of the heat of a campaign, 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 strengthened diplomacy," Obama said.

Gates has been secretary of Defense for nearly two years. He previously served as deputy CIA director and was a deputy National Security Agency adviser for President George H.W. Bush. His role for the Obama White House is viewed as transitional.

Jones rose from the Marines to become the supreme allied commander for NATO and has held a number of posts under Democrats in Congress and in the State Department under Republicans. He was said to be on the vetting list as a possible Obama running mate.

Napolitano is a former U.S. attorney and former Arizona attorney general. She was among the first governors to call for the use of the National Guard to patrol the country's borders, at federal expense, to address illegal immigration.

Holder was deputy attorney general in the Clinton White House. A top legal adviser to the Obama campaign, he also served on the team that vetted his potential running mates. Holder also was previously U.S. attorney for the District of Columbia.

Rice was a leading foreign policy adviser to the Obama campaign, on leave from her post as a senior fellow at the Brookings Institution. She previously served in the Clinton White House as an assistant secretary of State for African affairs.

Obama said there was a common thread linking the nation's economic problems with foreign concerns: "Our destiny is shared with the world's."

"From our markets to our security, from our public health to our climate, we must act with the understanding that, now more than ever, we have a stake in what happens across the globe," he said.

Obama said he had spoken with current Secretary of State Condolezza Rice throughout the past weekend about the terrorist activities in Mumbai, India. And he used the attacks, which killed six Americans, to vow a diligent fight against extremists.

"Both myself and the team that stands beside me are absolutely committed to eliminating the threat of terrorism and that is true wherever it is found," he said. "We cannot tolerate a world in which innocents are being killed by extremists based on twisted ideologies."