- The Washington Times - Monday, December 1, 2008

President-elected Barack Obama unveiled his national security team today, nominating Sen. Hillary Rodham Clinton, his rival for the presidency, as secretary of state and choosing Defense Secretary Robert M. Gates to stay on as Pentagon chief.

He also picked retired Gen. James L. Jones to be his national security adviser. The height and square-jawed features of the former supreme allied commander of NATO and Marine commandant recalled the late actor John Wayne.

All three choices did not come as a surprise and had been the subject of intense speculation for more than a week. Mr. Obama’s announcement came less than a week after he chose his economic team. The nation’s deteriorating economy apparently took precedence over national security.

But, the president-elect told a news conference at his Chicago headquarters, “The national security challenges we face are just as great at the economic challenges.”

“The common thread is that our destiny is shared with the world,” he said. “Now more than ever, we have a stake in what happens in the world. The time has come for new leadership, new alliances.”

Mr. Obama also nominated Eric H. Holder Jr., a former Washington, D.C., judge and prosecutor, as attorney general; Susan E. Rice to be ambassador to the United Nations; and Gov. Janet Napolitano of Arizona, a Democrat, to head the Department of Homeland Security.

Ms. Rice, 44, a former assistant secretary of state for African affairs in he Clinton administration, was Mr. Obama’s foreign policy adviser during the campaign. As ambassador to the United Nations, if she is confirmed, Ms. Rice is likely to have cabinet rank.

“I am confident that this team is what we need to make a new beginning in national security,” Mr. Obama said.

He said his goal was to have a bipartisan national security policy,

“We can shape our times instead of being shaped by them,” he said.

Many of those he chose for his national security team have had long Washington experience, leaving Mr. Obama open to charges that he was not fulfilling his campaign pledge to bring change to the nation’s capital. But he made it clear that he wanted to surround himself with “strong beliefs, strong opinions.”

“I will be welcoming vigorous debate,” he said. “The decisions will be carried out my me after a full discussion.”

Vice President-elect Joe Biden said during the 45-minute news conference that “we brought together one of the most talented national security teams.”

“These are extraordinary times,” he said. “We face extraordinary challenges.”

Mr. Obama said Ms. Rice was being dispatched to the Indo-Pakistani region to engage in “very delicate diplomacy” following the terrorist massacre of at least 188 people over three days in India’s financial capital of Mumbai.

His national security team, he said, is absolutely dedicated to fighting terror, both diplomatically and militarily.

“We share a view,” Ms. Clinton said, “that America has to be safe and secure through strength and diplomacy.”

Mr. Obama was asked how he chose the former first lady and junior senator from New York, 61, to be his secretary of state.

“It was not a light bulb moment,” he replied. “I always was interested in Senator Clinton,” saying she is “tough and smart. I was always interested in finding ways to collaborate.”

See related story: Clinton turns from Obama critic to top envoy

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