Obama introduces a team of veterans

Richter and Parsons are writers in our Washington bureau. McCormick writes for the Chicago Tribune.

President-elect Barack Obama on Monday introduced his national security team, made up of centrist Washington insiders, and promised an overhaul of foreign policy to give added emphasis to diplomacy and bring a “new dawn of American leadership.”

Appearing at a Chicago news conference with secretary of State nominee Sen. Hillary Rodham Clinton and five others whom he plans to put on his team, Obama said his administration would restore U.S. standing in the world through alliance-building and international institutions, as well as by maintaining American military might.

That power “has to be combined with the wisdom and force of our diplomacy,” Obama said. He pledged that the nation would exert influence by “the power of our moral example.” His words seemed aimed at drawing a contrast with the Bush administration, which has been widely seen as emphasizing military force and unilateral action.


In one sign of the importance the new president will place on international institutions, Obama said the job of ambassador to the United Nations would again have Cabinet rank, as it did under President Clinton.

Obama said he would nominate Susan E. Rice, a former State Department official, to the U.N. post. The national security team will also include Defense Secretary Robert M. Gates, who will continue in his position; retired Marine Gen. James L. Jones Jr., the new national security advisor; Arizona Gov. Janet Napolitano, the nominee for secretary of Homeland Security; and former Deputy Atty. Gen. Eric H. Holder Jr., the nominee for attorney general.

Even as Obama emphasized his plans for a break from Bush policy, there were abundant reminders that the new team would struggle with familiar problems, and that there would be substantial continuity in the way they must deal with them.

Obama said his administration would be committed to maintaining “the strongest military on the planet” and to increasing the ranks of the Army and the Marine Corps.

While emphasizing new efforts to win friends abroad, the president-elect promised to continue the campaign against terrorists, because “there is no place for those who kill innocent civilians to advance hateful extremism.”

Obama acknowledged that although his administration advocates non-military or “soft power” approaches to overseas challenges, it enters office facing emergencies that may call for the use of U.S. troops and intelligence that President Bush has relied on.

He cited last week’s terrorist attack in Mumbai and the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan, asserting that “the national security challenges we face are just as grave and just as urgent as our economic crisis.”

During the news conference, Obama also gave hints of his foreign policy priorities. He said he still believed that a 16-month period for withdrawal of U.S. combat troops from Iraq, which he promised in the campaign, is “the right time frame,” and that Gates and the military leadership would be ordered from the outset to devise a withdrawal plan.

Obama said he would consider the recommendations of his military advisors on implementing the plan and would take into account the safety of U.S. troops and Iraqi interests.

He also cited his interest in pushing from the beginning for Arab-Israeli peace, even though many observers are now deeply pessimistic about the conflict.

Critics have questioned whether Obama would be able to guide U.S. foreign policy with a team of strong-willed veterans led by Clinton, his fierce rival during the long presidential primary campaign. But Obama said the choice reflected his belief in “strong personalities and strong opinions. I think that’s how the best decisions are made.”

Clinton, Gates and Jones have worked together and agree on some, though not all, issues. Yet the holders of those three posts have often collided in past administrations, especially under the pressure of wars and other foreign policy crises.

Obama said the team members believe they can get along. He promised: “I will be responsible for the vision that this team carries out.”

The president-elect has chosen a centrist team in part to ensure broad support as he takes on the politically risky effort of winding down the Iraq commitment while seeking a new approach to the Afghan war, which he says the U.S. is now losing.

In introducing his team, Obama stressed qualifications that were likely to appeal to conservatives as well as those of other political stripes.

He pointed out that Jones, who served in the Vietnam War, won a Silver Star and that “generations of his family served heroically on the battlefield.” He noted that Gates had won respect in both political parties “for his pragmatism and competence.”

Obama’s selections have won praise from Republicans. Sen. Richard G. Lugar of Indiana, the senior Republican on the foreign relations committee, said on ABC’s “This Week” that Obama’s choices were “excellent.”

The new Clinton-Obama alliance produced some awkward moments. As she took her position at the news conference to wait for Obama’s arrival, Clinton listened as one broadcaster loudly recounted to a TV camera the bitterness of the primary -- and her loss in the campaign -- for the otherwise quiet room.

Clinton smiled gamely during the soliloquy, which ended abruptly when Obama came in.

Later, Obama brushed off a reminder of the primary’s contentiousness, when a reporter asked why he would hire Clinton after he charged during the campaign that her travels as first lady amounted to little more than having tea with foreign leaders.

He said asking such questions was no more than “fun for the press.”

In her remarks, Clinton also argued for a more vigorous form of diplomacy. “We know our security, our values and our interests cannot be protected and advanced by force alone nor, indeed, by Americans alone,” she said.

She added that “while we are determined to defend our freedoms and liberties at all costs, we also reach out to the world again, seeking common cause and higher ground.”

In announcing his selection of Holder, Obama again sought to draw a contrast with the Bush administration, which has been widely accused by Democrats of narrow partisanship under former Atty. Gen. Alberto R. Gonzales.

Obama said of Holder: “The attorney general serves the American people, and I have every expectation that Eric will protect the people, uphold the public trust and adhere to our Constitution.”

The nominees are expected to be confirmed by the Senate.



Paul Richter reporting from Washington

Christi parsons and John McCormick reporting from Chicago


(BEGIN TEXT OF INFOBOX) Hillary Rodham Clinton

Age: 61. Born Oct. 26, 1947, in Chicago.

Experience: U.S. senator for New York, 2001-present; first lady of the United States, 1993-2001; partner, Rose Law Firm, Little Rock, Ark., 1979-92; associate, Rose Law Firm, 1976-79; faculty, University of Arkansas School of Law, Fayetteville, Ark., 1975; staff attorney, presidential impeachment inquiry, U.S. House Judiciary Committee, 1974; staff attorney, Children’s Defense Fund, 1973.

Education: Bachelor of arts in political science, Wellesley College, 1969; law degree, Yale Law School, 1973.

Family: Husband, former President Clinton; one daughter, Chelsea.


Robert M. Gates

Age: 65. Born Sept. 25, 1943, in Wichita, Kan.

Experience: Defense secretary, 2006-present; president, Texas A&M; University, 2002-06; interim dean, George Bush School of Government and Public Service, Texas A&M; University, 1999-2001; director, CIA, 1991-93; assistant to the president and deputy national security advisor, 1989-91; acting director, CIA, 1986-87; deputy director, CIA, 1986-89; chairman, National Intelligence Council, 1983-86; director of executive staff, CIA, 1981-82; staff, National Security Council, 1974-79; intelligence analyst, CIA, 1966-74.

Education: Bachelor of arts in European history, College of William and Mary, 1965; master’s degree in history, Indiana University, 1966; doctorate in Russian and Soviet history, Georgetown University, 1974.

Family: Wife, Rebecca Wilkie Gates; two children.


Eric H. Holder Jr.

Age: 57. Born Jan. 21, 1951, in New York City.

Experience: Senior legal advisor, Obama campaign, 2007-08; partner, Covington & Burling, 2001-present; acting U.S. attorney general, 2001; U.S. deputy attorney general, 1997-2001; U.S. attorney for the District of Columbia, 1993-97; associate judge, Superior Court of the District of Columbia, 1988-93; trial attorney for the Justice Department’s public integrity section, 1976-88.

Education: Bachelor of arts, Columbia University, 1973; law degree, Columbia University, 1976.

Family: Wife, Sharon Malone; three children.


James L. Jones

Age: 64. Born Dec. 19, 1943, in Kansas City, Mo.

Experience: President and chief executive of U.S. Chamber of Commerce’s Institute for 21st Century Energy, 2007-present; supreme allied commander, Europe, and commander, U.S. European Command, 2003-06; 32nd commandant, Marine Corps, 1999-2003; senior military assistant to the secretary of Defense, 1997-99; commander, 24th Marine Expeditionary Unit, Camp Lejeune, N.C., 1990-92; battalion commander, 9th Marines, 1st Marine Division, Camp Pendleton, 1985-87; Marine Corps liaison officer to the U.S. Senate, 1979-84; company commander, 2nd Battalion, 9th Marines, Okinawa, Japan, 1974-75; company commander, Marine Barracks, Washington, 1970-73; platoon and company commander, 2nd Battalion, 3rd Marines, Vietnam, 1967-68.

Education: Bachelor of science, Georgetown University School of Foreign Service, 1966; National War College, 1985.

Family: Wife, Diane Johnson Jones; four children.


Janet Napolitano

Age: 51. Born Nov. 29, 1957, in New York City

Experience: Arizona governor, 2003-present; Arizona attorney general, 1999-2003; attorney, Lewis and Roca, 1997-98; U.S. attorney for Arizona, 1993-97; partner, Lewis and Roca, 1989-93; associate, Lewis and Roca, 1984-89; clerk to Hon. Mary Schroeder, 9th U.S Circuit Court of Appeals, 1983-84.

Education: Bachelor of science, Santa Clara University, 1979; law degree, University of Virginia, 1983.

Family: Unmarried.


Susan E. Rice

Age: 44. Born Nov. 17, 1964, in Washington, D.C.

Experience: Senior foreign policy advisor, Barack Obama’s presidential campaign, 2008; senior fellow in foreign policy, Brookings Institution, 2002-present; senior advisor for national security affairs, John F. Kerry’s presidential campaign, 2004; assistant secretary of State for African affairs, 1997-2001; special assistant to the president and senior director for African affairs, National Security Council, 1995-97; director for international organizations and peacekeeping, National Security Council, 1993-95; management consultant, McKinsey and Co., 1991-93.

Education: Bachelor of arts in history, Stanford University, 1986; master’s in international relations, Oxford University, 1988; doctorate in international relations, Oxford University, 1990. Rhodes Scholar, Oxford University.

Family: Husband, Ian Cameron; two children.