WASHINGTON - Introducing the top figures in his national security team in
Chicago on Monday, United States president-elect Barack Obama promised a "new
dawn of American leadership" that will be marked by much greater emphasis on
diplomacy and multilateralism than the incumbent George W Bush administration.
Obama said all of his appointees, who featured current Defense Secretary Robert
Gates and Obama's former rival for the Democratic presidential nomination,
Senator Hillary Clinton, as secretary of state, shared a "core vision of what's
needed to keep
the American people safe and to assure prosperity here at home and peace
"... [I]n order to do that we have to to combine military power with
strengthened diplomacy," he said. "And we have to build and forge stronger
alliances around the world so that we're not carrying the burdens and these
challenges by ourselves."
That message, which was previewed by an unidentified Obama "senior adviser" in
a front-page New York Times article on Monday morning, was duly repeated by the
appointees as they were introduced.
"We know our security, our values, and our interests cannot be protected and
advanced by force alone nor, indeed, by Americans [alone]," declared Clinton.
She added that Obama's presidency marked a "new effort to renew America's
standing in the world as a force for positive change".
Monday's introductions, anticipated by weeks of leaks to the media, were
largely anti-climactic, although they did little to quiet speculation about
what the appointments will mean for specific policies. Most urgent for the
incoming administration - which will take office on January 20 - is the
possibility of radically increased tensions between nuclear-armed Pakistan and
India in the wake of the November 26 terrorist attacks in Mumbai.
In addition to Gates staying on at the Pentagon and Clinton taking over the
State Department, Obama named retired Marine General James Jones as his
national security adviser and former president Bill Clinton's top Africa aide,
Susan Rice, as his ambassador to the United Nations.
To highlight the renewed priority the United Nations and other multilateral
institutions will claim under Obama, Rice, whose early desertion to Obama
caused consternation in Senator Clinton's primary campaign, will be given
cabinet rank. It remains unclear, however, whether Rice will be expected to
align her own policy views with Clinton's.
He also made two other key nominations with national security implications:
Eric Holder, who served as deputy attorney general under Bill Clinton, was
appointed to lead the Justice Department, while Arizona governor Janet
Napolitano, a long-time US attorney who has taken a special interest in
immigration issues, was named to be the head of the Department of Homeland
Obama did not announce his appointment for director of national intelligence, a
key foreign policy post for which most analysts believe retired Admiral Dennis
Blair is the frontrunner.
Most of the attention on Monday, however, was focused on the three main foreign
policy-making appointments - Clinton, Gates and Jones - all of whom are
considered strong personalities whose views are seen as generally more hawkish
Indeed, those picks have caused growing concern among some of the veteran
supporters of Obama, who rallied to his candidacy in major part due to his
early and outspoken opposition, especially in contrast to Clinton, to the Iraq
"He really differentiated himself in the [Democratic primary campaign] in his
opposition to the war in Iraq," noted Christopher Preble, a foreign policy
analyst at the libertarian Cato Institute, "yet he hasn't reached out to a
genuine outsider like he was himself not so long ago".
Conversely, a number of right-wing figures have hailed the nominations,
particularly Clinton's, as better than expected. "I'm relieved,"
neo-conservative impresario Richard Perle told The New Republic Monday.
"Contrary to expectations, I don't think we would see a lot of change."
Neo-conservatives, who have long distrusted "realists" like Gates and Jones,
have been particularly enthusiastic about Clinton's appointment, noting that
she was the most hawkish and most supportive of Israel of all of the Democratic
presidential candidates over the past year. Although her stance may, in the
words of one commentator, "simply have been a byproduct of representing New
York [which has a disproportionately large Jewish population] in the Senate".
During the late 1990s, Clinton's was among the most prominent voices calling
for a Palestinian state, a position she then played down in her election to the
Senate in 2000.
In answer to questions on Monday, Obama indicated that he was comfortable with
the possibility that his nominees may clash with him and with each other in
making policy, so long as all recognized that the final decisions would be his
"I'm going to be welcoming a vigorous debate inside the White House," he said,
noting "group think" around the president - where "everybody agrees with
everything, and there's no discussion and ... no dissenting views" - had
contributed to serious mistakes in the past.
"But understand I will be setting policy as president. I will be responsible
for the vision that this team carries out, and I expect them to implement that
vision once decisions are made," he added.
That "vision", as he and his nominees made clear, will revolve around, in the
words of the senior adviser quoted by the Times, "a rebalancing of America's
national security portfolio" to expand Washington's diplomatic and other
implements of "soft power" after the huge increases in its defense budget over
the past eight years.
Indeed, Gates has frequently spoken out over the past year in favor of major
budget increases for the State Department and the US Agency for International
Development, deploring "the gutting of America's ability to engage, assist and
communicate with other parts of the world ... " since the end of the Cold War.
Jones is reported to share that view.
"To succeed, we must pursue a new strategy that skillfully uses, balances and
integrates all elements of American power: our military and diplomacy; our
intelligence and law enforcement; our economy and the power of our moral
example," Obama said, adding that Clinton's appointment should be taken as "a
sign to friend and foe of the seriousness of my commitment to renew American
diplomacy and restore our alliances."
In an implicit repudiation of Bush's unilateralism, he also repeatedly stressed
US interdependence with the rest of the world, noting that all of the
challenges faced by Washington were linked by "the fundamental reality that in
the 21st century, our destiny is shared with the world's".
Vice president-elect Joseph Biden, another likely player in the White House
foreign policy debate, echoed the same themes in speaking after the nominees'
introduction. Citing the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan, the emergence of new
powers, the dangers of non-proliferation, scarcities of basic resources, the
impact of climate change, and the persistence of poverty, he noted, "No one
country can control these forces, but more than any other country in the world,
we have the ability to affect them if we use the totality of our strength."
Jim Lobe's blog on US foreign policy, and particularly the
neo-conservative influence in the Bush administration, can be read at http://www.ips.org/blog/jimlobe/.