After unveiling his economic team last week, President-elect Barack Obama signaled the No. 2 priority of the new administration today when, as expected, he named his picks to fill the top tier of his national security team.
The team includes:
Sen. Hillary Rodham Clinton, as secretary of state.
Secretary of Defense Robert Gates, to remain in his current position.
Eric Holder, a former federal prosecutor and deputy attorney general, as attorney general.
Arizona Gov. Janet Napolitano, as secretary of homeland security.
Gen. James L. Jones (Ret.), as national security adviser.
Susan Rice, national security adviser to Obama’s presidential campaign, as ambassador to the United Nations.
A few notes about today’s press conference:
I thought it was interesting that during his remarks, Obama lumped America’s dependence on foreign oil in with the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan and nuclear proliferation as the most urgent national security issues facing the nation, and mentioned climate change as a global threat. Perhaps Obama was simply not ready to name an energy secretary yet, but by not including the post among the top members of his national security team, Obama may have missed an opportunity to signal to the rest of the world his sincerity of his commitment to fundamentally re-orienting America’s energy policy away from petroleum. Of course, the new administration’s actions are far more important than symbolic moves during the transition, but it could have sent a strong message.
Obama also reaffirmed his intention to break with the previous administration’s mode of operation by bringing in diverse voices and encouraging thoughtful deliberation.
I assembled this team because I’m a strong believer in strong personalities and strong opinions. I think that’s how the best decisions are made.
One of the dangers in a White House, based on my reading of history, is that you get wrapped up in group-think, and everybody agrees with everything and there’s no discussion and there’s no dissenting views.
During his announcement to keep Gates in place as secretary of defense, Obama attempted to squash speculation that the move suggests he is backing away his promise to quickly bring the war in Iraq to a close.
As I said throughout the campaign, I will be giving Secretary Gates and our military a new mission as soon as I take office: responsibly ending the war in Iraq through a successful transition to Iraqi control.
In naming Holder, Obama took another subtle jab at the Bush administration’s expansion of executive power, and in particular, at former Attorney General Alberto Gonzalez, vowing that Holder “will protect our people, uphold the public trust, and adhere to our Constitution.”
Obama also appeared to reject the notion that he will restore the autonomy of the Federal Emergency Management Agency by removing it from the purview of the Department of Homeland Security. When naming Napolitano as his choice to head Homeland Security, Obama said Napolitano “understands the need for a Department of Homeland Security that has the capacity to help prevent terrorist attacks and respond to catastrophe – be it manmade or natural.” It doesn’t sound like he intends to take disaster relief out of her job description.
Finally, and perhaps most refreshing, Obama, while responding to a question about the difficulty in managing such strong opinions on his team, affirmed his commitment to restoring accountability to the executive branch, something that has been sorely lacking during the last eight years.
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. As Harry Truman said, “The buck will stop with me.”
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