Introducing the top figures in his national security
team in Chicago Monday, U.S. President-elect Barack Obama promised a "new
dawn of American leadership" that will be marked by much greater emphasis
on diplomacy and multilateralism than was accorded by the incumbent, George
Obama said all of his appointees, who featured current Pentagon chief Robert
Gates and Obama's former rival for the Democratic presidential nomination,
Sen. 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 abroad."
"[I]n order to do that we have 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
That message, which was previewed by an unidentified Obama "senior adviser"
in a front-page New York Times article Monday morning, was duly repeated
by the appointees themselves 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 news media, was
largely anticlimactic, although it did little to quiet speculation about what
the appointments will mean for specific policies most urgently at the
moment, the possibility of radically increased tensions between nuclear-armed
Pakistan and India in the wake of the Nov. 26 terrorist attacks in Mumbai
facing the incoming administration, which will take office Jan. 20.
In addition to Gates staying on at the Pentagon and Clinton taking over the
State Department, Obama named retired Marine Gen. 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 UN and other multilateral institutions
will claim under Obama, Rice, whose early desertion to Obama caused consternation
in Sen. Clinton's primary campaign, will be given Cabinet rank. It remains
unclear, however, whether Rice will expected to align her own policy views
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 Gov. Janet Napolitano,
a longtime U.S. attorney who has taken a special interest in immigration issues,
was named to head the Department of Homeland Security (DHS).
Obama did not announce his appointment for director of national intelligence
(DNI), a key foreign policy post for which most analysts believe retired Adm.
Dennis Blair is the front-runner.
Most of the attention 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 than Obama's.
Indeed, those picks have caused growing concern among some of Obama's veteran
supporters who rallied to his candidacy in major part due to his early and
outspoken opposition, especially in contrast to Clinton, to the Iraq war.
"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, "and 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," neoconservative
impresario Richard Perle told The New Republic Monday. "Contrary
to expectations, I don't think we would see a lot of change."
Neoconservatives, 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 the latter
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 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 final decisions would be his alone.
"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
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 Times' "senior adviser," "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 himself has frequently spoken out over the past year in favor
of major budget increases for the State Department and the U.S. Agency for
International Development (USAID), 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
U.S. 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 nonproliferation, scarcities of basic resources, the
impact of climate change, and the persistence of poverty, he noted that "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."
(Inter Press Service)