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Obama introduces a team of veterans

The national security advisors will restore U.S. standing in the world, he says, with both diplomatic and military credentials.

December 02, 2008|Paul Richter and , Christi Parsons and John McCormick | Richter and Parsons are writers in our Washington bureau. McCormick writes for the Chicago Tribune.

WASHINGTON AND CHICAGO — 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."

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