The President's Picks: Who Will Lead Obama's New National Security Team?

Experts offer the likely choices for top security officials.

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President Barack Obama has won the political war against Mitt Romney, but the commander in chief still has a lot of work to do.

Over the next four years, Obama will still have to square off against a myriad of complicated issues abroad, groups entrenched over policy at home and a nation that must prepare for unforeseen threats in the future.

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Filling top positions will require shifting around much of the national security establishment, and may also require some creative and unorthodox outside hires.

Secretary of State Hillary Clinton has stated she will not continue that post through the next four years, and experts predict others leaders, such as Defense Secretary Leon Panetta, are in the twilight of their public service careers.

It remains clear that choosing who advises and executes the president's national security policies will be a critical first step in the next term.

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"Whoever wins is going to have a number of things that will be right there waiting for the in the Oval Office," says Karl F. Inderfurth, a senior advisor at the Center for Strategic and International Studies. The former ambassador was also an assistant secretary of State and representative to the U.N. Security Council.

"Experience will be first and foremost," he says of prospective cabinet and national security team picks. "All of these issues will be tough."

A nuclear Iran, a porous Afghan/Pakistan border, an expanding China, an unstable Iraq, a shifting al Qaeda and a reallocated defense budget are among only the immediate issues for which the president will have to prepare.

"He also need to have individuals with stature that can carry the message and decisions of the president to congressional leaders, as well as the leaders of foreign countries and organizations like NATO and the United Nations," he says. "[They] will not have the luxury of time."

Presidents are also faced with the political fallout of choosing top aides and colleagues. Any selection of a current office-holder, such as Massachusetts Democrat Sen. John Kerry, must also include the political calculus of who could win their seat in Congress.

But what has worked for previous presidents may not work in 2013.

"You're going to need people who understand the world we're living in, and realize the world has changed," says Jacob Stokes, a researcher at the Center for New American Security. "The Cold War is over, you're not in the 20th century anymore."

A much more holistic understanding should trump the last century's approach of "guns and bullets and tanks and nuclear weapons" that made up security, Stokes said. Alternative threats should move to the forefront, including cyber security, matching the country's resources to its specific needs, recognizing the global economy's connection with the domestic economy, and even global warming.

Discussing the effects of the shifting climate may seem fairly revolutionary in politics. But most who have to deal with it— including the CIA's new climate change office—have cast aside debate and graduated to addressing the effects, such as instability and ethnic conflict in Africa.

National security advisers should accept this new way of thinking, Stokes says.

However, old conflicts will remain on immediate horizon of national security. Obama has set 2014 as the year troops will begin to draw down in Afghanistan, ending what is already America's longest war.

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"Whoever is selected for these national security positions will see to it that transition takes place," says Clark Ervin, the director of the Aspen Institute's Homeland Security program. Ervin, a former inspector general at the departments of State and Homeland Security, was on the National Journal's short list for secretary of DHS. He chuckles at the idea and says he isn't considering it.

America's attentions need to point toward its current imbalances, he says.



Updated 11/12/12: This article has been updated to reflect David Petraeus stepping down as CIA director.