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.
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.
"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.
"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.
"No question, China is rising and we're playing catch up," he says. "The famous 'pivot to Asia' is certainly going to be a priority for Obama."
"The Defense secretary has warned, and others have warned before him, of the possibility of a cyber security 'Pearl Harbor,'" Ervin says of the potential for a cataclysmic electronic attack. "We're woefully underprepared for that."
Selecting the national security team will be a challenge for the president, from the cabinet down to senior aides. While some choices may seem obvious, there is no formula to making the right decision, says Michael O'Hanlon, senior fellow with the 21st Century Defense Initiative at the Brookings Institution.
"To just mention [the likely choices] somehow assumes that when a president chooses a cabinet, he only looks at the resume of people," O'Hanlon says. "That's an assumption people make too quickly when they get in the name game."
"The president is going to want to expand his options first, unless he knows all along who the one person is."
The president might, for example, choose someone from the military-industrial private sector as Secretary of Defense, O'Hanlon offers, as that department squares off against severe budget cuts. He may tap someone from among the "military commanders who don't think like military commanders," people like David Petraeus, the former head of the CIA. Former Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff Adm. Mike Mullen, or NATO Supreme Allied Commander Europe Adm. James G. Stavridis could be on this list.
O'Hanlon also thinks the experiment has ended of reaching across the aisle for a major cabinet position.
"I don't think anyone gave any credit to a president for bringing another party into the cabinet," he says.
Amid a sea of conjecture, here are some of the potential picks for the president:
Secretary of State
John Kerry: First elected to U.S. Senate in 1985. Has been chairman of the Senate Committee on Foreign Relations since 2009, and was the Democratic Party's nominee for president in the 2004 election.
Tom Donilon: Currently the National Security advisor to President Obama. Previously assistant secretary of State for Public Affairs, and the chief of staff to the Secretary of State during the Clinton administration.
Susan Rice: Currently the U.S. ambassador to the U.N. Previously served on the National Security Council and was assistant secretary of State for African Affairs under President Bill Clinton.
Bill Clinton: "It's a crazy idea that's worth including," says O'Hanlon, adding Obama's chief priority is to "fix the world and fix the economy."
"There's nothing about the Constitution that prevents him from doing that," he says, except that he could not serve in the presidential line of succession. Presidents in their second term often like to set a new precedent, O'Hanlon adds.
"When you're a second term president and you have a guy like Bill Clinton in your party, I don't think you have to worry about precedent," he says. "This is in many ways a safer choice than [Hillary Clinton]."
Department of Defense
Current Secretary Leon Panetta could depart. "I could understand why he'd want to leave, given his long service at CIA and DoD and his age and his love for California," says Ervin.
"Though probably not until after sequestration has been addressed," says Inderfurth. "Given the severity of the cuts that are being addressed, Secretary Panetta may be indispensable."
Michele Flournoy: Was under secretary of Defense for Policy from 2009-2012. Co-founded the Center for a New American Security in 2007. Was a principal deputy assistant secretary of Defense for Strategic and Threat Reduction and deputy assistant Secretary of Defense for Strategy in the 1990s.
Ashton B. Carter: Currently the deputy secretary of Defense. Previously the under secretary of Defense for Acquisition, Technology and Logistics from 2009-2011.
John Hamry: Served as deputy secretary of Defense, and undersecretary of Defense (comptroller) from 1993-1997. Currently the president and CEO of the Center for Strategic and International Studies.
James Miller: Currently the undersecretary of Defense for Policy.
Sam Nunn: Represented Georgia in the House of Representatives before being elected to the Senate in 1972. He served as chairman and ranking member of the Armed Services Committee before retiring in 1997. He is currently a director at The Coca-Cola Company and Hess Corporation.
Joe Lieberman: Currently serving his fourth and final term in the U.S. Senate. Has served as chairman or ranking member of the Homeland Security and Governmental Affairs Committee since its inception in 2004.
"That would make sense since he'll be out of government next year," Ervin says.
Michael Bloomberg: Currently mayor of New York City. Founder of financial data services firm Bloomberg LP, and among the wealthiest Americans. Bloomberg is "somebody just smart, and [can] contain the budget problem and bring some independent thinking," says O'Hanlon. He may be an unorthodox pick, but could apply the kind of business savvy skills that made Robert McNamara an effective secretary in the 1960s.
Secretary of Homeland Security
Thad Allen: Commandant of the U.S. Coast Guard from 2006-2010. Gained recognition from both political parties after his handling of hurricanes Katrina and Rita, and the Deepwater Horizon oil spill in the Gulf of Mexico. He retired in 2010 at the rank of admiral.
"He could fit on either side of the aisle," says Ervin. "He gained bipartisan appeal for his response to recent hurricanes."
Ray Kelly: Twice appointed as commissioner of the City of New York Police Department, most recently under Mayor Bloomberg. He created the country's first police counterterrorism bureau there. He was previously the senior managing director of Global Corporate Security at Bear Stearns & Co. Inc.
Bill Bratton: Was most recently chief of the Los Angeles Police Department, the third largest in the U.S. Previously chief of the NYPD and Boston Police Department.
Other potential picks:
Richard Danzig: Was senior adviser to Obama on national security issues from 2007-2008. Was secretary of the Navy from 1998-2001, and under secretary from 1993-1997. Currently board chairman at the Center for a New American Security.
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Paul D. Shinkman is a national security reporter for U.S. News & World Report. You can follow him on Twitter or reach him at email@example.com.
Updated 11/12/12: This article has been updated to reflect David Petraeus stepping down as CIA director.