By Paul Bedard, Washington Whispers
It's not all bad news coming out of President Obama's Cabinet Room. Yes, his financial team, lacking a bench, is double-dribbling down the court. His healthcare game is sluggish, and some agency heads haven't been confirmed. But as Congress and the press focus on his domestic and financial agenda, Obama's national security team—which is emerging as a modern-day powerhouse, insiders say—has been largely ignored. "We really can't believe how well and quickly this team has jelled," says a key adviser to the trio of National Security Adviser James Jones, Defense Secretary Robert Gates, and Secretary of State Hillary Clinton. "They have hit it off."
At the head is Jones, the Obama confidant who is expanding the National Security Council's role and reorganizing how the world is viewed. Clinton, once Obama's foe, is his diplomat selling the administration, and Gates, a Bush guy, mans the guns as his department runs the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan. Aides say theirs is a team effort; they've even continued the Bush-era practice of joining for a weekly lunch.
And the glue holding the troika together? Many say Gates and the top aides whom Obama let him keep at the Pentagon. "This building does not have a leadership void," says one insider. "This is where Gates's foresight really helped." Some wondered if the brain trust would meld, considering their backgrounds. That's where Obama comes in, especially at the Pentagon, heavy with Bushies. "He made an immediate and impressive impact here," says a Pentagon official, who described Obama's knowledge of the military and diplomacy as not just "briefing-book stuff." A happy team? Says one defense aide: "On all counts, there is good rapport."
Illustration by Ed Wexler for USN&WR
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