He may want to shake up government, but when it comes to defense, President-elect Barack Obama has chosen to keep an old hand in charge—Defense Secretary Robert Gates.
Sources close to the transition said that Gates and Obama are nearing a deal on the post. It hasn't been officially announced or confirmed by Obama's team or the Pentagon, but Gates has long been a frontrunner for the position, with his name circulating as early as the summer.
Gates, who was just picked as one of America's Best Leaders by U.S. News in conjunction with the Center for Public Leadership at Harvard University and was profiled here, has been praised by Democrats and Republicans for his open-mindedness and bipartisanship. When he took over after his controversial predecessor, Donald Rumsfeld, he was lauded for pivoting previous policy on Iraq and stabilizing the Defense Department.
At the same time, Obama's choice of Gates brings some conundrums. One is that Obama, who campaigned on his opposition to the Iraq war, has chosen a man who runs it. Gates, however, has shown more interest than most others in the Bush administration at reducing the focus on Iraq and turning back to Afghanistan, a goal Obama has advocated for several years. Gates's supporters say that he is honored to continue serving, and that given his record of public service, working with the new president shouldn't be a problem.
Obama's choice of Gates, like his other cabinet picks, shows that while change might be his priority, he wants to achieve it with the expertise and experience of seasoned leaders. As well as Gates, sources say he's picked retired Marine Gen. James Jones to head the National Security Council, the White House committee that coordinates U.S. foreign and national security policy. Jones has criticized some of the Bush war strategy, but he brings a great deal of experience to the table as a former NATO supreme allied commander in Europe, a special Mideast peace adviser to the Bush administration, and president of the Chamber of Commerce's Institute for Energy.
And, of course, by choosing his primary campaign rival Hillary Clinton as secretary of state, Obama has emphasized the importance of public record over chumminess, even at the possible cost—at least to his grassroots supporters—of inviting such an establishment figure into his inner circle.
Obama is expected to officially name his team of national security advisers after Thanksgiving weekend. He also is expected to unveil his board of economic advisers in a news conference today.