By Kenneth R. Bazinet in Chicago and David Saltonstall in New York
Daily News Staff Writers
With a fond farewell to her New York constituents, Sen. Hillary Clinton stood this morning with her one-time rival, President-elect Barack Obama, and proudly agreed to serve as his Secretary of State.
"Leaving the Senate is very difficult for me, but during these last weeks I thought often about our troops...and the daunting tasks ahead for our country," said Clinton, listing the wavering global economy, climate change and threats of terrorism among them.
"America cannot solve these crises without the world; and the world cannot solve them without America," a subdued Clinton said today at the Chicago news conference.
With that, Clinton began yet another chapter in her storied political career, while Obama began the process of introducing a new foreign policy team that he vowed would usher in "a new dawn of American leadership."
In a somber tone that seemed to reflect the serious international challenges that lie before his new team, Obama promised that his administration "will strengthen our capacity to defeat our enemies and support our friends."
"We will renew old alliances and forge new and enduring partnerships. We will show the world once more that America is relentless in defense of our people, steady in advancing our interests, and committed to the ideals that shine as a beacon to the world: democracy and justice; opportunity and unyielding hope–because American values are America's greatest export to the world.
"The team that we have assembled here today," Obama added, "is uniquely suited to do just that."
In addition to Clinton, the line-up included Robert Gates, President Bush's defense secretary, who will stay on at the Pentagon for at least a year.
Gen. James Jones, a retired Marine commandant and NATO supreme commander, will be Obama's national security advisor, while New York native and former deputy attorney general Eric Holder will be tapped as attorney general.
Rounding out the security team, Gov. Janet Napolitano of Arizona will be the next homeland security chief, and Susan Rice—Obama's campaign foreign policy advisor—will be his pick for U.N. ambassador.
Obama described it as a team of "strong personalities and strong opinions," with the experience and foresight to "regain American leadership in all its dimensions."
The president-elect said he would welcome the differences of opinion that will likely emerge as his new team of rivals attempts to grapple with the world's challenges.
But he also promised that there would be no confusion as to who the boss would be.
"As Harry Truman said, the buck will stop with me," Obama said.
Obama outlined what he saw as the strengths of each of his new cabinet picks, starting with Clinton—a woman he fought fiercely against during their two-year duel for the presidency.
As recently as last March, Obama openly mocked her foreign policy credentials as First Lady.
"What exactly is this foreign policy experience?" Obama said of his then primary rival. "Was she negotiating treaties? Was she handling crises? The answer is no."
But yesterday, Obama dismissed questions about those days, chalking up such statements to the rough and tumble of a presidential campaign.
He said there was no "light bulb moment" when he decided to pick Clinton as his secretary of state, but he suggested it was not a huge leap.
"I have always believed that she is tough and smart and disciplined, so I was always interested—after the primary was over—in finding ways we could collaborate," he said.
Earlier, he said of the former first lady, "She is an American of tremendous stature who will have my complete confidence; who knows many of the world's leaders; who will command respect in every capitol; and who will clearly have the ability to advance our interests around the world."
When the press conference was over, he walked arm-and-arm with Clinton off the stage, providing a new image of partnership and collegiality.