President-elect Barack Obama's cabinet choices for his national security team were made official today, as he announced Hillary Clinton as secretary of state, Robert Gates as defense secretary, and Eric Holder as attorney general.
Other appointments Obama made public this morning were Arizona Gov. Janet Napolitano as homeland security secretary, his campaign's foreign policy adviser Susan Rice as United Nations ambassador, and former Marine Gen. James Jones as national security adviser.
He reportedly has also chosen former Senate Democratic leader Tom Daschle as health and human services secretary and New Mexico Gov. Bill Richardson as secretary of commerce.
Now, Obama has only half of his cabinet to fill. He has said that he wants to move with "deliberate haste" to get the country on the right track as soon as possible once in office.
Many see his national security appointments as more hawkish than he is. At the same time, they represent a shift in foreign policy toward one that recognizes the limits of the military alone and focuses on preventing conflicts and fixing failed states. In Afghanistan, this would mean redoubling efforts for reconstruction in the country, which has lagged despite President Bush's promises.
"The strength of our military has to be combined with the wisdom and force of our diplomacy," Obama said at a press conference this morning. "We are going to be committed to rebuilding and strengthening alliances around the world to advance American interests and American security."
Obama's pick of Susan Rice as ambassador to the United Nations also sends a message, noted by leaders at home and abroad, that the United States will be tougher in opposing genocide. Rice has advocated more muscular action, including military force if necessary, against mass killings like those in Sudan.
Obama also announced that he will restore the post to the cabinet, as it was under Bill Clinton. That sends another message—that the new administration plans to prioritize engagement with the U.N. "The global challenges we face demand global institutions that work," Obama said, calling the U.N. "an indispensable, if imperfect, forum."
As much as they tell the world about how the president-elect plans to lead, Obama's appointments also reveal a great deal about him. They show that, talk of change aside, Obama is a politician. And he's one who has turned out not to sweep old Washington aside after all, but to welcome many of its faces into the Obama fold.
But they show that he also is an intellectual, more interested by someone's credentials than by loyalty. He's also willing to take risks that could alienate some supporters, such as by choosing rival Clinton and Republican Gates.
His desire for alternate views—as long as those views agree on their core vision of America's role in the world—played a key part in his picks, he said.
"I assembled this team because I'm a strong believer in strong personalities and strong opinions," Obama said. "I think that's how the best decisions are made. One of the dangers in the White House, based on my reading of history, is that you get wrapped up in groupthink, and everyone agrees with everything, and there is no discussion, and there are no dissenting views. So, I am going to be welcoming a vigorous debate in the White House."
Even so, he added, "understand that I will be setting policy in the White House."
- Read about Robert Gates's selection as one of America's Best Leaders by U.S. News.
- Read more about Obama's transition.