Less than six months after Senator Hillary Clinton asked Americans if they trusted Barack Obama to be their commander in chief when the phone rings at 3 a.m. with an emergency, Obama nominated his former Democratic primary rival to be his secretary of state.
The nomination, which was expected, was officially announced on Monday morning (Devember 1) during a press conference from Chicago. It was the first sign that, as Obama has promised, he is willing to go across the aisle and reach out to those who have opposed him in the past while putting together his cabinet.
"They wouldn't have joined, and I wouldn't have asked, if we couldn't work together," Obama said of the team he unveiled, which also included another expected nomination, that of current Secretary of Defense Robert Gates to remain in that post. The re-up for the non-politically aligned Gates is seen as a reassuring move at a time when the United States is still deeply engaged in wars in Iraq and Afghanistan.
The transformation of Clinton, whom Obama called an "American of tremendous stature who will have my complete confidence," from bitter foe to close adviser is seen as a savvy but potentially thorny one by Obama. While he will be bringing the experienced senator into his fold, he will also have to work closely with his former adversary on important international issues while trying to set aside the slights of the past, and avoid the potential entanglements from former President Bill Clinton's many international business efforts since he left office.
"I have known Hillary Clinton as a friend, a colleague, a source of counsel and a tough campaign opponent," Obama said on Monday. "She's an American of tremendous stature ... who will command respect in every capital and who will clearly have the ability to advance our interests around the world."
Obama said he had no doubt that the former first lady would be the right person to lead the State Department, and when asked about comments he made during the campaign that Clinton's many trips overseas were mostly "teas" with foreign leaders, he laughed off the rehashing of those claims as the press trying to have fun. Obama cited Clinton's experience on the Armed Services Committee in the Senate, her relationships with world leaders and their mutual discussions about how to strengthen America's posture overseas as evidence of her qualifications for the job.
Clinton thanked Obama and said that while leaving her duties representing the people of New York will be difficult, she looks forward to this new challenge. "I am proud to join you on what will be a difficult and exciting adventure in this new century," she said.
Obama also nominated Washington, D.C., lawyer Eric Holder as attorney general, and Arizona Governor Janet Napolitano — whose name was mentioned as a potential vice-presidential nominee earlier this year — will head the Department of Homeland Security. The other two announcements on Monday were for non-cabinet senior foreign-policy posts: foreign-policy adviser Susan Rice as United Nations ambassador and retired Marine Corps General James L. Jones as national security adviser.
Obama said he and his new team — which one CNN commentator described as "muscular" — share a vision, and that one reason he chose the people he did is that after studying history he was trying to avoid the insular "groupthink" that has plagued some previous administrations. He promised that he will welcome "vigorous debate inside the White House" from the group with "strong personalities and strong opinions," but made it clear that he will ultimately be the one setting policy.
"The buck will stop with me," Obama said.
In light of the devastating terror attacks in Mumbai, India, last week that took the lives of nearly 200 people, Obama stressed that it is more important than ever for the United States to participate in global affairs, saying "our destiny is shared with the world's." He said he looks forward to a "new dawn of American leadership," and that he plans to renew old alliances and forge new ones after a period during which the country's image abroad has suffered serious damage.
Asked if he would stick to his commitment of pulling out combat troops from Iraq within 16 months of taking office, Obama said he will work closely with Gates to end the American troop commitment in Iraq and listen to his cabinet's counsel on that matter. "I will be giving Secretary Gates and our military a new mission as soon as I take office, responsibly ending the war in Iraq through a successful transition to Iraqi control," said Obama.
"I am confident that this team is what we need to make a new beginning in national security," Obama said.
Though the announcements haven't been made yet, The Associated Press reported that Obama has also settled on former Senate Democratic leader Tom Daschle to head the Department of Health and Human Services and New Mexico Governor Bill Richardson as commerce secretary; those announcements are expected soon.
Less than a month after his [news id="1598607"]historic election[/news], Obama has already assembled almost half of his Cabinet, moving at record speed to establish an experienced, tested team that can handle the challenges he will face from day one, ranging from the ongoing economic meltdown to the ongoing wars and crumbling national infrastructure. He announced his economic team last week.