Obama’s new national security team

President-elect Barack Obama formally announced his national security team: Sen. Hillary Clinton, Defense Secretary Robert Gates, former NATO commander James Jones, and Arizona Gov. Janet Napolitano.

President-elect Barack Obama this week formally named his former bitter rival Sen. Hillary Clinton as secretary of state, one of several national security appointments Obama said signaled “a new dawn of American leadership.” Obama also announced that Defense Secretary Robert Gates would be keeping his position, the first time an incoming president from a rival party has retained a Pentagon chief. Former NATO commander James Jones was given the national security advisor slot, and Arizona Gov. Janet Napolitano was named secretary of homeland security.

In accepting the nomination from the man she belittled as unready to lead during the presidential campaign, Clinton vowed to “give this assignment, your administration, and my country my all.” Her path was cleared after her husband, former President Bill Clinton, agreed to limit his international speeches and to disclose the names of 200,000 contributors to his international charity foundation.

America is beginning to learn how Obama “will actually govern,” said Jim VandeHei and Mike Allen in Politico.com. This team of big egos could lead to a “dysfunctional snake pit,” but Obama is willing to take that chance to get top talent. Clearly, he is more impressed by “credentials than familiarity and loyalty.”

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If negotiations with Iran or other countries go sour, said The Wall Street Journal in an editorial, Obama may long for some loyalty. One duty of presidential aides is to fall on their swords when the administration screws up. But Clinton’s primary instinct is self-preservation. The Clinton camp is also notorious for waging battle through press leaks. Should the day come when Obama wants to let Clinton go, “he will be taking on the entire Clinton entourage—starting, of course, with Bill Clinton himself.

Everyone assumes that Bill Clinton will embarrass Obama with his freelance globe-trotting, said Joe Conason in Salon.com. In truth, “his capacity to mobilize political, corporate, and civic forces on behalf of benign objectives” is in perfect synch with Obama’s own vision about the uses of “soft power.” If Obama—and Hillary—can keep Bill under reasonable control, he could prove to be a tremendous asset.

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