CHICAGO, Ill. (AP) – President-elect Barack Obama picked a national security team headed by former campaign rival Hillary Rodham Clinton and Bush administration holdover Robert Gates on Monday, and said he wants to consult with military commanders before settling on a firm timetable to withdraw U.S. combat troops from Iraq.
Obama said a newly completed agreement between Iraq and the Bush administration covering U.S. troop presence signals “a transition period in which our mission is changing” after a long war.
The President-elect campaigned on a call to pull out most combat troops within 16 months of taking office, a period he still believes “is the right time frame.”
Obama named Clinton, a New York senator, as secretary of state and said Gates would remain as defense secretary – a post he has held for the past two years.
At a news conference, the President-elect also introduced retired Marine Gen. James Jones as White House national security adviser, former Justice Department official Eric Holder as attorney general, Arizona Gov. Janet Napolitano as secretary of homeland security and Susan Rice as United Nations ambassador.
“I assembled this team because I am a strong believer in strong personalities and strong opinions,” he said.
He introduced Clinton first, his former presidential rival. “She possesses an extraordinary intelligence and toughness, and a remarkable work ethic … 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 capital, and who will clearly have the ability to advance our interests around the world,” Obama said.
“I am proud to join you … and may God bless you and our great country,” the former first lady said in a brief turn at the lectern.
Obama also appointed campaign foreign policy aide Susan Rice as his ambassador to the United Nations. Obama said he would make her a member of the Cabinet, an increase in stature from the Bush era.
Clinton, Holder, Napolitano and Rice all require confirmation by the Senate.
Obama drew criticism during the campaign, including some from Clinton, when he said the United States would be justified in pursuing al-Qaida terrorists in Pakistan if it had actionable intelligence.
Last winter, in a debate on Feb. 26, then-candidate Clinton said of Obama, “Last summer, he basically threatened to bomb Pakistan, which I don’t think was a particularly wise position to take.”
Obama said disagreements sometimes are magnified during campaigns. As for his one-time rival, now Cabinet choice, “I believe that there is no more effective advocate than Hillary Clinton for that well-rounded view of how we advance American interests,” he said.
Clinton had scarcely finished speaking when her husband issued a written statement. “She is the right person for the job of helping to restore America’s image abroad, end the war in Iraq, advance peace and increase our security, by building a future for our children with more partners and fewer adversaries, one of shared responsibilities and opportunities,” he said.
Gates’ appointment fulfilled one campaign promise of Obama’s, the naming of a Republican to his Cabinet.
Gates said he was “honored to serve President-elect Obama.”