A new doctrine of 'soft power'

Presenting national security team, Obama vows increased diplomacy

Obama's Transition

December 02, 2008|By Paul Richter | Paul Richter,Tribune Washington Bureau

WASHINGTON - President-elect Barack Obama introduced yesterday his national security team, made up of centrist Washington insiders, and promised an overhaul of foreign policy to give added emphasis to diplomacy and bring a "new dawn of American leadership."

Appearing at a Chicago news conference with Secretary of State nominee Sen. Hillary Clinton and five others whom he plans to put on his team, Obama said his administration would restore U.S. standing in the world through alliance-building and international institutions, as well as by maintaining U.S. military power.

U.S. military might "has to be combined with the wisdom and force of our diplomacy," said Obama. He pledged that the nation would exert influence by "the power of our moral example." His words seemed aimed at drawing a contrast with the Bush administration, which has been widely seen as emphasizing military force and unilateral action.

In one sign of the importance the new president will place on international institutions, Obama said the job of ambassador to the United Nations would again have Cabinet rank, as it had under President Bill Clinton.

Obama said he would nominate Susan E. Rice, a former State Department official, to the U.N. post. The national security team will also include Defense Secretary Robert M. Gates, who will continue in his current role; retired Marine Gen. James L. Jones Jr., the new national security adviser; Gov. Janet Napolitano of Arizona, the nominee for secretary of Homeland Security; and former deputy attorney general Eric H. Holder Jr., the attorney general nominee.

Even as Obama emphasized his plans for a break from Bush policy, there were abundant reminders that the new team will struggle with familiar problems and that there would be substantial continuity in the way they must deal with them.

Obama said his administration would be committed to maintaining "the strongest military on the planet" and to beefing up the Army and Marine Corps.

While emphasizing new efforts to win friends abroad, he promised to continue the campaign against terrorists because "there is no place for those who kill innocent civilians to advance hateful extremism."

Obama acknowledged that while his new administration intended to turn to non-military or "soft power" approaches to overseas challenges, it enters office facing crises that might call for the same use of U.S. troops and intelligence that Bush has relied on. He cited the terrorist attack in Mumbai and the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan, asserting that "the national security challenges we face are just as grave and just as urgent as our economic crisis."

Obama also gave hints of his foreign policy priorities. He said he still believed that the 16-month period for withdrawal of U.S. combat troops from Iraq that he promised in the campaign is "the right time frame" and that Gates and the military leadership would be ordered from the outset to devise a withdrawal plan.

But he said he would consider the recommendations of his military advisers on implementing the plan and would take into account the safety of U.S. troops and Iraqi interests.

He noted his interest in pushing from the start for Arab-Israeli peace, even though many observers are deeply pessimistic about the outlook for the conflict.

Critics have questioned whether Obama will be able to guide U.S. foreign policy with a team of strong-willed veterans led by Clinton, who was his fierce rival during the long presidential primary campaign. But Obama said the choice reflected his belief in "strong personalities and strong opinions. I think that's how the best decisions are made."

Clinton, Gates and Jones have worked together in the past and agree on some, though not all issues. Yet the holders of those three posts have often collided in past administrations, especially under the pressure of wars and other foreign policy crises.

Obama said the team members believe they can get along. He promised: "I will be responsible for the vision that this team carries out."

Obama has chosen a centrist team in part to ensure broad political support as he takes on the politically risky effort of winding down the Iraq commitment while seeking a new approach to the Afghan war, which he says is now being lost.

In introducing his team, Obama stressed qualifications that were likely to appeal to conservatives as well as those of other political stripes.

He pointed out that Jones, who served in the Vietnam War, won a Silver Star and that "generations of his family served heroically on the battlefield, from the beaches of Tarawa in World War II to Foxtrot Ridge in Vietnam."

He noted that Gates had won respect in both political parties "for his pragmatism and competence."

Obama's selections have won praise from Republicans. William Kristol, editor of the conservative Weekly Standard, said on Fox News Sunday that the new Obama team will be largely continuing the second-term foreign policy of the Bush administration.

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