CABINET PRESSER Barack Obama held his fourth press conference in seven days this morning, introducing his national security team. As expected, Hillary Clinton will be Secretary of State, Robert Gates will stay on as Defense Secretary, Eric Holder will be the Attorney General, and Janet Napolitano will be Secretary of Homeland Security. Moreover, retired Marine Gen. Jim Jones will be the White House National Security Advisor and Susan Rice will be the Ambassador to the United Nations.
None of this was especially surprising, though Obama did use the event to announce that Rice, as the U.N. ambassador, would hold a cabinet-level post, restoring the position that existed before Bush took office.
Obama’s comments on the wars in the Middle East were especially interesting, given that he’s keeping Bush’s Defense Secretary around for another term. From the introductions:
“As I said throughout the campaign, 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. We will also ensure that we have the strategy — and resources — to succeed against al Qaeda and the Taliban. As Bob said not too long ago, Afghanistan is where the war on terror began, and it is where it must end. And going forward, we will continue to make the investments necessary to strengthen our military and increase our ground forces to defeat the threats of the 21st century.”
Asked about his approach to Iraq during the Q&A, Obama reiterated his support for a 16-month withdrawal timeline. The president-elect noted that he would work with commanders on how best to execute the withdrawal policy, but Obama referred to the 16-month schedule as “the right time-frame.”
Standing a few feet away was, of course, Robert Gates. It was a reminder that Bush’s Pentagon chief will be called upon to do exactly what Obama promised voters he would do, and Gates is prepared to take on that task. Insert obligatory reference to bipartisan cover for Obama’s foreign policy here.
Greg Sargent added, “Obviously, the devil will be in the details over what sort of timing Gates sees as necessary for “responsibly” ending the war. And there will be plenty of room for disagreement ahead on that and other fronts. But the fact that Obama went out of his way to reiterate his commitment to ending the war at his first presser with Gates seems noteworthy and encouraging.”