Saying that “the national security challenges we face are just as grave — and just as urgent — as our economic crisis,” President-elect Barack Obama announced the top members of his national security team at a press conference on Monday morning.
“[I]n the 21st century, our destiny is shared with the world’s. From our markets to our security; from our public health to our climate — we must act with the understanding that, now more than ever, we have a stake in what happens across the globe,” Obama said, continuing:
[T]he time has come for a new beginning — a new dawn of American leadership to overcome the challenges of the 21st century, and to seize the opportunities embedded in those challenges. We will strengthen our capacity to defeat our enemies and support our friends. We will renew old alliances and forge new and enduring partnerships. We will show the world once more that America is relentless in defense of our people, steady in advancing our interests, and committed to the ideals that shine as a beacon to the world: democracy and justice; opportunity and unyielding hope – because American values are America’s greatest export to the world.
To succeed, we must pursue a new strategy that skillfully uses, balances, and integrates all elements of American power: our military and diplomacy; our intelligence and law enforcement; our economy and the power of our moral example. The team that we have assembled here today is uniquely suited to do just that.
Despite these pronouncements about the future, the press conference provided reminders that — despite his frequent press conferences and the unusual pace of the roll-out of his administration — Obama is not the president yet. Asked during a question-and-answer session with the press about the terror attacks in Mumbai, the president-elect offered his condolences, but said, “This is one of those times where I have to reiterate — there is one president at a time. We’re going to be engaged in some very delicate diplomacy in the next several days and weeks, so I think it would be inappropriate for me to comment.”
There were no surprises in the announcements Obama made during the press conference; all of the nominations he announced, from Hillary Clinton at State to Susan Rice at the U.N., had been leaked to the press beforehand. But there was a slight surprise in that all of the people on stage Monday took the podium to speak briefly, something that had not happened during the press conferences that featured the economic team.
With Clinton on stage, as well as Bush Defense Secretary Robert Gates, there was bound to be a question about the much-discussed “team of rivals” concept and whether it would really work in practice. Obama dismissed the idea that there would be tension, saying the people on stage “would not have agreed to join my administration, and I would not have asked them to be part of this administration, unless we shared a core vision… I assembled this team because I am a strong believer in strong personalities and strong opinions. I think that’s how the best decisions are made. One of the dangers in the White House, based on my reading of history, is that you get wrapped up in groupthink.”
Obama also specifically addressed Clinton’s presence, saying, “This is fun for the press to try to stir up whatever quotes were generated in the course of the campaign — no, I understand — and you’re having fun, and there’s nothing wrong with that,” and adding that he and Clinton share a basic vision about the country’s security.