US President-elect Barack Obama stands with his national security team nominees during a news conference in Chicago on Monday, December 1. (Photo: Reuters)
Washington - President-elect Barack Obama called for "a new dawn of American leadership" on Monday as he formally introduced his national security team, led by Senator Hillary Rodham Clinton as his nominee for secretary of state.
"We will strengthen our capacity to defeat our enemies and support our friends," Mr. Obama said in Chicago. "We will renew old alliances and forge new and enduring partnerships."
The new president said he was sticking to his goal of removing American combat troops from Iraq within 16 months, which he called "the right time frame," and that this would be accomplished with safety for the troops and security for the Iraqi people.
He introduced his team one by one, starting with Senator Clinton, his former bitter rival for the Democratic presidential nomination; then Defense Secretary Robert M. Gates, who will stay on, at least for a time, in the new administration; Gen. James L. Jones, the former NATO commander, to be national security adviser; Gov. Janet Napolitano of Arizona to be secretary of homeland security: Susan E. Rice to be ambassador to the United Nations, and Eric H. Holder Jr. to be attorney general.
All of the nominations had been forecast, and the president-elect's announcement contained no surprises. It did, however, contain some not very thinly veiled criticism of the Bush administration.
"Hillary's appointment is a sign to friend and foe of the seriousness of my commitment to renew American diplomacy and restore our alliances," Mr. Obama said, apparently alluding to the effects of President Bush's Iraq policy - which the president-elect has bitterly criticized - on America's international relationships.
And when the new president introduced Mr. Holder, he said: "Let me be clear: The attorney general serves the American people, and I have every expectation that Eric will protect our people, uphold the public trust and adhere to our Constitution."
President Bush's handling of the Justice Department has often been criticized, with much of the denunciation focused on former Attorney General Alberto R. Gonzales, who was portrayed by many Democrats and some Republicans on Capitol Hill as little more than Mr. Bush's personal lawyer.
Senator Patrick J. Leahy, the Vermont Democrat who heads the Senate Judiciary Committee and has been a frequent critic of the Justice Department, said Mr. Holder was a superb choice to carry out the agency's top priority, "rebuilding morale and public confidence."
The choice of Senator Clinton to be the country's top diplomat has drawn the most attention in recent weeks, in part because of the months-long duel between her and Mr. Obama for the nomination that once was viewed as all but certain to go to her. But the bitterness of their contest seemed all but forgotten on Monday, as Mr. Obama introduced the senator as "my dear friend."
"Mr. President-elect, thank you for this honor," Senator Clinton said. "If confirmed, I will give this assignment, your administration and our country my all."
Vice President-elect Joseph R. Biden Jr. called the group "one of the most talented national security teams ever assembled."
Mr. Obama said he chose his team because he believes in "strong personalities and strong opinions."
"I think that's how the best decisions are made," he said.
Barring extraordinary surprises, the confirmation of Mr. Obama's choices seems assured. For one thing, there is a tradition of giving a new president his own team of Cabinet-level advisers. Then, too, senators from both parties who will vote on whether to confirm the nominees offered warm praise in advance.
"Strong, bipartisan and highly competent," Senator Harry Reid of Nevada, the Democratic majority leader, said of Mr. Obama's team. He predicted broad support from senators in both parties.
Senator John Kerry, the Massachusetts Democrat who will become chairman of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, said, "President-elect Obama has chosen a terrific national security team to protect our security and help restore America's rightful place in the world." s He promised a "swift and fair confirmation process."
New York's other Democratic senator, Charles E. Schumer, called Ms. Clinton "a terrific partner to work with in the Senate, and a great friend." He said he would miss her presence in the Senate but was sure she would make an excellent secretary of state. Mrs. Clinton's spokesman, Philippe Reines, told the Associated Press that Mrs. Clinton would keep her Senate seat until she is confirmed in her new post.
The foreign relations committee's leading Republican, Senator Richard G. Lugar of Indiana, described the president-elect's choices as "excellent" in a Sunday interview on ABC. "I look forward to working with each one of them," Mr. Lugar said.