Panel Reviews Obama's National Security Team

Panel Reviews Obama's National Security Team

FOX News Special Report With Brit Hume - December 1, 2008


OBAMA: I'm a strong believer in strong personalities and strong opinions. I think that's how the best decisions are made. So I'm going to be welcoming a vigorous debate inside the White House.

But understand I will be setting policy as president. I will be responsible for the vision that this team carries out, and I expect them to implement that vision once decisions are made.


BAIER: President-elect Obama today rolling out his national security team. Among them, Hillary Clinton as secretary of state, Robert Gates staying on at the Pentagon, Eric Holder as Attorney General, Janet Napolitano, Homeland Security, retired marine General James Jones as National Security Advisor, and Susan Rice as U.S. ambassador to the UN, which the president-elect said he will raise to cabinet level again.

So what about this rollout and what this team means for this administration incoming? Now some analytical observations from Fred Barnes, Executive Editor of "The Weekly Standard," Mara Liasson, National Political Correspondent with National Public Radio, and syndicated columnist Charles Krauthammer, FOX News contributors all.

Mara, let's start you with.

MARA LIASSON, NATIONAL POLITICAL CORRESPONDENT, NATIONAL PUBLIC RADIO: A lot of continuity, a lot of strong people. He certainly isn't afraid to have a former rival in the cabinet with him. I think it's very reassuring. It's very centrist, experienced, and pragmatic.

It doesn't sound like he's going to make a radical departure in foreign policy from the last phase of the Bush foreign policy.

BAIER: Charles, he was asked in this press conference about some of statements he made about Hillary Clinton in the primary, that her foreign policy experience amounted at one point amounted to having tea with leaders around the world.

He said that was then, this is now.

CHARLES KRAUTHAMMER, SYNDICATED COLUMNIST: He did not raise her combat experience in Tuzla. He sidestepped it the way you'd expect him to do. He's rather nimble.

But I think Mara is right about the centrism of his appointments. If he has Clinton in the cabinet at that high a post and James Jones, who are the quintessential centrist establishment figures, and he keeps Bob Gates on at Defense, that's the kind of change I can believe in.

It is, I'm sure, a disappointment to his left. But even more disturbing, I'll bet, is what he said about Iraq. That was really--he gave about every caveat he could for his withdrawal statement.

As we heard earlier, he said "It's only combat troops," which means he is leaving in a lot of residuals. Secondly, he said he will speak with his generals, which is a way of saying it will depend on conditions on the ground.

Third, he said it will have to be consistent with American safety. And fourth, he added, in case you weren't aware of how much room he wanted to actually give himself, he said it has to be consistent with the safety of Iraqis as their own government takes over.

Now, that's a huge amount of space. He understands that if he blows Iraq, which I think is perceived today as a won war, if he blows it, it will poison his presidency. And he will not allow himself to be locked into a timetable which could undo all that's been gained.

BAIER: In fact, Jennifer Griffin reported tonight that of the 146,000 troops often on the ground in Iraq, technically 50,400 are listed as combat troops by the Pentagon. So there is a lot of wiggle room when you start talking semantics--Fred?

FRED BARNES, EXECUTIVE EDITOR, "THE WEEKLY STANDARD": He has named Bob Gates at defense and Jim Jones as National Security Advisor. Jones didn't support the surge, but both have publicly talked about not withdrawing American troops from Iraq too quickly.

And, besides, now that there is a status of forces agreement between the U.S. and Iraq, which says that all American troops should be out by the end of 2011, then that's the governing thing now, not some statement that Obama made during the campaign.

But I have to say, if you told me a couple of months ago that Bob Gates would stay in Defense and Hillary would be Secretary of State and Jim Jones was going to be National Security Advisor, I would have thought you were crazy. And yet there they are.

And he elevated Susan Rice, who, Mara, you'll remember, she was rumored as a possible National Security Advisor just a few months ago. She might have cabinet status, but she has been exiled to the U.N. So she's not going to be a factor.

Poor Joe Biden won't be a factor either. Hillary will squash him.

And I think John Kerry really is expected to be Secretary of State. After all it was at his convention that Obama was picked to give the keynote address, that famous speech in 2004, and yet Kerry is nowhere.

This is, as Mara said, this is a continuity group on Iran, on Iraq, on dealing with India, probably on the Middle East, on Afghanistan. This is the Bush policy carried into Obama administration.

BAIER: Mara, if you are a liberal, or as they like to say, a progressive, and you're looking at today's news conference, are you cringing? Are you saying I hope Obama can steer this ship?

LIASSON: Yes, you are probably saying that.

There is a tremendous amount of forbearance and deference and goodwill towards Obama on the left. I don't hear the kind of griping and grousing that you would expect.

Now, when they look at this cabinet, it's not an antiwar cabinet by any stretch of the imagination--16 months has gone out the window, I think we can say that.

But they do hear him say that he wants more diplomacy, he wants to spend a lot more resources on that. Where exactly he's going to get the resources I don't know, but he's going to try.

Look, I think that the left has so many things to be happy about that they're willing to swallow some of the things they're not happy about. But clearly, it is not a left wing cabinet.

For more visit the FOX News Special Report web page.

FOX News Special Report With Brit Hume


Follow Real Clear Politics

Latest On Twitter