Video: Speculation on Obama's defense moves

updated 11/13/2008 2:22:24 PM ET 2008-11-13T19:22:24

The U.S. Defense Department will give President-elect Barack Obama's transition team a rundown of "key decision points" he will face in his first 90 days as commander in chief, a senior official said Thursday.

Eric Edelman, the policy chief for Defense Secretary Robert Gates, told a group of reporters that briefings for Obama's defense transition team will be intentionally "non-prescriptive," avoiding trying to sell the Defense Department's current policies and instead laying out a timeline to prepare the incoming team.

"We've tried to sketch out a timeline for the department as a whole" and for individual agencies within the department, "by issue, of the key decision points that the new administration is going to face in the first 90 days of its term," Edelman said.

"We've tried to be non-prescriptive, which is to say, look, here's the timeline, here's the decision points you will face, here are the choices that you will face," without recommending policy choices, he said.

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Edelman declined to list the decision points, saying they had not yet been briefed to the Obama transition team. But in general, he said, they include such things as NATO defense ministers meetings and defense budget deadlines. He singled out the budget as one of the major issues facing the new administration, given the current global financial crisis and its likely impact not only on Pentagon funding for the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan but also for war-related resources at the State Department.

This is the first wartime presidential transition in 40 years.

Edelman, who said he is retiring from government in January, said he has been involved in every transition at the Pentagon since 1981. He asserted that the Gates group is "light years ahead" of where the outgoing Pentagon team was when President George H.W. Bush handed off to President Bill Clinton in 1993.

It remains unclear whether Obama will ask Gates to stay on as Pentagon chief; Edelman offered no hints but said "a very high percentage" of Pentagon officials canvassed by Gates in recent months have said they are willing to remain in their posts after Inauguration Day if the new administration asks them.

Asked about decisions the Obama administration will face on striking a balance between resources for Iraq and Afghanistan, Edelman said he expects that U.S. commanders in Iraq will take a conservative approach to reducing U.S. force levels there, in order not to jeopardize recent security gains — even as commanders in Afghanistan appeal for more troops and other war-fighting resources now tied up in Iraq.

"There'll be a tension, for sure," he said.

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