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Obama opts for establishment advisers

Barack Obama's campaign credo: Change is good. President-elect Barack Obama's credo: When it comes to war and peace, maybe wisdom is better.
Image: Defense Secretary Robert Gates
Defense Secretary Robert Gates, who has served as President George W. Bush's defense secretary for two years, will remain for the start of Barack Obama's administration.Susan Walsh / AP file
/ Source: The Associated Press

Barack Obama's campaign credo: Change is good. President-elect Barack Obama's credo: When it comes to war and peace, maybe wisdom is better.

Obama has assembled a national security brain trust populated by graybeard establishment figures with decades of combined experience and even a few medals. He is entrusting critical wartime management to people with unassailable credentials and low buzz factor.

The best example of the Obama Battleplan Version 2.0 is Robert Gates.

Obama's insurgent candidacy was founded on his opposition to the Iraq war and a promise to end it, fast. But with a crushing global financial crisis supplanting Iraq as Job One, the Democrat has turned to the very man running the Iraq and Afghan wars for the current Republican president, officials confirmed to The Associated Press.

"The old ways of thinking and the old ways of acting just won't do," Obama said at a news conference Wednesday.

At a Wednesday morning press conference, Obama pushed back against the notion that he was stocking his national security team with safe, centrist figures with Republican and Clinton administration backgrounds. "This has been sort of conventional wisdom floating around Washington that 'well, you know there's a recycling of people who were in the Clinton administration,'" he said.

Obama sought to turn the criticism on its head, suggesting that a critical era at home and abroad required strong Washington hands, but overseen by a chief executive pressing for change. "What we are going to do is combine experience with fresh thinking. But I understand where the vision for change comes from first, and foremost; it comes from me. That's my job, is to provide a vision in terms of where we are going and to make sure then that my team is implementing."

"The old ways of thinking and the old ways of acting just won't do," Obama said.

Gates, who has served as President George W. Bush's defense secretary for two years, will remain in the Cabinet for some time, probably a year, according to an official familiar with discussions between him and the president-elect. His appointment would fulfill an Obama pledge to include a Republican in his Cabinet.

"You have a young president still trying to establish his bona fides and he has to have a seasoned team," said Stephen Flanagan, director of the international security program at the Center for Strategic and International Studies.

Where do you go to get a seasoned team? Well, to people seasoned in one previous administration or another.

A source close to the current Pentagon leadership cautioned that Gates had not agreed to a specific exit date. Like those describing Obama's job offers, the source spoke on condition of anonymity because Obama has not announced the personnel choices.

Jones no liberal
For the critical inside job of national security adviser, Obama wants a 6-foot-4 retired Marine general who hung his hat most recently at the Chamber of Commerce. A Democratic official said retired Marine Gen. James Jones was Obama's pick to head the National Security Council, the part of the White House structure that deals with foreign policy.

Jones, 64, has been a respectful critic of some Bush administration war strategy, especially in Afghanistan, and his priorities and world view seem in line with Obama's. But he's no lefty. The former NATO Supreme Allied Commander in Europe was named last year to head an energy initiative for the Republican-friendly Chamber, and he also served as a special Mideast peace adviser for the Bush administration.

Democratic officials earlier confirmed that Obama had offered the prestigious post of secretary of state to Sen. Hillary Rodham Clinton.

The Clinton pick brings a vanquished opponent into Obama's fold. It also means the 47-year-old Obama is hiring a respected foreign policy wonk who argued during the tense Democratic primary that she was the person you really wanted answering that 3 a.m. phone call of doom.

'He has to have a seasoned team'
Obama is expected to announce his national security roster next week.

Flanagan counts Gates and Jones as career public servants without a strong ideological stamp. Clinton, 61, may carry ideological baggage, but she also brings a record of bipartisan cooperation in the Senate and tested Midwestern stick-to-it-iveness.

The Gates pick affords Obama some time to cope with the crumbling economy even as it risks disappointing the anti-war Democrats who launched him.

Gates was a member of the bipartisan Iraq Study Group and is widely respected by Democrats in Congress, but he retains strong Republican lineage.

The 65-year-old climbed the CIA bureaucracy from an entry-level position to become director under President George H.W. Bush. He also served on his National Security Council, as he had for Presidents Jimmy Carter and Ronald Reagan.

Close friend of Bush family
Gates helped lead U.S. efforts to drive the Soviets out of Afghanistan in the 1980s while at the CIA and was deputy national security adviser during Operation Desert Storm, the first U.S.-led invasion of Iraq.

Gates is a close friend of the Bush family. He was interim dean of the George Bush School of Government and Public Service at Texas A&M and became the university's president in 2002. The school is home to the elder Bush's presidential library.

When the younger Bush called, Gates reluctantly left his university post two years ago to take over the Pentagon from the rancorous Donald H. Rumsfeld.

Gates spokesman Geoff Morrell would not confirm that Gates has been offered the job by Obama.

"He has never closed the door on the possibility of serving if needed, but his preference has always been to go back home," when the Bush administration ends, Morrell said.

Gates supported the Iraq war and the military buildup there, although he has also endorsed new efforts to draw down forces in Iraq and beef up troop numbers in Afghanistan — a strategy also voiced by Obama.

Gates has won praise from Democrats for his willingness to work with all sides on Capitol Hill and his moves to swiftly can Pentagon leaders who he believed were not performing. During his brief tenure he has fired the Army and Air Force secretaries as well as the Air Force chief of staff.

'A lot of humility'
Jon Soltz, an Iraq war veteran and chairman of, a veterans advocacy group, said his group has been hard on the Bush administration but holds respect for Gates.

"He comes across as very honest, and has a lot of humility," Soltz said. And he's not worried that Gates will be hobbled by his previous associations.

"It's more about the policy than it is about the person in that role. It's the commander in chief that guides policy."