Barack Obama asks Robert Gates to stay at Pentagon

By Arun Kumar, IANS,

Washington : Seeking experience in a time of war, US president-elect Barack Obama has asked President George Bush’s Defence Secretary Robert Gates to stay in his job at the Pentagon, if only temporarily.

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Obama, who campaigned on a platform of “change” has also chosen a retired Marine general James Jones to be his national security adviser to bring years of experience to the cabinet, media reports said Tuesday citing Democratic Party officials.

Gates, who replaced Donald Rumsfeld as Bush’s defence chief in December 2006, will remain in the cabinet for some time, probably a year, diverse media said citing “an official familiar with discussions between the two men”.

One source cited by CNN called it “all but a done deal” and that the announcement could come as early as next week.

Obama is interested in some continuity at the Pentagon because he is entering office while dealing with two wars in Iraq and Afghanistan as well as the international financial crisis, it said citing sources close to the transition team.

Jones was Obama’s pick to head the National Security Council, the part of the White House structure that deals with foreign policy, the Washington Post said citing an unnamed Democratic official.

Obama, who rolled out the key components of his economic team this week, plans to announce his foreign policy team after the Thanksgiving holiday Thursday. He is expected to name former First Lady Hillary Clinton as the Secretary of State.

Obama’s latest moves not only solidify a national security team with star power, but also strong centrist and establishment ties that run counter to his campaign calls for change and a speedy withdrawal from Iraq, the Post noted.

Gates, a moderate with long-standing ties to Republican administrations and the Bush family, would fulfil an Obama pledge to include a Republican in his cabinet.

Gates has run the department since December 2006, reluctantly giving up his post as president of Texas A&M University to replace Rumsfeld when the Iraq war seemed to be failing.

He was part of the 2006 Iraq Study Group, a bipartisan panel led by former secretary of state James Baker III and former representative Lee Hamilton, that was asked to help chart a new course in the flagging war.

A native of Kansas, Gates joined the CIA in 1966. By 1987, he became acting CIA director when William Casey was terminally ill with cancer.

As Obama’s choice for national security adviser, Jones has impeccable military credentials, an ambassador’s polish and an imposing physical presence at 6 foot 4 inches.

He’s highly regarded by Republicans and Democrats on Capitol Hill, and as the NATO alliance’s top commander – his last assignment before retiring from the military in early 2007. He’s a respected figure in capitals across Europe.

Meanwhile, the head of Obama’s intelligence transition team John Brennan said he is withdrawing his name from consideration for director of the CIA.

In a letter to Obama, the former senior intelligence officer cited strong criticism from people who associated his work at the CIA with controversial Bush administration policies on interrogation techniques and the war in Iraq, CNN said.

Brennan defended himself against such accusations, saying, “the fact that I was not involved in the decision-making process for any of these controversial policies and actions has been ignored” by his critics.

“The challenges ahead of our nation are too daunting, and the role of the CIA too critical, for there to be any distraction from the vital work that lays ahead,” he wrote.