Obama gears up to hit ground running with diverse cabinet pick

January 2nd, 2009 - 1:42 pm ICT by IANS  

Barack ObamaWashington, Jan 2 (IANS) Winning the presidency on a promise of change, Barack Obama has chosen a band of talented experienced individuals to hit the ground running when he takes over from President George W. Bush Jan 20.The incoming president’s cabinet picks are diverse. They include two Republicans, five women, three Hispanics, three African Americans, two Asian Americans and an Arab American.

Obama, who would be the first African American to occupy the White House, has picked his vanquished Democratic rival, Hillary Clinton, to be his chief diplomat to handle brewing international issues ranging from the Gaza crisis to the terrorist safe havens in Pakistan threatening the US and India alike.

Apart from former president Bill Clinton’s wife, the president-elect has dipped liberally into the Clintonite talent pool to assemble a team to deal with America’s greatest economic crisis since the Great Depression of 1929 and other domestic issues ranging from health insurance to illegal immigrants.

Besides Hillary Clinton, Obama’s national security team will feature another familiar face - outgoing president Bush’s Secretary of Defence Robert Gates, who is credited with reshaping US efforts in Iraq and Afghanistan since 2006, picking up the pieces left by his predecessor Donald Rumsfeld.

Obama has made his cabinet selections much sooner than most of his 43 predecessors did, and his would be appointees have been meeting their outgoing counterparts in more than a hundred departments and agencies to learn the ropes before they take over.

But they will all have to be formally nominated by Obama once he becomes president and confirmed by the Senate. Hillary Clinton for one is yet to resign from her current job as the junior senator from New York pending her confirmation in the new post.

Hillary Clinton was at one point during the presidential run mocked by the Obama campaign in a memo as “Hillary Clinton (D-Punjab)” - or the Democratic senator from Punjab - because of the close ties with India forged during her husband’s presidency and later as US senator and presidential candidate.

The memo that created a furore in India and the Indian-American community was later disavowed by Obama as “a dumb mistake” and “not reflective of the long-standing relationship I have had with the Indian-American community”.

Now as Secretary of State-nominee Hillary Clinton will face an early test of her influence in South Asia with Obama describing instability and the rise of militants in that region as “the single most important threat against the American people” following the Nov 26 attacks in Mumbai by Pakistan-based terrorists.

Announcing her appointment, Obama said: “Hillary’s appointment is a sign to friend and foe of the seriousness of my commitment to renew American diplomacy and restore our alliances.”

At defence, Obama said Gates and the US military will be asked to responsibly end the war in Iraq “through a successful transition to Iraqi control” and to “ensure that we have the strategy - and resources - to succeed against Al Qaida and the Taliban”.

With the economy to be a top concern early in his presidency, Obama’s first post-election announcements focussed on members of his economic team with Timothy Geithner as secretary of the treasury to oversee the financial security of the US in a time of turmoil.

As head of the Federal Reserve Bank of New York, Geithner has already been closely involved with many of the key decisions in the Bush administration’s response to the crisis.

Obama also announced Arizona Governor Janet Napolitano as his choice for secretary of homeland security, former Marine Corps General James Jones as his national security adviser and Susan Rice as the next US ambassador to the United Nations.

During the transition, Obama has stressed his commitment to science, technology and curbing climate change. Among those who will lead the way on scientific and climate issues is Secretary of Energy-designate Steven Chu, a Nobel Prize-winning physicist.

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