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Obama's Foreign Policy Team Earns High Praise, But Concern About Clintons

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With President-elect Barack Obama set to announce his foreign policy team on Monday, the names expected to fill out the squad were widely praised on the Sunday political talk show circuit. But the "team of rivals" didn't escape scrutiny.

Republicans Senators Lindsey Graham and Dick Lugar both said that Obama's potential appointments for Hillary Clinton as Secretary of State and Jim Jones as National Security Adviser showed a pragmatic, non-ideological approach to addressing international concerns. They gushed even more over the president-elect's apparent decision to keep Defense Secretary Bob Gates at his current post.

"Secretary Gates is a great choice," said Graham, who was reminded that he had once said he feared the day that Barack Obama became commander-in-chief. "Jim Jones, known him for a long time, former NATO commander. He opposed the surge early on, but he's a four-star general with a lot of national security knowledge. Senator Clinton is a friend, is known throughout the world, very smart, a little harder line than Senator Obama took during the campaign."

Other Senators, including Democrats Claire McCaskill and Jack Reed, followed suit, saying that Obama had siphoned off the cream of the crop when it came to staffing his foreign policy team. Many TV pundits concurred, arguing that the president-elect had done the best he could to hit the ground running come January 20th.

There were, as always, a few sticking points. Reed refuted the notion that Gates appointment was proof that Democrats couldn't handle the duties of running the Pentagon.

"I think it speaks volumes about Bob Gates, and says nothing about the capacity of Democrats," he replied. "There are so many talented Democrats in the national security field that were being considered. I think this situation was so important because at this transition moment, you need the continuity."

There was speculation about whether Obama -- by appointing individuals who, generally speaking, took a harder line on the Iraq War -- would recant his pledge of a 16-month timetable for U.S. troop withdrawals. Juan Williams, the liberal commentator on Fox News Sunday, said yes. Brit Hume, the conservative voice, said no ("I think that the war is basically won," he argued). Read into that what you may.

The most contentious argument, however, revolved around the role Hillary Clinton and, by extension, her husband, would play in Foggy Bottom. While Lugar said that as a member of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee he would support her appointment to State, he raised concerns about the former president's financial dealings. Speaking hours after it was reported that Bill Clinton would reveal some 200,000 donors to his presidential library, the Indiana Republican seemed un-impressed.

"I would vote in favor of Senator Clinton knowing what we have here today," said Lugar. "I suspect that I am not alone in suggesting that questions will be raised. And probably legitimate questions."

"What more could Senator Clinton do?" asked host George Stephanopoulos.

"I don't know, frankly," replied Lugar. "I would just suspect that given all of the ties and the influence that he has, the relationships. He is a major player in foreign policy. Mrs. Clinton will be the Secretary of State. They are married, a team."

Both Reed and Lugar, it should be noted, though the former President could serve a constructive even crucial role as a diplomat and mediator to the burgeoning hostilities between Pakistan and India.

Torie Clarke, the former Department of Defense spokesperson, echoed many of the vague concerns that Lugar had previously voiced.

"Her entire life, it's not just what she does and how she performs. What about Bill Clinton and his role? And I look at all the things they've agreed to do. It's one thing to say that on paper, it's a whole other thing to put that into execution."

George Will, the conservative columnist, raised more substantive criticisms of the selection, noting that, beyond her husband, Clinton would have to manage a huge bureaucracy with many different philosophical factions and competing interests.

"She's run two things in her life," Will said, "her campaign, that did not go so well. It was faction ridden, it leaked a lot. And before that, the health care event that they could not even get to a vote in a congress they controlled. Her record as a manager raises caution signs."

Matthew Dowd, the Bush adviser-turned-critic, summed it up best. After listening to the panel bat around the concept of the team of rivals, he remarked that it will be hellish for at least one individual: Obama press secretary Robert Gibbs.

"He's going to have to deal with things every single day," said Dowd, no stranger to the art of spin. "Whether it's the divergent cabinet they have, whether it is the former president Bill Clinton going to give a speech somewhere in Utah and says something, whether it is Secretary of State Clinton who sort of leans in a certain direction and says something. It is going to be a difficult process."