By Aamer Madhani, USA TODAY
WASHINGTON - In his first term, President Obama purposefully set out to build an administration that, while not quite Abraham Lincoln's Team of Rivals, insured that his most prominent advisers included some that were outside his tight inner circle.
He tapped Hillary Rodham Clinton, his vanquished rival for the Democratic presidential nomination and a lawmaker who had a more hawkish foreign policy philosophy than his own, for the State Department, the highest-profile Cabinet position. After Democrats were crushed in the mid-term elections in 2010, he turned to William Daley, a Commerce secretary in the Clinton administration, to come on as White House chief of staff with the hopes of repairing his relationship with GOP leaders and the business community.
And in 2011 he picked David Petraeus, a Republican who was mentioned as a potential 2012 vice presidential pick, to replace Leon Panetta, another Clinton administration alumnus, as director of the Central Intelligence Agency after Obama picked Panetta to be his Defense secretary.
But if his revamping of his national security team is any indication - Chuck Hagel for the Pentagon, John Brennan to lead the CIA and Sen. John Kerry for State -Obama is staying well within his comfort zone as he prepares for his second term, choosing to surround himself with a circle of friends he knows and trusts.
"These two leaders have dedicated their lives in protecting this country," Obama said as he announced the nominations of Hagel and Brennan, and recalled his years of working closely with both men. "I am confident they will do an outstanding job. I urge the Senate to confirm them as soon as possible so we can keep our nation secure and the American people safe."
Brennan, who is currently the president's in-house counterterrorism adviser and Homeland Security adviser, has been by the president's side during some of the toughest moments of his presidency. He played a key role in advising the president during the planning of the Navy SEAL operation to kill Osama bin Laden, and he was the one to deliver the news to Obama about the Newtown, Conn., school shooting. Obama paid tribute to Brennan as "one of the hardest-working public servants I've ever seen."
"I'm not sure he's slept in four years," Obama joked.
Brennan has also overseen the expanded use of drones and special operations forces by the Obama administration. Brennan, who spent 25 years at the CIA prior to joining the Obama administration, carries some political baggage.
He withdrew his name from consideration for a top intelligence position in 2008 amid questions about his connection to enhanced interrogation techniques such as waterboarding, -- which many critics consider torture-- while an official at the agency. Brennan later denied involvement in such interrogation tactics.
Kerry might not have been Obama's first choice to be his next secretary of State. United Nations Ambassador Susan Rice had the inside track on the job, but withdrew herself from consideration as she faced fierce Republican opposition over inaccurate comments she made in days after the Sept. 11 attack on the U.S. Consulate in Libya that left four Americans, including Ambassador Christopher Stevens, dead.
Still, Kerry has a long-standing relationship with the president -
the Massachusetts senator picked the then relatively unknown Illinois
Sen. Barack Obama to deliver the keynote address at the 2004 Democratic
National Convention. And during his re-election effort, Obama turned to
Kerry to stand in as Mitt Romney during debate preparation.
And, like Obama, Kerry fiercely questioned the efficacy of the war in Iraq.
a moderate Republican from Nebraska, irked many of his former GOP
colleagues when he endorsed Obama in 2008 over Sen. John McCain, a
longtime colleague and former Vietnam veteran. Since his name was
floated last month as a possible successor to Panetta, Hagel has come
under fierce criticism from Republicans as well as some pro-Israeli and
gay rights advocates.
Hagel, who voted in favor of the Iraq War in
2002 but later became a critic of George W. Bush's handling of it, also
bonded with Obama when they traveled together to Iraq and Afghanistan
in the months before the 2008 election. Vice President Biden and Hagel
also worked closely together on the Senate Foreign Relations Committee.
"Hillary, Petraeus and Panetta ... they were experienced in-house
practitioners who brought very different perspectives to the table and
had the status and experience to challenge the president," said Mark
Dubowitz, an analyst at Foundation for Defense of Democracies. "These
choices are three men who very clearly reflect Obama's world view."
Sen. Max Cleland, a Vietnam veteran who served with Kerry and Hagel,
said it makes sense that Obama would pick three men that he's built deep
relationships with and whose advice he's come to rely on.
"Maybe, it's a team of friends, but it's a team that is totally professional in their areas and totally proven," Cleland said.