Obama mulls future team

By Nathan Guttman, November 11, 2008
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With the American economy heading toward recession, president-elect Barack Obama intends to name his future economic team before announcing the make up of his top foreign policy and national security posts.

Mr Obama's first pick as president-elect was of Rham Emanuel, a Jewish congressman from Illinois, to serve as his Chief of Staff. Mr Emanuel, son of a former Israeli who understands Hebrew and volunteered inthe IDF during the first Gulf War, is considered a close friend of Israel and the community.

Though no official confirmation was given yet, the short list of candidates for the post of Secretary of State include Bill Richardson, the governor of New Mexico who was also ambassador to the UN, Senator John Kerry who was the Democratic presidential candidate in 2004, Richard Holbrooke, a veteran diplomat who advised Mr Obama during the campaign, and two Republicans - Senator Richard Lugar and the retiring senator Chuck Hagel of Nebraska.

As his defense secretary, Obama might ask the current secretary Robert Gates to stay on, or turn to Chuck Hagel. Another name mentioned is former secretary of the Navy Richard Danzig.

The list presents a certain shift in the Obama foreign policy team, which during the campaign was based on advisers who were further away from the mainstream thinking. The gradual change has left the advisers such as Samantha Power and Anthony Zinni outside the immediate loop, while making room for old guard Democrats who in many ways may go back to the Clinton-era way of conducting foreign policy.

The Israeli-Palestinian conflict does not seem to have high priority at present, even though Mr Obama has said during the campaign he would take on the issue "from day one."

According to Washington insiders who are informed on the deliberations going on, former peace envoy Dennis Ross is mentioned as possibly returning to the job of Middle East peace broker, but in a different capacity. The sources said Mr Ross could be Mr Obama's "Middle East czar" in charge not only of Israeli-Palestinian peace-making, but also on the broader problems of the entire region.

While eyes of American Jews are already turned to the future president and his transition team, in Minnesota the most interesting race in Jewish politics is far from reaching the final line. Republican incumbent Norm Coleman and Democratic challenger Al Franken, both Jewish, are still fighting over one of the state's seats in Senate. The count was practically a tie and only a re-count will determine which of the Jewish politicians will represent the state in Senate.

    Last updated: 11:16am, November 11 2008