Obama's choice for chief of staff puts 'Israel's man in White House'

Agence France Presse | November 07, 2008

CHICAGO: After the euphoria of his historic election win, Barack Obama got down Thursday to choosing a presidential team that faces a mountain of problems, not least the economic crisis and wars in Iraq and Afghanistan. The Democrat dodged the limelight after being elected America's first black president, but behind-the-scenes activity picked up with the formal creation of a team to handle his transition to power ahead of the January 20 inauguration.

In an immediate reminder of the mammoth task ahead, the Dow Jones share average plummeted nearly 500 points Wednesday on resurgent fears of a deep recession. This was followed by large sell-offs and a raft of negative financial data in Asia and Europe.

Democrats said Obama had asked combative Congressman and former Bill Clinton White House aide Rahm Emanuel, 48, to be his chief of staff, a vital post that helps set the tempo of the administration.

Israeli media on Thursday hailed Barack Obama's choice of Rahm Emanuel to be his chief of staff, with one daily calling the Democrat of Israeli descent "our man in the White House." 

Radio stations and newspapers pointed out Emanuel's Jerusalem-born father was once a member of Irgun, an ultra-nationalist Jewish terror group behind such slaughters of civilians as the bombing of the King David hotel which killed 92 people in 1946.

Emanuel himself volunteered to serve in the Israeli Army and did a two-month stint at a base in northern Israel during the 1991 Gulf war, public radio reported.

"It is obvious he will exert influence on the president to be pro-Israeli," Emanuel's father, who moved to the US in the 1960s, told the Maariv daily.

The newspaper headlined the article: "Our man in the White House." 

While Clinton, the last Democrat in the White House, took weeks to announce his Cabinet, Obama does not have the luxury of time as more than a trillion dollars is dispensed to bail out Wall Street.

Obama has hinted at possible names to take over as treasury secretary.

He noted to CNN last week that his economic advisers include Clinton's last Treasury Secretary Larry Summers, 53, as well as former Federal Reserve chief Paul Volcker, 81, and mega-rich investor Warren Buffett, 78.

Another name being mentioned in the media for Obama's economic overseer is Timothy Geithner, 47, who as president of the New York Federal Reserve has been in charge of executing the US central bank's sudden explosion of market activity.

Obama made note of the acute set of challenges he faces in his victory speech late Tuesday before 240,000 people in Chicago and millions more watching at home in the United States and around the world.

"Even as we celebrate tonight, we know the challenges that tomorrow will bring are the greatest of our lifetime - two wars, a planet in peril, the worst financial crisis in a century," the president-elect said.

"But America - I have never been more hopeful than I am tonight that we will get there. I promise you - we as a people will get there."

Obama, a 47-year-old Illinois senator, crushed Republican John McCain, 72, with an inspirational message of hope and change.

But now the hard part begins for Obama as he confronts the stricken economy along with his promises to reduce troop levels in Iraq and make a success of Afghanistan.

Names floating in the media as possible secretaries of defense include current Pentagon chief Robert Gates - whom Obama has praised - as well as the retiring Senator for Nebraska Chuck Hagel, another Republican.

Also seen as in the running are Richard Danzig, navy secretary under Clinton and an Obama adviser during the campaign, and current President George W. Bush's former Secretary of State Colin Powell.

While his aides made no announcements of any briefings for Thursday, Obama cannot stay silent for too long as both Wall Street and voters suffering from the financial crisis look to their next president for reassurance and guidance.

A day after triggering a political earthquake not seen since Ronald Reagan's 1980 landslide, Obama named key figures of the transition team that will spend the next 75 days preparing for his inauguration and presidency beyond.

The transition office in Washington will be run by co-chairs John Podesta, a former chief of staff to Clinton; Pete Rouse, who was Obama's Senate chief of staff; and the Democrat's close friend Valerie Jarrett.

Their job will be to vet Cabinet nominees and prepare the vital first political moves of the new administration.

Bush offered generous praise to his successor and pledged his "complete cooperation" during the transition period. He invited the Obamas to the White House at their earliest convenience.

In another sign of the changing of the guard, Michelle Obama spoke by telephone with First Lady Laura Bush, who offered her own invitation.

CIA director Mike Hayden also said the US intelligence agency would begin sharing classified information with Obama.

The incoming president has promised to renew bruised ties with US allies, and to engage some of the nation's foes such as Iran and North Korea.

He has vowed to tackle climate change, cut taxes for 95 percent of working Americans, and guarantee near-universal health care at a time when many thousands are losing their insurance as their jobs disappear.

Many observers think he will have his work cut out to honor those pledges given the ongoing wars that need financing as well as the dire state of the United States economy with all the bailout measures that need financing.

Top Obama advisers will attend a White House summit being convened by Bush on November 15, as 20 world leaders thrash out a response to the worst economic crisis since the 1930s Great Depression.