Yet all three of his choices — Senator Hillary Rodham Clinton as the rival turned secretary of state; Gen. James L. Jones, the former NATO commander, as national security adviser, and Robert M. Gates, the current and future defense secretary — were selected in large part because they have embraced a sweeping shift of resources in the national security arena.
The shift, which would come partly out of the military’s huge budget, would create a greatly expanded corps of diplomats and aid workers that, in the vision of the incoming Obama administration, would be engaged in projects around the world aimed at preventing conflicts and rebuilding failed states.
Whether they can make the change — one that Mr. Obama started talking about in the summer of 2007, when his candidacy was a long shot at best — “will be the great foreign policy experiment of the Obama presidency,” one of his senior advisers said recently.
But the adviser, who spoke on the condition of anonymity because he was not authorized to speak publicly, said the three have all embraced “a rebalancing of America’s national security portfolio” after a huge investment in new combat capabilities during the Bush years.
Mr. Obama’s advisers said they were already bracing themselves for the charge from the right that he is investing in social work rather than counterterrorism, even though President Bush repeatedly promised such a shift, starting in a series of speeches in late 2005. But they also expect battles within the Democratic Party over questions like whether the billion dollars in aid to rebuild Afghanistan that Mr. Obama promised during the campaign should now be spent on job-creation projects at home.
Mr. Obama’s best political cover may come from Mr. Gates, the former Central Intelligence Agency director and veteran of the cold war, who just months ago said it was “hard to imagine any circumstance” in which he would stay in his post at the Pentagon. Now he will do exactly that.
A year ago, to studied silence from the Bush White House, Mr. Gates began giving a series of speeches about the limits of military power in wars in which no military victory is possible. He made popular the statistic, quoted by Mr. Obama, that the United States has more members of military marching bands than foreign service officers.
He also denounced “the gutting of America’s ability to engage, assist and communicate with other parts of the world — the ‘soft power’ which had been so important throughout the cold war.” He blamed both the Clinton and Bush administrations and said later in an interview that “it is almost like we forgot everything we learned in Vietnam.”
Mr. Obama’s choice for national security adviser, General Jones, took the critique a step further in a searing report this year on what he called the Bush administration’s failed strategy in Afghanistan, where Mr. Obama has vowed to intensify the fight as American troops depart from Iraq. When the report came out, General Jones was widely quoted as saying, “Make no mistake, NATO is not winning in Afghanistan,” a comment that directly contradicted the White House.
But he went on to describe why the United States and its allies were not winning: After nearly seven years of fighting, they had failed to develop a strategy that could dependably bring reconstruction projects and other assistance into areas from which the Taliban had been routed — making each victory a temporary one, reversed as soon as the forces departed.
Several times during his presidency, Mr. Bush promised to alter that strategy, even creating a “civilian reserve corps” of nation-builders under State Department auspices, but the administration never committed serious funds or personnel to the effort. If Mr. Obama and his team can bring about that kind of shift, it could mark one of the most significant changes in national security strategy in decades and greatly enhance the powers of Mrs. Clinton as secretary of state.
“This is not an experiment, but a pragmatic solution to a long-acknowledged problem,” Denis McDonough, a senior Obama foreign policy adviser, said in an interview on Sunday.
“During the campaign the then-senator invested a lot of time reaching out to retired military and also younger officers who have served in Iraq and Afghanistan to draw on lessons learned,” Mr. McDonough said. “There wasn’t a meeting that didn’t include a discussion of the need to strengthen and integrate the other tools of national power to succeed against unconventional threats. It is critical to a long-term successful and sustainable national security strategy in the 21st century.”
Yet it is a task that, as Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice and others in the Bush administration discovered, is far easier to describe than to execute, or to get Congress to fund.
That problem will be no less acute for Mr. Obama in Afghanistan, where the building projects and job-creation activities that Mr. Bush promised in 2002, soon after the invasion, and then again in late 2005, have ground to a halt in many parts of the country because the security situation has made it too dangerous for the State Department’s “provincial reconstruction teams” to operate.
Ms. Rice recently ordered a review of what had gone wrong with the reconstruction team strategy, part of a broader review of Afghanistan and Pakistan strategy that the Bush White House is turning over to its successors.
Mr. Obama has promised a diplomatic push that is much broader than Afghanistan. In October 2007, he pledged to make diplomacy a high priority. “Instead of shuttering consulates, we need to open them in the tough and hopeless corners of the world,” he said.
During the campaign, Mr. Obama promised to double overall American aid — to $50 billion — by 2012. In recent months he has begun to lengthen that timetable, citing the financial crisis.
One of the biggest questions, though, will be whether the money to expand this civilian capability comes out of the Pentagon budget. So far, Congress has been very reluctant to go down that road.
Mr. Gates acknowledged a year ago, during the Landon Lecture at Kansas State University, that for many in the Pentagon it was “blasphemy” for “a sitting secretary of defense to travel halfway across the country to make a pitch to increase the budget of other agencies.”
He noted that when Adm. Mike Mullen was chief of naval operations, “he once said he’d hand a part of his budget to the State Department ‘in a heartbeat’ assuming it was spent in the right place.” Admiral Mullen is now chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, and he met Mr. Obama two weeks ago for their first lengthy discussion of priorities. It was not clear if he was asked to give up part of his budget.