Retired Four-Stars Leading Candidates for Obama’s National Security Team

By Lindsey Ellerson

Nov 20, 2008 6:22pm

FROM JAKE TAPPER AND MARTHA RADDATZ:

Democratic sources tell ABC News that President-elect Obama appears to be turning to two retired four-stars for his National Security Adviser and his Director of National Intelligence.

Marine Gen. James L. Jones (Ret.), the former head of NATO and U.S. forces in Europe, has emerged as the leading candidate to serve as the National Security Adviser for President-elect Obama.

Admiral Dennis C. Blair (Ret.), former Commander-in-Chief of U.S. Pacific Command and a 6th-generation naval officer, has emerged as the top candidate to be President-elect Obama’s Director of National Intelligence. He recently met in Chicago with the president-elect.

Neither job has been officially offered or accepted, and the Obama Transition Team would not confirm or deny either man’s front-runner status.

ABC News has also learned that during this transition period in which he’s assembling his Cabinet, Obama is listening to advice from Gen. Brent Scowcroft (Ret.), the former National Security Adviser for President George H.W. Bush, whose foreign policy Obama has said he admires. An appointment of a retired general to be National Security Adviser would be in the Scowcroft model.

Obama wants Jones to have a senior position in his administration, and with Robert Gates likely to stay on as Secretary of Defense, the President-elect has reached out to gauge Jones’ interest in heading up the National Security Council.  Jim Steinberg, former deputy national security adviser to President Bill Clinton and current dean of the Lyndon B. Johnson School of Public Affairs at the University of Texas at Austin, has also been in contention for the post and has a great deal of support in the foreign policy community. One source describes the debate over Jones versus Steinberg as one where Steinberg is supported by many of Obama’s advisers, while Obama ardently supports Jones.

But Obama is said to value Jones’ advice and appreciates the signal it sends to put someone with more than 40 years of active military experience in such a senior position. Jones earned a reputation as someone who vocally expressed concern that the Pentagon had become too politicized during the reign of Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld, another quality Obama is said to admire.  Jones also brings with him expertise in two very sensitive international problems that Obama will be faced with immediately upon taking office, having served as chairman of the Congressional Independent Commission on the Security Forces of Iraq, and as special envoy for Middle East Security.

On a more personal level, Jones was, like the president-elect, raised abroad, having spent early years in France. And for the president-elect, who once said he’d replace the White House bowling alley with a basketball court, it cannot hurt that the 6’4" Jones is a former Georgetown Hoya basketball player.

For his part, Blair was an Oxford classmate of former president Bill Clinton, and was a classmate at the Naval Academy of Sen. Jim Webb, D-Va.

Of course, whether or not Sen. Hillary Clinton, D-N.Y., ultimately becomes Secretary of State — which sources say is far more likely than not — will factor in the composition of the national security team.

– Jake Tapper and Martha Raddatz

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