Paul Greenberg

Looking over Barack Obama's first appointees to his Cabinet, I get this weird premonition: I could yet wind up leading the cheers for the Obama administration.

I know, it's early yet. The president-elect is, after all, only president-elect, still a couple of months from Inauguration Day. But hope rises. It was buoyed when the next president introduced his Security Team, which used to be called a War Cabinet when the language was more direct. He spoke of his appointments to head the State and Defense departments as a New Beginning, borrowing a catch phrase from the Reagan Years. It doesn't look very new -- the faces flanking him last Monday were mighty familiar -- but it's a strong beginning. Consider:

As secretary of state, the country is to have a tough-minded woman with a long record of engagement in the political wars of her time, and the scars to show for it. Hillary Clinton's appointment is one more sign that this young president isn't afraid to pick top-level advisers with strong minds, and voices, of their own.

This is the same Hillary Clinton who challenged some of Sen. Obama's airy foreign policy pronouncements during the vigorous race for their party's presidential nomination, at one point questioning the wisdom of his rash promise to meet with Iran's nutcase of a president without preconditions. The lady is very much in touch with reality, which is what a secretary of state needs to be.

Barack Obama himself seems to have learned a lot since the early days of his campaign; he has steadily backed away from his talk of an arbitrary deadline for pulling American troops out of Iraq. Once he's inaugurated as president, the commander-in-chief of the country's armed forces may yet bring himself to use the word "victory" in connection with the valor and accomplishments of those troops. For it is their success, and the vision of their commander -- Gen. David Petraeus -- that will allow the next president to shift his attention to other fronts in the war on terror, like Afghanistan, where things need to improve, too.

With the mantle of presidential responsibility settling on his shoulders, Barack Obama now talks about conferring with his generals before doing anything hasty in Iraq, which is a good idea. The trick, of course, will be to confer with the right ones or, if he can't find another Petraeus, appoint one. Mr. Lincoln had to go through a whole series of commanders before he found his Grant.

Paul Greenberg

Pulitzer Prize-winning Paul Greenberg, one of the most respected and honored commentators in America, is the editorial page editor of the Arkansas Democrat-Gazette.