Panetta to Head Up Pentagon While Petraeus Will Lead CIA


panettaPresident Barack Obama was moved to release his birth certificate Wednesday largely on the grounds that it was time for the nation to return its attention to more pressing matters. At the top of the White House list: impending major changes of the guard in Obama’s national security team, prompted by Defense Secretary Bob Gates’ plans to retire this summer.

Obama will announce today his decision to name CIA director Leon Panetta to succeed Gates as Secretary of Defense, and Gen. David Petraeus, the top U.S. commander in Afghanistan, to succeed Panetta at the helm of the CIA, officials said. He will also name Marine Corps Lt. Gen. John Allen–Petraeus’ former deputy commander at U.S. Central Command–to succeed Petraeus, and veteran diplomat Ryan Crocker to become U.S. envoy to Kabul.

White House officials emphasized the deep experience and proven effectiveness of all four appointees and the “seamless transition” they will bring to managing current security challenges from Afghanistan to Iran to Yemen.

Washington national security experts said the appointments show Obama values continuity and effectiveness over any radical change, and plans to continue pursuing a centrist national security policy.

“Obama doesn’t want to shake up the…establishment,” Heather Hurlburt, executive director of the progressive National Security Network and a former Clinton administration official, told the Envoy. “If there’s any shaking up to be done, it will be done by him and not by anyone else.”

Panetta and Petraeus “are guys who are so brilliant at…tweaking the system from within,” she added. Petraeus is a “soldiers’ soldier and Panetta a Congressman’s Congressman. Obama appreciates those who understand how to work within a system and do stuff.”
Max Boot, with the Council on Foreign Relations, said that the appointments “are pretty positive and confirm [that Obama] is trying to pursue a centrist direction in foreign policy. He’s replacing one very capable group with another very capable group.”

From his perspective as an advocate for continued high U.S. defense spending, however, Boot expressed some concern about Panetta heading the Pentagon in terms of his budget experience. As a former director of the Office of Management and Budget and nine-term Congressman, Boot reasoned, Panetta has the bureaucratic and budget experience to rein in defense spending if he chooses to advance that goal.

“The armed forces need someone to champion them, not to look for places to cut,” Boot said. “In the last few months, Gates has been warning about overly precipitous cuts to the Pentagon’s budget.”

Gates hoped to make June 30 his last day. Panetta, if confirmed, will start at the Pentagon on July 1, senior U.S. officials told journalists in a phone call Wednesday.

Petraeus plans to serve through the summer in Afghanistan, and will formally retire from the military to take up the CIA Director post in September.

Afghan President Hamid Karzai formally accepted the choice of veteran diplomat Ryan Crocker to be U.S. ambassador to Afghanistan this morning, officials said. Crocker, a former U.S. ambassador to Pakistan, Iraq, Lebanon, Syria and Kuwait, opened the U.S. embassy in Kabul in January 2002, after the U.S. overthrow of the Taliban in the wake of the Sept. 11 terror attacks.

Crocker, who worked so closely with Petraeus in Iraq that the two were dubbed the Dream Team, retired from the Foreign Service in 2009 with the rank of Career Ambassador to become dean of Texas A & M University (a former Gates post). He formally agreed to take the Kabul assignment in a meeting with Obama late last month, officials said.

If confirmed, Panetta, also a former Clinton-era White House chief of staff, would be the first Democrat to hold the SecDef job since Bill Perry in 1997.

Despite his party credentials, however, Panetta is in many ways “the Democratic version of Bob Gates-a competent executor of policy who can deliver the trains on time in a no-hassle manner,” mused one U.S. official, on condition of anonymity because he’s not authorized to speak publicly for his agency.

“But he is not going to bring fresh thinking into how the United States addresses key challenges in the 21st century,” he added.
Panetta “going to DoD is fairly straightforward,” former Clinton administration official Ken Pollack told the Envoy. “Panetta has proven himself to be a very effective administrator, he has the confidence of the White House, he also has the confidence of Congress. That is a critical combination for this White House. DoD is an absolutely critical posting and they want to make sure [they have someone there] who can continue what Gates has put in progress–a bit set of reforms and budget cuts, and someone who can continue to steer that process.”

Petraeus for CIA director “is a brilliant choice,” said Pollack, a former CIA analyst and NSC official. “He’s an incredibly intelligent guy with a wealth of real-world experience and an incredibly keen mind.” His appointment “demonstrates the administration’s commitment to the CIA.”

Some people at the Agency feared that after Panetta, the administration could appoint a “placeholder,” Pollack added. “Instead, they are getting a rock star.”

{Yahoo News/ Newscenter}