Wednesday, April 27, 2011

White House Reshuffles National Security Posts

Defense Secretary Robert Gates has long made it known that he wished to retire, and he will now get his wish. President Obama has selected current CIA director Leon Panetta to succeed Gates as Defense Secretary, while tapping General David Petraeus to take over as Director of the CIA.
The appointments, set in motion by the impending retirement of Defense Secretary Robert M. Gates, are part of a significant rearrangement of Mr. Obama’s national security team that will include several new assignments within the closest circle of his diplomatic, military and intelligence advisers.

Mr. Gates is expected to step down this summer.

The changes at the top of Mr. Obama’s national security team have long been expected.

Not long after Mr. Gates leaves, the term will expire for the chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, Adm. Mike Mullen, who, like the defense secretary, was appointed by President George W. Bush. And Deputy Secretary of State James B. Steinberg has announced that he is leaving for an academic job — removing one of the crucial players in Mr. Obama’s efforts to manage China’s rise.

But Mr. Gates’s role is the most critical. He often allied with Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton — who has said that she intends to leave the administration when this term ends — including persuading Mr. Obama to start the military buildup in Afghanistan in 2009. Together they won many other battles, but they visibly split last month on the military intervention in Libya.
Several other key diplomats are leaving government and the term for the Joint Chiefs of Staff are ending, giving the President the opportunity to put his own stamp on those positions.

Both Panetta and Petraeus are known quantities when it comes to their ability to handle the job, but it means that the job of dealing with the ongoing war in Afghanistan will fall to others and will be the third such switch in little more than a year. Petraeus had taken over for Gen. Stanley McCrystal after McCrystral was forced to resign over inappropriate comments in a Rolling Stone interview.

That's perhaps the biggest downside of the moves - the inability to maintain a sense of continuity on the leadership in the Afghan theater of operations.

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