I agree with Shadow Government’s Dov Zakheim that Obama played it safe in tapping Leon Panetta to replace Robert Gates as Secretary of Defense. Quite apart from the need to fight and win two (sorry, three) wars, Panetta will face three major challenges:
First, he is not Bob Gates: Gates benefited more than he should have from not being Donald Rumsfeld. The contrast between the two men is often overblown, and in many ways more a matter of style than substance. Indeed, in recent months, Gates’ calls for the Pentagon to reform and the Services to transform have sounded positively Rumsfeldian.
Conversely, Panetta will suffer — again, perhaps more than he should — for not being Robert Gates. Gates leaves behind enormous shoes that any successor would have difficulty filling.
Second, the budget: The timing of Gates’ departure has more than a little to do with the fact that the White House dropped the demand to cut an additional $400 billion from the defense budget on the Pentagon 24 hours before the President went public with it. In the process, the president undercut Gates’ own statements that the Defense Department could not afford further cuts with two (strike that, three) wars going on simultaneously. Panetta was presumably an attractive choice as Defense Secretary at least in part because of his experience in cutting budgets, and he is being dispatched to the Pentagon at least in part to trim the budget. He will presumably oversee the process of reducing the force structure that the administration’s own 2010 Quadrennial Defense Review only fifteen months ago said was necessary to win today’s wars and prepare for the future.
Third, managing civil-military friction: Budget cuts are likely to exacerbate tensions between civilian and military leaders, but so may other issues. Panetta will be charged with implementing a policy to allow homosexuals to serve openly in the military, a move that several of the Service chiefs opposed. That policy change may go smoothly — or it may not. Battlefield reverses in Afghanistan and indecisiveness in Libya could fuel further tensions. And Panetta will have as partners a number of new military leaders, to include a new Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff.
All in all, Panetta has his work cut out for him. We should all wish him luck.
Gordon Lubold is a national security reporter for Foreign Policy. He is also the author of FP's Situation Report, an e-mailed newsletter that is blasted out to more than 70,000 national security and foreign affairs subscribers each morning that includes the top nat-sec news, breaking news, tidbits, nuggets and what he likes to call "candy." Before arriving at FP, he was a senior advisor at the United States Institute of Peace in Washington, where he wrote on national security and foreign policy. Prior to his arrival at USIP, he was a defense reporter for Politico, where he launched the popular Morning Defense early morning blog and tip-sheet. Prior to that, he was the Pentagon and national security correspondent for the Christian Science Monitor, and before that he was the Pentagon correspondent for the Army Times chain of newspapers. He has covered conflict in Iraq, Afghanistan, Pakistan and other countries in South Asia, and has reported on military matters in sub-Saharan Africa, East Asia and Latin America as well as at American military bases across the country. He has spoken frequently on the sometimes-contentious relationship between the military and the media as a guest on numerous panels. He also appears on radio and television, including on CNN, public radio's Diane Rehm and To the Point, and C-SPAN's Washington Journal. He lives in Alexandria with his wife and two children.| The E-Ring |
Kevin Baron is a national security reporter for Foreign Policy, covering defense and military issues in Washington. He is also vice president of the Pentagon Press Association. Baron previously was a national security staff writer for National Journal, covering the "business of war." Prior to that, Baron worked in the resident daily Pentagon press corps as a reporter/photographer for Stars and Stripes. For three years with Stripes, Baron covered the building and traveled overseas extensively with the secretary of defense and chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, covering official visits to Afghanistan and Iraq, the Middle East and Europe, China, Japan and South Korea, in more than a dozen countries. From 2004 to 2009, Baron was the Boston Globe Washington bureau's investigative projects reporter, covering defense, international affairs, lobbying and other issues. Before that, he muckraked at the Center for Public Integrity. Baron has reported on assignment from Asia, Africa, Australia, Europe, the Middle East and the South Pacific. He was won two Polk Awards, among other honors. He has a B.A. in international studies from the University of Richmond and M.A. in media and public affairs from George Washington University. Originally from Orlando, Fla., Baron has lived in the Washington area since 1998 and currently resides in Northern Virginia with his wife, three sons, and the family dog, The Edge.| The E-Ring |