Best Defense

Thomas E. Ricks' daily take on national security.

The big day: Gates out, Panetta in, Petraeus to CIA, Allen to Afghanistan

Supposedly tomorrow is the day when all the personnel changes at the top of the national security establishment will be rolled out. To me, the question is: What does President Obama think he is gaining from these moves? Defense Secretary Panetta: Yes, another alumnus of Congress. Ugh. But Panetta has a reputation of handling the ...

ell brown/flickr
ell brown/flickr

Supposedly tomorrow is the day when all the personnel changes at the top of the national security establishment will be rolled out. To me, the question is: What does President Obama think he is gaining from these moves?

Defense Secretary Panetta: Yes, another alumnus of Congress. Ugh. But Panetta has a reputation of handling the CIA well, and that is not an easy job, as the place has the nasty rep of either undermining or capturing its outsider chiefs. I think this move signals that Obama plans to take the defense budget way down, and that Panetta's expected job will be to hold the place together and sell the spending cuts to the few remaining hawks in Congress.   

CIA Director Petraeus: Honestly, I am a bit puzzled by this. Smart, hard-working, etc. But why this man for this job at this time, especially at a time when there is already reason to worry about the militarization of our foreign policy and diplomacy? Well, it gets him out of Afghanistan. Cynics think it also keeps him from being critical during next year's presidential campaign, but I actually don't think Petraeus has political ambitions, or even much of a desire to participate in electoral politics.

Supposedly tomorrow is the day when all the personnel changes at the top of the national security establishment will be rolled out. To me, the question is: What does President Obama think he is gaining from these moves?

Defense Secretary Panetta: Yes, another alumnus of Congress. Ugh. But Panetta has a reputation of handling the CIA well, and that is not an easy job, as the place has the nasty rep of either undermining or capturing its outsider chiefs. I think this move signals that Obama plans to take the defense budget way down, and that Panetta’s expected job will be to hold the place together and sell the spending cuts to the few remaining hawks in Congress.   

CIA Director Petraeus: Honestly, I am a bit puzzled by this. Smart, hard-working, etc. But why this man for this job at this time, especially at a time when there is already reason to worry about the militarization of our foreign policy and diplomacy? Well, it gets him out of Afghanistan. Cynics think it also keeps him from being critical during next year’s presidential campaign, but I actually don’t think Petraeus has political ambitions, or even much of a desire to participate in electoral politics.

Gen. Allen commanding in Afghanistan: As a general, a lot of very Petraeus-like characteristics-cerebral, innovative, open to new approaches– but without the political clout Petraeus carries on Capitol Hill. A bonus here, but not one I am sure the White House recognizes: Also, as a Marine, Allen is likely to be skeptical of Army support structure, and will likely be comfortable with an austere infrastructure during the U.S. drawdown in Afghanistan.      

Mr. Gates off to Texas: A great defense secretary, but a bit of an embarrassment to the president given his clear opposition to intervening in Libya, as well as his skepticism about deeper defense cuts.   

Thomas E. Ricks covered the U.S. military from 1991 to 2008 for the Wall Street Journal and then the Washington Post. He can be reached at ricksblogcomment@gmail.com. Twitter: @tomricks1
Tag: EU

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