Friday, April 29, 2011

Obama, Panetta, Petraeus

President Obama shook up his national security team yesterday, notably moving CIA Director Leon Panetta to the Pentagon and Generalissimo David Petraeus to the CIA.

It was "a game of musical chairs," Slate's Fred Kaplan observed, though "under the circumstances, it's hard to imagine a shrewder set of moves, both politically and substantively."

Panetta is a Washington insider. Can he succeed at the Pentagon? Maybe. He certainly has credibility where it matters, on Capitol Hill:

The next defense secretary will have to wind down the wars without losing them and will almost certainly have to cut the budget without wreaking havoc in the Pentagon. It's a nightmare job for anyone, but Panetta has as much experience as anyone at carving out that sort of territory.

I don't much care for him, and he's come to be an apologist for the Bush-Obama national security state, but I suppose he has the political clout to lead what is undeniably a deeply political office. (Whether he manages to secure the trust and support of the military brass, not to mention of the rank-and-file, is another matter, though that may not matter given his political priorities in the months/years ahead.)

As for Petraeus, well, Obama had to do something with him, not least given his political inclinations, if not aspirations, and connections to the conservative/Republican foreign/military policy establishment:

Picking Petraeus to run the CIA is a move worthy of chess masters. He's been a wartime commander of one sort or another for eight years, almost non-stop. It's time for him to leave the battlefield; that was clear even to him. Yet for much of that time, he's also been a household name -- and widely hailed as the U.S. military's finest strategic mind in a generation. So the question -- which would have been vexing for any president -- is: What to do with this guy? Some who are close to the general refer to this question, with a slight smile and a cocked eyebrow, as "the Petraeus problem."


Keeping Petraeus on the inside -- in a job that's related to, but not quite of, the military -- is a judicious stroke.

But will anything actually change? Well, we'll have to see. Maybe Panetta is the right man to deal with Iraq and Afghanistan, and particularly to preside of the end of the latter war. And maybe Petraeus will be a fine CIA director.

But these are political moves, first and foremost. Obama puts an ally/confidante at the Pentagon and a possible rival/critic at the CIA. Panetta will do what Obama wants him to do. Petraeus will perhaps be more independent, but he will also be constrained by his position.

Yes, it was a game of musical chairs. And Obama won.

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  • What does Leon Panetta know about military matters????? As for General Petraeus, I think he should have pulled an Eisenhower, and challenged Obama in 2012. Mannie Harrison Hong Kong

    By Anonymous Anonymous, at 12:06 AM  

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