National security shakeup – what does it mean?
The recently announced moves that will see Gen. David Petraeus taking the helm of the CIA, while CIA director Leon Panetta moves to the Secretary of Defense post (replacing retiring SecDef Robert Gates), may have some interesting reasons behind them.
Petraeus is our most successful general in a generation and credited by many for turning the Iraq war around at a time when it seemed to be spiraling out of control. His ability to command troops in the field coupled with his ability to deftly handle the diplomatic side of his duties made him the most popular general our military has seen for some time. So popular, in fact, that he was eventually put in command in Afghanistan to replace President Obama’s hand-picked general there.
Petraeus will resign from the Army to take the CIA post. But many are asking, why CIA? Why not Petraeus as the SecDef?
Perhaps the reason is that, with the big drawdown scheduled in July for Afghanistan, this signals how we plan on fighting that war from then on: more emphasis on CIA and Special Operations Force activities and less on conventional forces. Or, the “Biden plan,” if you will. Many more covert operations and drone strikes than now. Less emphasis on coalition operations; more emphasis on training Afghan forces to take the security job over. Petraeus would have be the best man to make that transition a reality.
So what does the move of Panetta mean for the Department of Defense? Apparently, Panetta wasn’t particularly enthused about taking the job, but finally said “yes” this past Monday. Something obviously changed to have him accept the post. Most think the administration agreed to make it a relatively short-term appointment for the 73 year old Director of the CIA. Secretary of Defense is a post with a grueling operations tempo, with three wars going and budget battles in the offing. It’s a tough slog for anyone holding the post.
That means that Panetta will most likely be a “caretaker” SecDef, and as the president’s man, much more open to the budget cuts Obama wants from DoD than Gates. Gates did his best to protect DoD as much as he could from thoughtless or deep cuts to the defense budget. He also tried to get out ahead of the curve and nominate cuts of his own in order to avoid those that might be forced on the department by lawmakers.
With Panetta, it is more likely that he will be less of an advocate for DoD and more of a hatchet man for the administration. He’ll most likely be gone, one way or the other, when January 2013 arrives. So he has no reason not to do what he and the president agree on concerning cuts to defense. The only bulwark against administration cuts now will be the Republican House.
Keep an eye on these two appointments and the events that surround them. Both could signal profound changes in the two agencies effected.