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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.



10 Responses to National security shakeup – what does it mean?



    • Unless the reason he’s dead now instead of years ago is, that now Obama decided a bump in the polls was worth more than the intelligence that bird-dogging bin Laden was generating.  Which would not be a good reason for it at all.

      Especially if his death is a pretext for abandoning AfPak to the enemy.

      • More interesting is how many in the ISI and Pakistani government knew he was there and covered for him.
        As for Afghanistan and Pakistan, let the Afganis and Pakistanis fight their own damned battles against the Taliban.

      • No, I don’t think so.
        1) Osama is not so easy to find…if you find him, you take him. He’s not really operational anyways.
        2) Timing is wrong…Obama could have done this in Oct. 2010.
        Props to Obama on this.

        • For #1) his not being operational was TP point.
          2) Not exactly.  The “hmm…” about the timing, which I hope is not really the reason, is that it fits with the previously promised pull out date.  Something he can now justify an Afghanistan exit around.  Where before it could be used to cudgel him politically as spending a in Afghanistan with no accomplishment especially by promising an exit date.

  • The only thing that bothers me is the lack of coverage of Islamic reaction.  I’m sure its out there, the mainstream media is avoiding the issue so far.
    Especially about the situation in Pakistan?  I believed we previously held back because we wanted a good relationship with Pakistan which is necessary to support Afghanistan.  So even if we don’t care about Afghanistan anymore, we don’t care about that Pakistan relationship anymore?  Is Pakistan now going to become Afghanistan under the Taliban but with nukes?  This president is reckless about destabilizing Islamic countries, so I think this is the aspect to watch as any possible fallout.

  • Whither US foreign policy, now?

  • What it means is that Panetta and Petreus are the only two people the administration have who have any foreign policy experience at all.

  • Good analysis.  Thanks.

  • The reservation I have is that Democrats believe in ninjas.  They believe that small elite surgical teams can replace a full military and effective foreign policy.  Like when Carter expected to ninja out the hostages in Iran.  Or Clinton tried to special forces to go after a warlord in Somalia when overwhelming force was necessary.
    I believe Bin Laden was a special case because the compounded wasn’t run by a true military force and was trying to keep a low profile.  But that will validate the ninja military approach.  This is where we shrink our military and put more of the heavy lifting on the more elite units instead of looking at those units as a compliment to main sizable military force.