The long-awaited shakeup of the Obama administration’s national security team has begun. Leon Panetta will leave the CIA to replace Robert Gates as secretary of defense. Gen. David Petraeus will leave command of the Afghanistan war to replace Panetta. It’s a good day to be an armed Predator drone or a shadow warrior.
Neither man is an obvious choice for his new job. Panetta is an accidental CIA director.
With practically no intelligence experience, he became director in 2009 after President Obama’s first choice dropped out in the face of liberal opposition. Unexpectedly, he forged a tight relationship with both agency veterans and the president, and turned the CIA into the tip of the spear for counterterrorism in Pakistan.
Petraeus has spent his life in the military and became the premier Army officer of his generation.
His reputation for competence has led successive presidents to go to him to fix disasters — George W. Bush sent him to turn the Iraq war around; Obama sent him to Afghanistan after the McChrystal Rolling Stone debacle. But Panetta restored the confidence of the president in the CIA, so it’s not clear what’s prompting the need for such a drastic career detour for Petraeus — aside from the political need to keep him on Team Obama.
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