Appointment of Panetta and Petraeus Signals More of the Same

The report that Leon Panetta will be appointed Secretary of Defense, and Gen. David Petraeus will become the new CIA director, does not come as a huge surprise. But I worry that President Obama’s decision to fill these positions from within his administration signals an unwillingness to rethink U.S. foreign policy. Such a reevaluation is desperately needed.

Leon Panetta brings some experience in national security affairs to DoD, including his stints at CIA and on Capitol Hill, and as a member of the Iraq Study Group. His more relevant experience, however, may be as Director of the Office of Management and Budget in the Clinton administration. Bob Gates effectively shielded the Pentagon from spending cuts, but that merely postponed the reckoning that Panetta will have to confront.

Considerable cuts, beyond even the $400 billion-over-12-year target that President Obama announced earlier this month, will require a fundamental rethinking of the military’s role, something that Gates was unwilling to do. It remains to be seen whether Panetta will tackle this challenge, or whether he will defer to others within the administration.

A new role for the military and the United States would shed unnecessary missions, and relieve some of the burdens on our troops. In all likelihood, such a change must be directed from the Oval Office, not the Pentagon.

The appointment of Petraeus to head the CIA is puzzling. I worry that the appointment of a military officer to lead a civilian agency raises questions about Obama’s faith in senior leaders from within the CIA who might have moved into the top role.

The agency has questioned some of the rosier predictions of impending success in Afghanistan, and I hope that Petraeus’s move to Langley doesn’t result in a change of those candid assessments. More generally, Petraeus has focused nearly all of his energies over the past nine years trying to perfect the U.S. military’s ability to fight wars that most Americans now wisely oppose. His insights into future opportunities and challenges is unclear. We should be putting these wars that sap our nation’s strength and undermine our security in the country’s rearview mirror. Instead, Petraeus appears committed to a long-term nation-building mission in Afghanistan, and others like it.