In a major shuffle of the national security team, President Obama is replacing Defense Secretary Robert Gates with CIA director Leon Panetta whose former post will be filled by Gen. David Petraeus. The shakeup, expected to be announced tomorrow, has all sorts of implications about Obama's plans for cutting the defense budget and waging war in Afghanistan (multiple sources say Gates will step down on June 30). Here's what the country's top national security writers are saying about the meaning behind the transitions.
Panetta Replacing Gates The consenus view here is that Obama thinks Panetta is the right man to implement the major defense cuts he's been seeking. "Panetta's expected job will be to hold the place together and sell the spending cuts to the few remaining hawks in Congress," writes Foreign Policy's Thomas Ricks. Jim Wolf at Reuters agrees. "Panetta, a Democratic party insider with budgets as his background, would oversee steady declines in Pentagon spending and divert weapons dollars to the Treasury Department to help reduce the deficit," he writes. He interviews a senior administration official and a "prominent" defense consultant who say Panetta will "undoubtedly" hasten the pace of further defense cuts. However, some doubt whether Panetta is skilled enough to change the stubborn ways of the defense department. "He is now inheriting the largest single business operation in the world. If he could not accomplish everything he wanted in the intelligence community, how can he do it here?" said former Pentagon official Anthony Cordes in an interview with Politico.