US President Obama and Hillary Clinton 311 (R).
(photo credit: Reuters/Jeff Haynes)
WASHINGTON – US President Barack Obama is set to reshuffle his national security
team but will retain many familiar faces with Middle East experience, suggesting
continuity as the US engages in three wars in the region and grapples with
CIA Director Leon Panetta and Gen. David Petraeus, head of US and
NATO forces in Afghanistan, are expected to take on key new roles, with Panetta
replacing current Defense Secretary Robert Gates and Petraeus filling Panetta’s
The president’s catastrophic Mideast policy
Both men have spent extensive time in the Middle East in
their current roles. The appointments are not seen as indications of a
significant ideological shift in Obama’s regional strategy.
Panetta is a Democratic insider, unlike the Republican Gates, his mark is
expected to be most strongly felt on the financial and management side of
Defense Department business, rather than strategically.
years as chairman of the House Budget Committee and then as president Bill
Clinton’s budget director before Obama’s request that he lead the CIA, where he
initially faced criticism for lacking relevant experience.
has helped pave the way to this newest assignment, with cuts to the Pentagon
expected to be a major component of the job, given the economic climate and push
to reduce deficits.
Defense Minister Ehud Barak who has known Panetta for
15 years called him on Wednesday night to congratulate him on his
"I'm certain that the good relationship between the US and
Israel will continue and will be strengthened and deepen.
relationship between the two countries are very important for Israel's
security." Lawrence Korb, a former assistant secretary of defense, said that
drive, combined with Panetta’s recent CIA experience with its emphasis on covert
work, could mean that the US military is less likely to engage in ground wars
and attempt regime changes but rather pursue “behind-the-scenes”
Panetta as defense secretary “will make it less likely that
the US will send large numbers of military forces” to the Middle East, assessed
Korb, now a senior fellow at the Center for American Progress.
suggested that the most dramatic change indicated by the personnel changes
concerns the commander-inchief.
“The biggest difference is that I think
Obama now feels more confident in dealing with the military himself,” he
Obama himself has given no indication that these personnel changes
represent a change in his own thinking, which he has asserted since the
beginning, according to Tom Neumann, executive director of the Jewish Institute
for National Security Affairs.
“What will change is that Obama’s going
into election mode,” said Neumann, who described both Panetta and Petraeus as
non-controversial choices who should win easy approval from the US
Neumann said that in addition to not making waves in Congress
heading into the 2012 campaign, Obama will also not want to make waves among the
Jewish community, leading him to be “more responsive” to Israel and its
Neumann described Panetta as having a strong record on Israel
as a member of Congress and not having made any missteps on the issue. In
addition, he pointed to close cooperation between the US and Israel on
intelligence matters, which would have been part of his job at the
While Neumann noted controversial statements Petraeus has made
linking Israel with dangerous anti-American attitudes in the Middle East – from
which he later backed down – he characterized them as misinformed rather than
“I don’t think it came out of hostility but out of
misperception,” Neumann said.
The official announcement of these moves,
along with Petraeus’s replacement by Lt.- Gen. John Allen and the appointment of
Ryan Crocker as the next ambassador to Afghanistan, is expected as early as