In the Arena

The New Security Team

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The rumors have been floating around for months–I helped in the floating process, back in February–but it now seems likely that Leon Panetta will be the next Secretary of Defense, David Petraeus will replace him at CIA, General John Allen will replace Petraeus as commander of NATO forces in Afghanistan and Ryan Crocker will come out of retirement to replace Karl Eikenberry as US Ambassador in Kabul. These are all fine appointments and should be non-controversial, with the possible exception of Petraeus–whose appointment is likely to be criticized by civil libertarians on the left, who’d like to see an aggressive shakeup and investigation of the CIA’s “enhanced” interrogation history. His confirmation hearing will be interesting.

A few comments:

–Panetta seems the perfect man for Sec Def at this time. He’s been working the major war zones as Director of Central Intelligence the past few years, so he’s familiar with the strategic challenges he’ll be facing. Most important, Panetta has a history as a dedicated budget cutter. He was chair of the House Budget Committee in the late 1980s and Bill Clinton’s budget director (and later chief of staff). And the most important job that the next SecDef will have will be budget-cutting.

–Petraeus has had a long, long decade of war since 9/11. He has served the country brilliantly, and I suspect he’ll do just fine at CIA. The CIA is a quirky culture, more furtive than the military, to be sure. I don’t think that 70-slide power point presentations are big at Langley. But Petraeus has a history of seeking out extremely smart–and sometimes weirdly creative–sorts and including them in his inner circle. That has been his defining leadership style and it bodes well for his assimilation at Langley.

–I don’t know John Allen well, but he is a Petraeus protege and very well-regarded. He also seems a bit more low-key than the alpha warriors who have preceded him in this job, which may be a good thing as we try to bring this torment to a conclusion.

–Ryan Crocker is, to my mind, the big surprise here. He is a State Department legend and I’m amazed that he’s agreed to come out of retirement for this taxing job. But Crocker was the guy who raised the American flag at the Kabul embassy when the Taliban were tossed in 2001 and his knowledge of Afghanistan and appreciation of Afghan ways is broad and deep. He may even be patient and skillful enough to handle Hamid Karzai, if anyone is.

A final note on Karl Eikenberry, who really had a rough go of it during his two years in Kabul. He was a victim of his own honesty–in two separate incidents his candid (and accurate) views of Karzai were leaked to an eager press–which pretty much killed any chance of ┬ádealing successfully with the flighty Afghan president. As a former general who had commanded the troops in Afghanistan, his strong views often clashed with Gen. Stanley McChrystal. But he worked his post tirelessly; his sense of the situation, as revealed in his cables, was spot on. Both the Ambassador and his wife, Ching, traveled the country relentlessly, listening to the views (and complaints) of the Afghan people, showing a kind and understanding American face. They deserve to be recognized for that hard work.