The Obama administration announced this week that CIA Director Leon Panetta will replace Bob Gates as the secretary of Defense. Panetta is a shrewd and well-respected Washington operator who formerly served in Congress as well as in the Clinton White House. He is a known political moderate often credited with a keen, measured management style and a thorough policy mind. It will be a tough duty to replace Gates, who many cite as one of the best Pentagon bosses in recent history. But Panetta is certainly as equipped for the task as anyone on the Democratic roster.
The more curious move is the man Obama tapped to fill Panetta's CIA spot—Gen. David Petraeus. As I have written before, Petraeus is an impressive figure who many thought could be the next Dwight Eisenhower. He is a career military man with impeccable service credentials who has garnered the respect of almost every legislator and member of the administration, and who just happens to be a Princeton Ph.D. to boot. Generally credited with turning around the conflicts in Iraq and Afghanistan, Petraus is a soldier first and foremost, who respects the wishes of his commanding officer—in this case, President Obama. [See editorial cartoons on Afghanistan.]
That said, career spooks are already beginning to chafe at the Petraeus CIA pick. And maybe with good reason. Petraeus has little experience in intelligence, and the CIA is traditionally run by a career civilian. (Petraeus is set to resign his military post if he is confirmed.) Running Langley is no small task, and considering the role the CIA played in the run up to the Iraq war, the stakes are all that much higher.
One can't help but wonder if President Obama made Petraeus an offer he couldn't refuse—ala Jon Huntsman Jr.—for the betterment of the Democratic Party. While that theory may scream conspiracy to most, it certainly can't be wholly discounted.