The time has come for my obligatory, national security musical chairs post. As we’ve discussed somewhat in class, all leaks regarding who will be taking what should be taken with a grain of salt. Some ideas either reflect temperature testing, where a name is floated to gauge the extent to which a candidate might be loved or loathed. Others are merely smoke screens that disguise the real intent of the administration long enough for it to furtively vet a candidate.
The most import issue is the tradeoff between politics and policy. Finding the right intersection between those two different issues is usually the determining factor in a successful cabinet level appointment. Some of the beltway gossip floating around about Obama’s upcoming appointments awakens interesting questions about this tradeoff.
David Ignatius had a column up about a week ago where he ruminates in a number of things that I found pretty interesting. First, he adds fuel to the notion of Leon Panetta moving from CIA to the Pentagon. Ignatius asserts that Panetta has emerged a Gates’ favorite, a fact that if true, could come as some surprise to Michelle Flournoy.
Panetta’s move to defense has both positive and negative aspects. On the good side, he would likely maintain the initiative of taking a scalpel to the defense budget so as to avoid less discriminate hack jobs. My main concern about him at defense is that he might work too well with Sec. Clinton. Panetta has long been a close confidant of the Clinton family, and his allegiance to them could subtract from the level of debate that should occur in the situation room. Imagine the debate about Libya without the suspected skepticism of Gates in the room. Ignatius says that he has done a surprisingly good job at CIA, so perhaps my concerns are unwarranted, but I am still unconvinced that “Uncle Leon” could handle the three aspects of a good DefSec: management, strategic thinking, and military-to-military diplomacy.
The most intriguing job opening will be at the JCS as Adm. Mullen steps down (that’s assuming, the Petraeus to CIA rumor is just that, a rumor). The odds on favorite, because he’s Obama’s apparent favorite, is Gen. Cartwright. Mullen has played a decisive role in most every national security decision in recent history. So Cartwright will immediately step into some high-level thinking that he is apparently well suited to perform, according to Ignatius. Furthermore, a chairman from the Marines will be an interesting change from the current Naval admiral.