Commenting on the appointment of David Petraeus to the directorate of the CIA and Leon Pennetta to the office of Secretary of Defense after the resignation of Robert Gates, Nick Oliveto presents the long-term political strategy behind the moves.
The domino effect of resignation rippled across the administration of the Defense Department. The resignation of Secretary Gates has moved CIA-director Leon Penetta to the post, and General of Afghanistan David Petraeus to the directorate of the CIA. The appointment of Petraeus suggests the Obama administration has made its recommendation for Secretary of Defense for 2016.
Gates announced he would be leaving the White House on June 30, 2011. The announcement barely shocked the nation; after all, Secretary of Defense Robert Gates had been planning his resignation since before his tenure even began. Before becoming Secretary Gates, he was President of Texas A&M, and as soon President George W. Bush drafted Gates for the position in 2006, Gates made it clear he would return to Texas A&M as soon as possible. The retirement has been looming in the distance for nearly five years, threatening to deprive Washington of a rarity: an effective administrator favored by the public, an independent mind respected by both political parties, and a frank speaker able to shape public debate was well as form policy.
His act is a tough one to follow and a certain expectation for an independent Secretary of Defense has arisen amongst Americans during Gates’s tenure. So when the White House announced Leon Penetta, current Director of the CIA as Gates replacement, many insiders were left shaking their heads. Penetta‟s pick does not come as a surprise as the CIA Directorate is often a stepping stone to larger political offices; Gates himself was its director from 1991 to 1993, and President George W. Bush Sr. was director before entering the Oval Office. But the pick of Penetta carries with it political implications. Penetta was the Director of the Office of Management and Budget, then Chief of Staff for President Clinton. This selection, however, is more a reflection of Penetta’s influence in the Executive Branch than it is a statement on the direction of the Department of Defense. Its course of hard budget cuts and restructuring has been well-established by Gates and will likely last far beyond his resignation.
The Directorate left by Penetta will be filled by the most famous figure in the American military, General David Petraeus. Obama’s choice, on the surface, seems to imply he takes the good of his campaign over the good of the state. Indeed, Petraeus oversaw and orchestrated the now-lauded Iraqi surge and has commanded operations in Afghanistan since the retirement of general Stanley McCrystal. Petraeus is also the founding father of current US military counter-insurgency theory. His stack of weighty credentials and political star power is a clear attempt to look strong on foreign policy and even woo conservative voters by politicizing a popular general.
Closer inspection of this choice suggests the White House is making a more long-term choice, possibly with the nation‟s best interests in mind, by pulling Petraeus from active military duty. Currently US Code Title 10 § 113 prohibits General Petraeus from serving as Secretary of Defense, but he may one day be before the Senate, seeking confirmation. According to Section 113, a “person may not be appointed as Secretary of Defense within seven years after relief from active duty as a commissioned officer of a regular component of an armed force,” and Petraeus is certainly such, yet few men know the armed services, its current needs, and the best course for it better than Petraeus. Simply removing him from military service would disconnect him from the very activities that makes him such an appealing candidate for a government position.
This transition to the CIA marks a compromise between the need to distance military leaders from their time in the armed forces and the need to keep them aware and active in matters of national defense. Patraeus’s experience will serve him well in the CIA as the agency is becoming more militarized itself. It is currently engaged in many covert actions throughout the Middle East, most notably drone strikes in Pakistan and Afghanistan, and assisting Special Forces operations in countries like Yemen. Most recently, drones have even been utilized against Libyan dictator Gaddafi. Petraeus’s independence, frankness, and effectiveness is comparable to that of Gates, so perhaps the Obama administration has found an act tough enough to stand up to Gates’s legacy, but cannot use him yet, and instead will prepare him for another administration.