President Obama is playing musical chairs to form a new national security team, and a consensus is emerging among the handicappers over who gets to sit where.
As Defense Secretary Robert Gates retires, C.I.A. director Leon E. Panetta tops the list to move in. To replace Chairman of the Joint Chiefs Staff Adm. Mike Mullen, current vice chairman Gen. James E. Cartwright is the favorite — not Gen. David H. Petraeus.
Petraeus is rumored as Panetta’s likely successor at the CIA.
Though Cartwright was under scrutiny and recently cleared of allegations carried on with an aide who was not his wife, he is thought to be Obama’s favorite general.
To see why, look to Washington Post journalist Bob Woodward’s book “Obama’s Wars,” excerpted by the Washington Post. When Obama was squaring off against military advisors who wanted to add troops in Afghanistan, Cartwright helped the president craft a path for fewer troops.
The book details meetings between Obama and advisers in which he pressed for a swift exit strategy and the military pressed back with a request for 40,000 troops and a mission with no foreseeable end.
Amid these tensions, Cartwright is believed to have gone around Mullen’s back to give Obama a “hybrid option” more to his liking that called for 20,000 additional troops and the more limited mission of hunting insurgents and training Afghan police.
Obama ultimately settled on a politically acceptable option, 30,000 troops.
Otherwise, the New York Times shortlists the possible replacements for Bob Gates as well-traveled Navy secretary Ray Mabus, Clinton-era defense official John J. Hamre, Colin L. Powell, or Sen. Jack Reed (D-R.I.), a former paratrooper.
The Mullen replacements could be Adm. James G. Stavridis, Gen. Ray Odierno, Gen. Norton A. Schwartz, and Army Chief of Staff Gen. Martin E. Dempsey.
The gist of the Times piece is that nobody can really fill Gates’ shoes, since he was able to simultaneously work well with Secretary of State Hillary Clinton, cut budgets and take on the military–let alone his bi-partisan popularity on Capitol Hill.
The next team, whoever they are, will have to manage a staged troop withdrawal while dealing with an officer’s corps that is trying to slow the pace.
[via AFP, MSNBC, New York Times and Washington Post]