Obama's New National Security Team Faces Major Challenges

Article excerpt

President Obama's new national security team, headed by Leon Panetta and General David Petraeus, has a wealth of experience. But it faces major challenges, especially in Afghanistan.

In announcing his new national security team Thursday, President Obama sought to demonstrate confidence and continuity at a time when the US is trying to conclude its active military engagement in several places around the world.

Events on the ground - mainly in Afghanistan, where evidence of solid progress remains elusive - will determine whether he succeeds.

But the men named to critical military, intelligence, and diplomatic posts are generally agreed (at least within the Washington establishment) to be the best there are under the circumstances. They all have decades of experience in their fields, and they all have worked well together in the past.

Here are the shifts in personnel announced Thursday:

- CIA Director Leon Panetta will replace Robert Gates as Secretary of Defense.

- General David Petraeus will retire from the US Army to take over the CIA from Mr. Panetta.

- US Marine Corps Lt. Gen. John Allen will become commander of allied forces in Afghanistan, replacing Gen. Petraeus.

- Veteran diplomat Ryan Crocker, a former ambassador to Iraq and Pakistan, has been nominated to be the new Ambassador to Afghanistan, replacing retired Army Lt. Gen. Karl Eikenberry.

"I've worked closely with most of the individuals on this stage, and all of them have my complete confidence," Mr. Obama said in making his announcement. "Given the pivotal period that we're entering into, I felt it was absolutely critical that we have this team in place so we can stay focused on our mission.... I cannot think of a group of individuals better suited to lead our national security team during this difficult time."

Decades of experience

The total experience of this team is impressive by any standard, running to many decades for each of them in a variety of positions highly useful to today's national security challenges, including international terrorism. Each brings gravitas as well as experience to his new post.

Mr. Gates, who began his time at the Pentagon under former President Bush and who was asked to stay on by Obama, has said from the beginning that he would stay no longer than two years as part of the current administration. …