Panetta for Defense, Petraeus for CIA, Crocker, Allen to Kabul

Laura Rozen
The Envoy

The Obama administration will announce key changes to the U.S. national security team this week. Among them, as previously reported: CIA Director Leon Panetta will be nominated to succeed Bob Gates as Secretary of Defense, and the top U.S. commander in Afghanistan Gen. David Petraeus to become CIA director.

Veteran diplomat Ryan Crocker is also expected to be named the next U.S. Ambassador to Kabul, to succeed Amb. Karl Eikenberry. Deputy Centcom commander Marine Lt. Gen. John Allen will be named the next top U.S. commander in Afghanistan.

The White House will announce the new appointments on Thursday, ABC News reported.

Panetta, 72, has received wide acclaim for overseeing the troubled U.S. spy agency and will bring a wealth of high-level bureaucratic and budget management expertise to one of the most challenging jobs in the government. Among his credentials are tours as White House chief of staff and director of the Office of Management and Budget under Bill Clinton. A former nine-term California lawmaker, Panetta also is well-connected on Capitol Hill, and is expected to win easy confirmation as DoD chief.

Panetta "has strong, good credentials on both sides of aisle," a former Defense Department official told The Envoy last month. "He's managed things before and has done a good job at CIA." If confirmed, Panetta would be the first Democrat to hold the position since Bill Perry in 1997.

"From the beginning, Panetta had enormous credibility with the White House," a former senior U.S. official who helped advise the Obama campaign told the Envoy last month. Citing Panetta's Clinton White House credentials, the former official said that he has a "terrific record in Congress and did an extraordinary job from the moment he was appointed [as CIA Director] in developing the confidence of the Agency."

Kenneth Pollack, a former CIA analyst with the Clinton administration, said the anticipated appointment of Petraeus to head the civilian intelligence agency makes sense. Petraeus brings a ferocious intelligence, dedication to serving his country, and his experience reshaping the army to fight insurgencies to the job, Pollack noted. Rumors of the anticipated appointment initially perplexed some of Petraeus' military colleagues, however, since the general is one of the most celebrated military officers of his generation and has devoted his career to serving the military: CIA-Pentagon relations have often been tense.

"The bottom line is, this is a man with a remarkable career in public service and he wants to do it for some time to come," Pollack told the Envoy earlier this month. "I think that the CIA is going to be thrilled to have him. ... It's actually what CIA needs right now."

All this shuffling means that Petraeus' job commanding U.S. forces in Afghanistan is coming open, and the White House is expected to tap Marine Corps three-star general John Allen for the spot. Allen's military and civilian peers in the national security community rave about Allen, who currently serves as the deputy of U.S. Central Command (CENTCOM), which was until last summer under Petraeus' leadership.

John Allen is "a rock star, one of the brightest lights in the U.S. military," one Defense official told The Envoy on condition of anonymity in order to discuss personnel matters. At CENTCOM, Allen has been the point man for all things Iran. In Iraq, meanwhile, Allen was one of the progenitors of the "Anbar Awakening"--the largely successful Sunni reconciliation and reintegration effort, for the Marine Corps from late 2006 to 2007.

Lt. Gen. Curtis "Mike" Scaparrotti, currently commander of the I Corps and Joint Base Lewis-McChord, is expected to be named to succeed the deputy U.S. commander in Afghanistan, Lt. Gen. David Rodriguez, defense sources said.

And finally, the post of ambassador to Afghanistan will be filled by Ryan Crocker, a former U.S. Ambassador to Pakistan, Iraq, Syria and Lebanon who worked particularly closely and well with Petraeus in Iraq--where they were dubbed "the dream team." Crocker, who left his Iraq post with health issues in 2009, is among the most respected members of the U.S. diplomatic corps; he had retired with the rank of career ambassador from the State Department in 2009, and been working as dean of Texas A&M University (where Gates was formerly dean), but reportedly met with Obama about the job earlier this month.

(Top right: Defense Secretary Robert Gates, left, and CIA Director Leon Panetta, right, walk into the East Room of the White House in Washington, Tuesday, Sept. 21, 2010: Pablo Martinez Monsivais/AP;  President Barack Obama, followed by Gen. David Petraeus,  Defense Secretary Robert Gates, Vice President Joe Biden, and Joint Chiefs Chairman Adm. Michael Mullen, June 23, 2010.: Charles Dharapak/AP)