Now is not a good time for President Obama to recast his team of national security advisors, or is it?
As the Obama administration kicks off its 2012 re-election campaign, it also is preparing for a near-total revamping of the president’s inner-circle of defense and security experts. Some of it’s odd timing; other parts are politics.
As a story in Thursday’s New York Times explained, this upheaval’s center is Defense Secretary Robert Gates, the former director of the Central Intelligence Agency who will retire from Washington this summer. He is both a prominent Bush-era holdover and, as former Bush national security advisor Brent Scowcroft said, someone who “has played a unique role. It will be very hard to replace him.”
Joining Gates on the departure list is a who’s-who from the Pentagon and Capitol Hill: Adm. Michael Mullen, the chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, will have his term expire later this year; Deputy Secretary of State James Steinberg is resigning for a job in academia; and Secretary of State Hillary Clinton said she will leave the Obama administration when this election cycle ends.
Those departures create the quintessential half-empty/half-full scenario for Obama: Is this an opportunity for fresh, updated views on the military and national defense? Or is the loss of such high-level voices a damaging, perhaps crippling scenario?
However Obama reshapes his defense team, it’s imperative that his administration refocuses its efforts to effectively remove American soldiers from the worst danger zones in Afghanistan, a war with a just cause, and Iraq, a war that should never have started. The effect of multiple conflicts on this nation’s military and their families remains an overwhelming, omnipotent strain.
This spring’s intervention in Libya, hampered by the president’s struggle to define the U.S. mission there, only makes it worse.
As The Times noted, Gates heavily assisted in Obama’s decision for a controversial troop buildup in Afghanistan in 2009. It will be up to Gates’ successor — perhaps CIA Director Leon Panetta, who is considered a leading candidate — to help persuade the president to move America closer to the day when the U.S. military is removed from those front lines.
The coming of election-year politics and the lingering economic turmoil may overshadow Americans’ following of these impending appointments. But given the vast stakes — oversight of the military, national defense, foreign policy — the nation can’t afford for the president’s hiring decisions to miss their mark.