Obama Faces National Security Team Shakeup

The secretaries of defense and state will retire while two generals are under investigation.

Generals David Petraeus and Raymond Odierno, Ambassador Christopher Hill and President Barack Obama in the Situation Room of the White House in Washington DC, May 12, 2009
Generals David Petraeus and Raymond Odierno, Ambassador Christopher Hill and President Barack Obama in the Situation Room of the White House in Washington DC, May 12, 2009 (White House/Pete Souza)

A week after he won reelection, American president Barack Obama is confronted with having to replace several top members of his national-security team. Among them Secretary of State Hillary Clinton, who previously indicated that she would not be serving a second term, and General David Petraeus, the former commander of NATO forces in Afghanistan who became director of the Central Intelligence Agency in September of last year but resigned this week after an extramarital affair came to light.

Among Clinton’s possible successors are Susan Rice, currently the United States’ ambassador to the United Nations, and Tom Donilon, the incumbent national security advisor. If either of them is appointed, it would open up another slot for replacement.

Massachusetts senator John Kerry, who was the Democratic Party’s presidential candidate in 2004, is also reportedly being considered to replace either Clinton or Leon Panetta, the secretary of defense who is slated to retire as well. Panetta was the CIA’s director before he replaced Robert Gates in June of last year. Gates had previously served as President George W. Bush’s defense secretary.

Michael Morell, a three decade veteran of the intelligence service, has served as the agency’s acting director since Petraeus’ resignation and seems a natural candidate to replace him permanently. John O. Brennan, the president’s chief counterterrorism advisor, is another likely contender. However, both men could come under criticism during their necessary Senate confirmation hearings for their possible involvement in the CIA’s torture program of suspected terrorists under the Bush Administration.

The New York Times suggests that Republican lawmaker Mike Rogers, a former FBI official who chairs the House intelligence committee, is among the less controversial candidates while CNN considers former Democratic congresswoman Jane Harman who chaired the homeland security committee.

Drawn into the Petraeus scandal is General John Allen, the current commander of NATO forces in Afghanistan, who was under investigation by the Pentagon’s inspector general for “potentially inappropriate” emails with a woman. Allen was slated to become commander of American and NATO forces in Europe next March. That nomination has been put on hold by the Senate. While President Obama accepted Petraeus’ resignation, the White House’s spokesman said on Tuesday that he still has “faith” in Allen. If he withdraws his nomination, the president would have to look for yet another candidate for a high-profile post.

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