Obama To Announce New National Security Team

The White House has been planning to reshuffle its national security line up for months, and it is expected to announce the new team Thursday. The changes have been driven by the planned retirement of Defense Secretary Robert Gates.

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The White House announces a new national security lineup team today, with many of the same players in different positions. CIA director Leon Panetta has been selected to run the Pentagon. That means a job opening at the CIA and General David Petraeus will take over that spy agency. Both Petraeus and Panetta have distinguished resumes that include decades of service. NPR's Tom Bowman looks at whether all that experience will translate as they take on new roles.

TOM BOWMAN: Leon Panetta has made his mark handling budgets. He chaired the House Budget Committee as a congressman from California. He later ran the Office of Management and Budget under President Clinton. Now Panetta will be responsible for the biggest pot of money in Washington: The Pentagon budget, just as it's about to be cut.

Lieutenant General DAVID BARNO (U.S. Army, Retired): He's going to be immersed in some very, very tough budgetary pressures.

BOWMAN: That's retired Lieutenant General David Barno. He points out that President Obama wants to cut defense spending by $400 billion by early in the next decade. Panetta gets to wield the knife.

Lt. Gen. BARNO: He's going to have to think his way through how to best accomplish those cuts while maintaining as strong a U.S. military capability as we've got today.

BOWMAN: Panetta also has the wars in Afghanistan and Iraq to manage. Consider just one problem: In Iraq, all U.S. troops are scheduled to leave by the end of the year. The challenge will be to get U.S. troops out without undermining security in Iraq.

Michael O'Hanlon of the Brookings Institution says Panetta might have to work with Iraq's prime minister, Nouri al-Maliki, to find a creative way out of that dilemma.

Mr. MICHAEL O'HANLON (Brookings Institution): For example, whether we can convince Prime Minister Maliki to accept a U.N. peacekeeping force instead of a U.S. military force might be helpful at a time when there are still so many unresolved issues in Iraq that threaten the stability of that country.

BOWMAN: Panetta had to be convinced to take on the Pentagon job, says a senior administration official. He enjoyed his time at the CIA. Now General Petraeus has been tapped to lead the spy agency. A number of generals and admirals have run the CIA. Petraeus's supporters, like John Nagl, a former Army officer who runs the Center for a New American Security, says the general has worked with CIA officers as commander in both Iraq and Afghanistan.

Mr. JOHN NAGL (Center for a New American Security): Petraeus knows the operators on the ground; he knows the leadership of the agency, the career civilians, so he has a lot of those personal relationships.

BOWMAN: It's important, analysts say, that both Petraeus and Panetta have worked closely with Pakistani officials over the years.

Mr. NAGL: Pakistan is probably the most dangerous country in the world for the United States.

BOWMAN: Again John Nagl.

Mr. NAGL: So keeping people around who have some touch, in terms of that relationship, who know those individuals, who've worked with them over a period of years to develop that kind of personal person to person trust, that really matters.

BOWMAN: If confirmed by the Senate, both men would take on their new jobs this summer.

Tom Bowman, NPR News, Washington.

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