Trial Balloon: Leon Panetta To Replace Robert Gates At The Pentagon

CIA Director Leon Panetta

defence Secretary Robert Gates has made it very clear that he will soon be returning to private life.  Replacing the Obama Administration’s most respected Cabinet member in the midst of three wars in Muslim nations is no small issue. 

The next defence Secretary has to be someone who commands great respect across the political spectrum, the military services, foreign governments and the policy-making community.  Finding that person is no easy task.

The Administration has floated its first (and probably last) trial balloon on the search: CIA DIrector Leon Panetta.  The always reliable Laura Rozen reports:

Several officials tell The Envoy that the Obama administration is likely to name CIA Director Leon Panetta to succeed Gates as Secretary of defence.

Officials say Panetta has emerged as the most likely nominee from a field of candidates that has reportedly included Under Secretary of defence for Policy Michele Flournoy, Sen. Jack Reed (D-RI), former Deputy defence Secretary John Hamre, former Nebraska Sen. Chuck Hagel, and former Secretary of State and chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff Colin Powell, a sometimes Obama confidante.

Like Gates, Panetta has served as CIA director. The former California Democratic lawmaker and former Clinton White House chief of staff is widely considered to have done a terrific job winning the loyalty of the legendarily mistrustful CIA. He mostly kept the CIA from being a White House headache, has strong ties with both Republicans and Democrats in Congress, and has quietly traveled around the world developing solid relationships with world leaders, including in the Middle East, officials say.

Panetta for the post “makes sense,” said a former defence Department official who asked for anonymity discussing personnel issues. “He has strong, good credentials on both sides of aisle … He’s managed things before and has done a good job at CIA.” Panetta, if nominated and confirmed, would also be the first Democrat to hold the position since Bill Perry in 1997.

“From the beginning, Panetta had enormous credibility with the White House,” said a former senior U.S. official who helped advise the Obama campaign. Noting that Panetta also served as White House chief of staff and head of the Office of Management and Budget, the former official said Panetta 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.”

You can read the full report here.