Secretary of State Hillary Clinton long ago announced she would be leaving and Secretary of Defense Leon Panetta, said this week that he does want to return to his home in California. Asked how long he plans to stick around the Pentagon, he responded to reporters, "Who the hell knows?" In the military, regularly scheduled command changes were getting set as well, as Allen was moving to head the European Command and a new commander was preparing to take over in Afghanistan. Both have to be confirmed by the Senate and a confirmation hearing is set for Thursday with the Senate Armed Services Committee. But in light of the scandal, is the president at risk of losing too much of his foreign policy brain trust as Petraeus departs and Allen works under the haze of an investigation?
White House spokesman Jay Carney addressed that question Tuesday, saying the president, "has great confidence in the acting CIA director. He has confidence in his military, and the secretary of Defense and the Defense Department to carry out the missions that he has assigned to them." Mark Jacobson, a former NATO adviser to Petraeus while he was in Afghanistan and now a fellow at the policy analysis group The German Marshall Fund, says a scandal like this would not affect national security. "What it is, is a loss for the CIA, which does need some restructuring, as does the Pentagon, Defense Intelligence Agency and the National Security Agency. Folks need to move away from Afghanistan and Iraq and start looking at the long-term strategic picture and I think Petraeus was the right guy to do that for the agency," Jacobson said. "There was a thought he (Petraeus) could be leaving to head up Princeton this year, so he might have left anyhow," Jacobson said.
But if the personal nature of the relationship between Petraeus and his biographer, Paula Broadwell, does not have a consequence on national security, surely the decision-making process of who will fill the open positions could have a trickle down effect. For instance, if the Obama administration loses its top CIA boss and its top commander in Afghanistan, on top of the departure of Clinton and the expected departure of Panetta, who could possibly oversee the sensitive diplomatic and military mission of the final two years of U.S. troops in Afghanistan?
Surprisingly, many in Washington think there are plenty of qualified people who can fill these gaps. In fact, many national security staffers on Capitol Hill we spoke with Tuesday believe the scandal will not hollow out those with national security experience in the administration. "It's not like there is a void of qualified people. If that was the case the president would have to keep Petraeus in his job," said one Capitol Hill staffer who asked not to be identified. But one senior Hill staffer thinks the Pentagon's decision to not outright fire Allen and keep him in his position is not only a signal that the military does not know if he was in the wrong, but also a way to protect him if he is found not to be at fault. "It would be a shame to lose a man with the experience he has in Afghanistan if they were to fire him only to find that he was not actually guilty of anything," the staffer said.