CIA boss chosen for top US defence role
the foreign affairs profile of US President Barack Obama began to take on a reduced complexion last night as he finalised his first steps towards extracting the US from Afghanistan and as the retiring CIA director, Leon Panetta, celebrated winning unanimous senate confirmation as the new Pentagon chief.
The phased withdrawal of soldiers in Afghanistan will begin this summer in spite of reservations expressed by military commanders, including the outgoing US defence secretary, Robert Gates. It is being driven, however, by growing political weariness with the conflict on Capitol Hill and by deepening budget concerns.
As he moves into Mr Gates's office on July 1, Mr Panetta's top two priorities will be closely related to one another: overseeing the reduction of troop commitments in Afghanistan and identifying defence cuts, which Mr Obama is demanding, in the region of $200bn (€139bn) or even $400bn (€278bn) a year.
Mr Panetta, who was approved in a unanimous vote by the full senate on Tuesday, has been mostly private in his views regarding Afghanistan and how fast the troop wind-down should be. However, his track record in Washington on budget control is well known. Under former president Bill Clinton he served as White House chief-of-staff and director of the office of management and budget.
Having Mr Panetta at the Pentagon is probably a more comfortable fit for Mr Obama as Mr Gates was held over from the George W Bush administration. Mr Panetta also has close ties with Hillary Clinton, the US secretary of state.