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Published: Sunday, 5/1/2011

Security shakeup

President Obama’s shifts in senior national-security personnel do not appear to signal major policy changes.

CIA Director Leon Panetta will succeed Robert Gates as secretary of Defense. Mr. Panetta served as federal budget director and White House chief of staff under President Bill Clinton. He was a member of Congress for 16 years.

Mr. Panetta’s record suggests he is more likely to be a mediator on policy matters than to take strong positions on principle. He will have to resist getting pushed around at the Pentagon by military officers, defense contractors, and their allies in Congress.

The new secretary can expect challenges to the administration’s plan to limit defense spending as part of reducing deficits and cutting the national debt. He also is tasked with carrying out the President’s plan to withdraw all U.S. troops from Iraq this year and start a pullout from Afghanistan in July.

Succeeding Mr. Panetta at the CIA is Gen. David Petraeus, the U.S. commander in Afghanistan. Although General Petraeus has wide experience with intelligence issues, there is a credible argument that America will not be as well served by a military officer as a civilian heading the CIA. The Pentagon has the Defense Intelligence Agency and other bodies to serve its interests in that field.

By naming Mr. Petraeus to an administration post, Mr. Obama may seek to preclude him from running for president as a Republican next year. Mr. Petraeus has denied any interest, but so far the slot of GOP standard-bearer is wide open.

The President’s other personnel changes — former U.S. Ambassador to Iraq Ryan Crocker to hold the same post in Afghanistan, Lt. Gen. John Allen to succeed Mr. Petraeus — are straightforward. But they appear to show little imagination or a search for new blood, and seem designed to perpetuate current policies.

Americans might have hoped for more. Still, at least one more big change is to come: replacing Adm. Mike Mullen as chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff.

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